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The Average User Checks Email 5.6 Hours Per Weekday (calnewport.com)
28 points by puuush on Oct 15, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

That's ludicrous and unbelievable. Either the standard deviation is small, which implies that almost everybody does that, or the standard deviation is large, which implies there's a significant percentage of people spending more than 8 hours a day checking email. Either way I suspect this is more a demonstration of the unreliability of self-reporting than an accurate reflection of reality. Either that, or there's a significant deviation between what is being reported and what the wording of the question was on the survey. (I can imagine spending hours a day doing a task you received over email, but if your boss asks you for a report of something or other over email and you spend three hours assembling it, that could be "three hours related to email" but not "three hours checking email".)

The stat is from slide 8 of https://www.slideshare.net/adobe/2018-adobe-consumer-email-s... and is clearly ridiculous. The only way the math works is if the 10% of people that are spending over 6 hours per day checking personal email, and over six hours per day checking work email, are averaging really high numbers. Which makes it likely they are filling in their weekly hours, not daily hours.

There is simply no way I would believe 21% of "white-collar workers with a smart phone" are checking either their work or their personal email for more than 6 hours each and every day, let alone the 10 hours a day that would be required to offset the about 50% of people who reported checking less than an hour each day.

The slide doesn't say 5.6 hours - only Cal Newport is jumping to it. The slide is saying 3.1 for work and 2.5 for home - but not necessarily by the same people - so adding them doesn't make sense.

>Which makes it likely they are filling in their weekly hours, not daily hours.

I disagree. If I look at any one column, it's not hard to make the numbers work out. For example, assume each category is hitting the upper bound (40% are doing 1 hour, 22% are doing 2, etc) - and put 9 hours for the last 10% - you'll get 3.1 hours. Now that is a bit implausible (I took upper bounds of every category).

But going with the other interpretation - only spending < 1 hour per week for the largest group - highly unlikely. In our workplace, a lot of work, sadly, is done through email - 2 hours/day just responding to emails is probably average.

From the comments on the article:

> I took a look at the numbers. The categories are broad. If I check my emails 10 minutes per weekday it is counted as one hour for the purpose of calculating the mean. 62% of the participants report checking work emails in 2 hours or less. IMO there is still enough time to do deep work. Fore average calculation, the last category “more than 6 hours” is assigned “9 hours”. So I think these numbers are skewed.

> I don’t get why anyone would check their personal emails for more than two hours a day. The survey doesn’t say they did so during working time.

So, yeah, it seems like this was deliberately distorted to the point that there's no truth left in it.

Work aside, how does the average user have 2.5 hours worth of personal emails to attend to per day?

Because everybody needs breaks and it is way more acceptable to say you are "checking email" than "staring at clouds".

Even if they won't admit it, I'm sure some people open their inbox and stare blankly as a subconscious way of taking a break.

Plus, some people do generally have answering email as their job.

Is it possible that people take 'doing email' as including facebook and other social media - messaging in any form?

Lets face it we tend to do those things through Web interfaces on desktop/laptops or in messaging style apps on phones that tend to look quite similar in layout.

And we need to be clear about the time frame as other posters have mentioned (per day or per week)

On the work based figures, I suspect that people include the time spent on a task generated by the email as 'doing email'. My colleagues certainly would, and a lot of the work related email we get is providing information directly into a rich format email.

> time spent on a task generated by the email as 'doing email'.

This probably accounts for a large chunk of the reported hours, as well.

you are "checking email" than "staring at clouds"."

I lost my window seat a while ago and that's one thing I really miss. I used to look out the window and think. Now I often obsessively check Email or Hacker News.

(No longer a developer)

If I wanted to, I could easily fill my entire day with reading and responding to E-mail. Part of good E-mail hygiene is being able to quickly sort by importance and urgency, responding to the urgent stuff now, getting to the important stuff later, and shit-canning the rest.

I also send (initiate) a lot of E-mail, so it’s not just reading. Again, I could probably spend all day writing and sending E-mails but it’s not scalable and would leave me no time to do my other work. So I have to use discipline and pick and choose and only send the most urgent messages.

It’s easy to lose your whole day to E-mail if you’re not careful.

Maybe because they're the type of person that fills out e-mail surveys.

Whether or not this is bad depends entirely on what you do for a living. For coders, sure, that average would be excessive. For admin support, tech support, or other roles where communication is a majority of their job? Maybe not.

Very true. I've done admin/community management roles in the past, and it's safe to say that vast majority of work in such areas involves checking/replying to emails.

In 1997 or thereabouts, it became clear to me that I would always have email waiting to be read.


1. I set up an independent account that only gets wake-me-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night alerts.

2. I started automatically filtering all email into different folders.

3. I stopped all email alert indicators except for the wake-me-up account.

Ever since then, I check email when I get to a natural break in other activities. This happens seven or eight times a day, usually, so I'm never particularly far behind.

This is a ridiculously high number. Could it include other communication apps like Slack and Skype? Even then it seems a bit high.

Or does it include sites such as http://pcottle.github.io/MSOutlookit/ ?

