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8-ways email kills productivity (Part 1)

Our research shows that about 26% of the time people spend at work is wasted through inefficient use of email. Once you understand how it sneaks time (and how much time it sneaks) you can take steps to get it under control.

At Expert-Messaging we specialise in helping organisations improve email use through our unique 60 minute session.

In this article we will look at the first four ways email eats into productivity. Check out part 2 for the next four ways. We’ll also give you a few tips at the end to help you start getting email under control.

Email drains productivity from organisations through:

1. Stress
2. Wasted time
3. Poor relationships
4. Unclear messages

Stress Stress 

1) Stress

The benefits of less stress at work are well documented and include less sickness absence, higher morale, greater productivity and lower staff turnover.

Sources of email stress include:

  • Constant interruption: the flash of a new message is irresistible to a lot of people, repeatedly distracting them from the task in hand.
  • Unclear expectations from the sender: many people write emails without being explicit about what it is they actually want. This is confusing for the recipient.
  • Volume of email (especially after holidays): our stats show 46% of emails do not help people do their actual job.

So to reduce stress and raise productivity, we must reduce interruptions, manage expectations and cut the volume of unhelpful email.

2) Wasted time

Our research shows that for typical users, the average time they can save is 47.2 minutes each per day. So where does all the time go?

Imagine two people having a six-sentence exchange with each other: “A” says something, “B” replies and that happens twice more.

If this happens by email, this is the detailed process:

  • A starts a new email, formulates her thoughts, writes the email, fills in B’s address, hits “send”. Let’s say this could all be done in 1 minute (Total so far = 1 minute).
  • A either now stares into space, waiting for B to reply or she focuses her thoughts back on what she was doing. Time management studies show this takes 5 to 7 minutes. Let’s say it takes 5 (Total so far = 6 minutes)
  • B is interrupted from what he was doing, opens the email, reads it, reads it again to make sure, hits “reply”, formulates his thoughts, types his thoughts, hits “send”. If he’s fast, this takes a minute – (Total = 7) but then he has to refocus, again let’s say it takes 5 minutes to do this. The total is now 12 minutes and this is only the first exchange!
  • If this happens twice more, it’s not hard to see this could take half an hour out of the organisation – just for a six-sentence exchange.

Now, if A phones B, there’s still an overhead of looking up the phone number and being interrupted – but the number of interruptions, refocuses etc. is reduced, plus A and B have the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings straight away during the conversation.

Stopping email-tennis is just one of more than 20 ways people can save time.

3) Poor relationships

People also use email to avoid conversations they think might be difficult. It often seems easier to try and deal with the other’s emotions remotely, therefore relationships suffer.

If people only communicate by email, they may write with a particular tone of voice in their head – but the tone does not go with the email. You may write a “cheeky” email, but what arrives is an “aggressive” one.

As a result of attending one of our sessions, 70% of people say they use email less when they know they should phone or speak – and the benefits are,

  • People have instant feedback and pick up on misunderstandings straight away
  • A short conversation can replace a long email exchange
  • More social interaction within the workplace generally reduces stress.

4) Unclear messages

We have found that most people believe the emails they send are easy to understand yet the emails they receive are unclear.

The reasons for these mismatches in understanding include:

  • Wrongly assuming the other person has the same information as you
  • Writing a poor (or non-existent) subject line
  • Poor spelling, punctuation and grammar all get in the way of understanding.
  • After our session 78% report improvements in the clarity of their emails and also find
  • Clear emails get faster responses
  • Clear communications also give a better profile to your clients

So how can you start to reduce these productivity killers?

Top tips:

Turn off the new email alerts. This will save you time and reduce your stress levels.

Pick up the phone instead of emailing (or even walk round and have a conversation). This will produce clearer communication and better relationships than “email-tennis.”

Think about what you want to achieve with your communication then write a clear subject line that summarises it. This will reduce unclear messages.

Read the next article for more ways to beat the productivity killers.