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4/14/2015
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David Wagner
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10 Astonishing Email Habits

The world's biggest study into our email habits reveals some strange behaviors we might want to consider breaking.
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(Image: Shani Heckman via Flickr)

(Image: Shani Heckman via Flickr)

The world's largest study on email was conducted by Yahoo Labs recently, and it revealed startling facts about how we use email. Examining more than 2 million users and 16 billion emails over several months, the Yahoo Labs researchers have given us the best picture we've ever had of the way we work and the way we communicate with email.

Yahoo email has more than 300 million different accounts. Many of those accounts are not run by humans or are not currently being used. To ensure that only human interaction was studied -- rather than bots or automated email --  the study focused on what the researchers called dyads, pairs of people who exchanged multiple emails in "reciprocal interactions."

Basically, they narrowed the scope of the study down to people who were using email to have a conversation. For privacy reasons, they also only studied accounts which had opted into this type of research. That left researchers with roughly 2 million users, who sent about 187 million messages to each other out of a total subset of the 16 billion they received or sent from Yahoo accounts or commercial accounts. Yes, 16 billion. Due to Yahoo policy, the researchers could not track personal emails from other email services. Their study also excluded social media notifications.

Even with all those exclusions, you can see the researchers had a giant source of data to draw upon. Though, admittedly, it meant that their sources were prone to certain biased behavior. They were more likely to interact, for example, with those with whom they have already corresponded than they would be with the entire subset of all of their email. Still, it makes sense to watch these types of relationships more than those between corporate or social media accounts, which are often one-way affairs.

The study gives us fairly amazing insight into how we use email, how often we respond, the size of our email interactions, and what causes threads to end or to go on. Fankly, some of it is hard to believe. Check out the most astonishing findings of the Yahoo Labs email study and tell us whether or not they line up with your own email habits.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/21/2015 | 1:15:11 AM
Re: Two minutes?
@Broadway0474- I'm with you. Depending on the task, it can be a longer derailment than the time it takes to look at the email. You have to get back into the mindset and restore certain things into short term memory.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2015 | 1:30:59 PM
Re: Two minutes?
@Broadway - exactly.  It's completely counter-productive.  Sadly, the IS Manager of our group promotes this kind of distraction by requiring us to respond within minutes to emails from her and certain other groups.  

I can't ever really focus fully on a task - because I always need to be on alert for an email either at my computer or on my phone.  I do have some "alerts" set up through Outlook to help parse out what I need to pay attention to but that doesn't help me when I'm on the floor using my mobile.  I don't really think this a great way to work, but it's not my show, so...
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
4/24/2015 | 12:22:03 PM
email response
The five word email response is all me. Usually when I get an email that needs something, it comes in the form of an attachment, so my emails are something like. "Thanks, I'll get on that." or "Here's the changes you needed."

 

I kind of get the two minute reply. When you are waiting on a response for something that leaves you stuck until you get the information from the other person, you're checking email constantly until it comes up. But it almost sounds like the new relationship obsession of always being in contact with the other person.
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