If anything, that seems low. I'm a programmer, and I have days I'm completely chewed up doing email all day long. Other people, wrangling email is practically their entire job.

That's just ridiculous, to a programmer. I don't remember when I have last received something critical by email, never mind hours worth of it. They're all either automated notifications or company-level announcements; neither requires immediate action, or often any action at all.

You must be blessed enough not to have to do any support or field questions from customers...

How is that the job of a programmer and not tech support? And how is this being done by so many people that the average of 5.6 hours makes sense?

Tech support? What's that?

Most software is written for internal company use. In my last job, the software we wrote was used by hundreds of users in my company. No way is the company going to hire tech support people for internal software.

We were very aggressive in ensuring we don't get support questions all the time. We made some of the customers our tech support. Every "domain" of our software had experts amongst our users. So if any user had a question about performing X with our libraries, they were to contact the customer who was an expert in doing X. If he couldn't help, then that expert would contact us. Direct questions to us from new users were just replied to with "Check with the experts first".

This helped a lot in cutting down requests. But most companies/orgs, in my experience, will not be supportive of that type of tech support. We had to be very aggressive in it, and we had the backing of our and the users' department heads.

At my company, there is an list where problems that can't be handled by tech support or customer facing people get raised. Cases where the documentation is unclear or absent, things that can't be obviously classified as bugs, etc. Making a habit of answering those is a great way to learn about the system you're working on.

That said, I don't spend hours on it.

I spend more time clicking "select all like, delete all" than actually reading them.

How is it possible that even in the worst cases you spend more than 5 hours doing this? Every single day? Most emails require a quick, pre-determined response (which google actually makes easier for you now) and the ones that don't are surely not taking more than 5 minutes to type out.

What do you mean Google makes answering emails easier?

It's not really that much easier, but their new AI let's you type certain common responses like "Thank you, I'll look at this" in an instant. They made a presentation about this.


ah yes. I found those just add a lot of cognitive load to no benefit. By the time I've read "thanks!", "Yes", "How about tomorrow?" I could have just typed a response. Maybe it's just me but I basically never replay to an email with such terse responses as the options provided in Gmail.

What?! No. I saw it like 15 mins barely. It's all slack now.

Though it doesn't help at all if all the interruptions just move to slack, a realtime chat environment may just make messages feel even more urgent to react to than email...

Favourite pet peeve: People who mention me or DM me to get my attention, and then patiently waits for a response before asking the non-critical question they could just have typed out and left for me to deal with when I have time. That kind of behaviour seems to be considered acceptable on realtime environments, and it's 10 times more disruptive than sending an e-mail..

slack is not disrupting my attention a lot because I have subscribed only to direct messages and bugs assigned to me directly by QA. I make sure I reduce subscriptions as much as possible by muting most of the channels.

Yeah, that's how it should be. But I'm sure for many it's not.

I could easily burn my entire day following our Slack channels. Email is barely a blip anymore.

Isn't handling documents one of the main tasks in an office job? I don't see the big deal with spending a few hours per day on one of your core tasks.

If you work for 8 hours, 9am to 5pm, 5.6 hours is not "a few hours".

No, unless your job is specifically about communicating with people via email. Which definitely isn't a programmer's job, for example.

Unless you work a monstrous hybrid / support / leadership role that sees you both doing long term project work, mentoring, and immediate fixes. I remember my last day with an uninterrupted of 4 hours of flow was about a month ago. That was a super productive day. I still think about it sometimes.

> I still think about it sometimes.

Picture it... Sicily, 1922.

It's in Sepia tones and everything.

I barely check my email more than once a week, I get so many it has become useless. If it is important someone will call or come over to my desk and ask if I got the email. Same goes for voicemail, I rarely listen to them. For three years I just deleted all of them from my boss. It never caused any issues.

Proud future troglodyte here. It would appear I am not average.

I check work email twice a day at most unless someone says there is a meeting invite I need to accept. I don't accept meeting invites unless I know what the meeting is about and that I am really required to attend. Most of my emails are filtered and all external emails default to the spam folder.

I check personal email a few times per week at most unless I signed up for something that sends a confirmation email. I run my own mail servers and use strings+more to read email and the S25R regex methodology of blocking connections from generic devices.

I am sick of Slack and try to avoid looking at it and the dozen other places my coworkers chat or share docs.

5.6 hours per weekday! That seems too much to be true. If we work 8 hours, we're left with 2.4 hours to do something else than checking emails.

It seems believable. It is sad but for many people, work still means spending a lot of time emailing. Some people don't do much beside emailing about meetings, calling about meetings, and actual meetings.

I certainly don't think this is the case for the average user, but I knew about three people who this is absolutely the case for.

Personally I check email 5.6 hours per day, Slack 6 hours, Instagram 3 hours, HN 4 hours, Reddit 4.5 hours, Twitter 6 hours, and I still manage to work 14 hours per day.

Right. I had to get up in t'morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down t'mill, and pay t'mill owner for permission to come to work.

(apologies to Python and the 4 Yorkshiremen) :)

How many people actually check their email ? I get a notification if a new email arrives, there is no need to 'check' anything.

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