10 Astonishing Email Habits - InformationWeek

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4/14/2015
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David Wagner
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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GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2015 | 9:13:03 AM
I agree, 2 minutes sounds right
Keep in mind this isn't business, David - it's personal. Most smartphones now have access to Gmail. Hotmail, and Yahoo mail 24/7 with push notifications. If an email comes in, you see it instantly. Also, these were specific conversations with someone via email - really no different from a text message. You see who it is, decide to reply and go on your day. It doesn't require a lot of time or attention. My wife frequently converses with me via text while cooking and taking care of kids.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
4/15/2015 | 8:58:33 AM
Re: Two minutes?
Your Dead Thread one is an interesting one when it comes to business email, David. Often you hear time management advice along the lines of "only check email x times a day." But when a thread takes off, that's when the energy is there, and if you miss the wave, it can be tough to bring anything to the discussion. 
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2015 | 7:29:48 AM
Two minutes?
Two minutes is a pretty average time I think. I have two windows open all day to my email accounts, though I turned off notifications on my phone as when I'm done for the day I'm not answering any emails until morning.

I think that's the healthy way to do it, otherwise you're constantly grabbing your phone and can never switch off. 
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