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How many work emails is too many?

We’ve all heard people complaining about emails. Rightly so, as email overload is a real thing that should be taking seriously. But how many emails is too many?

Email inbox

As the number of emails received rises, so too does evidence that email overload is harmful. Too many emails and email interruptions kill your productivity. It can take up to 20 minutes to get back to a task after being interrupted by an email.

But how many emails is too many? How do I compare to others? Am I receiving and sending more emails than an average worker? Or the opposite? And how are other people using and managing their mailbox?

All valid and intriguing questions, but not so easy to answer. As we are truly passionate about improving customer communication (and this of course includes email) here at Yablo, these are questions that keep us awake at night. So, we felt we should at least make a stab at providing an answer to these questions.

To get started, we developed a free inbox analytics tool. People can use this tool to scan their own mailbox to get insights in how they are using their inbox and how they compare to their own colleagues. We’ve restricted our tool to analyze work mailboxes only as we wanted to exclude personal mailboxes from our results. In the meantime, more than 1000 people have used our free tool to scan their inbox which has given us some great insights.

Ready for some fascinating email facts? Based on the analytics of all those mailboxes, we came to the following conclusions.

How many emails do we send and receive?

An average office worker receives 1657 emails and sends 382 emails each month. If we know that we have about 20 workdays per month, this means that we need to handle 83 incoming emails per day and send out about 20 emails per day ourselves.

Emails sent and received infographic

We also had a look at the heavy email users by calculating the 90th percentile of our dataset. If we look at the top 10%, we see that this group receives an astonishing 3746 emails and sends 749 emails per month. Or about 2 times more than the average.

Is Inbox Zero a myth?

You might have heard of an email management approach called Inbox Zero to stay on top of your emails. Inbox Zero was developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann and is aimed at keeping your inbox almost empty at all times. But is this a widely used approach?

Having really zero emails in your Inbox is of course not a realistic goal. There are always new incoming emails and emails waiting to take further action. To determine whether a person is practicing Inbox Zero, we’ve used the following criteria:

  • The person should not have more than 50 emails in their inbox.
  • The person must actively process emails in their inbox by deleting, archiving, or filing emails into folders.

Based on these criteria, it turns out that about 17% has implemented the Inbox Zero approach. On the other hand, more than 45% of our mailboxes had over 1000 emails in their inbox. It looks like you have mainly two groups of mailbox users: you either swear by the Inbox Zero rules and are rigorously managing your inbox, or you hate it (or just can't make it work) and just leave most emails sitting in your inbox.

Do you subscribe to the Inbox Zero approach? I wonder which kind of mailbox user you are 😊.

Inbox zero infographic

For those users who classify their emails, we also had a look at what was their preferred approach. It turns out that filing emails into subfolders wins hands down compared to simply archiving emails into the general Archive folder.

To flag or not to flag?

Outlook allows you to flag emails to remind you that you still need to take some actions. Those flagged emails are added to your task list as well. But how popular is the usage of those flags anyway?

More than 62% of our mailbox users has at least flagged one email in the past 3 months. So, it looks like a well-known way to stay on top of your emails. But if you look at the percentage of users that flags at least 5% of their incoming emails, this figure drops to less than 16% of mailbox users.

Email conversations

Conversations

In this section, we're focusing on actual email conversations. We consider a conversation an email thread between two or more people consisting of at least one message and a reply. To make it more clear, let's look at some examples:

  • If I send an email to a customer and that customer replies, we consider this a conversation.
  • If I send an email to a colleague and that collegue never responds, this is not seen as a conversation. Even if I send a reminder email to that collegue, it is still not considered a conversation.
  • If I send an email and receive an automated out-of-office reply, we also do not consider this to be a conversation.

How many conversations do we have?

On average, we have 209 different email conversations per month, or about 10 conversations per workday (taking again the assumption of 20 workdays per month). A conversation consists on average of 4.8 messages going back and forth. This translates into roughly 1000 email messages per month or 50 per workday. When we compare this number to our total email volume, about 50% of our email messages is spend on actual conversations.

Email conversations infographic

If we look at the top 10% of heavy email users, this figure grows to 420 email conversations per month or 21 per day.

Are we still using email for internal communication?

Email is a great way to communicate with people outside of your organization (such as customers, suppliers, vendors, and partners). But it is generally considered a good idea to use other tools, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, to facilitate internal communication and discussions.

But does this mean that email is primarily used for communication with people external to your organization? It doesn’t look that way! According to our data, almost half of all email conversations is between colleagues of the same organization (48,78% to be precise).

Internal and external communication infographic

Are you an active contributor? Or do you just read along?

We also had a look at the ratio of active vs passive conversations. Active conversations are conversations in which you actively contributed, either by starting the conversation or sending a reply. Passive conversations are conversations that you receive, but never contribute to.

Almost 1 in 3 of our email conversations are passive conversations. While this doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, it is something to look out for. Too many passive conversations are typically an indication that you are receiving a lot of emails just to keep you informed. It is advisable to evaluate whether all these emails are useful and necessary.

Commercial messages

Commercial Messages

In this section, we're focusing on commercial messages only. Commercial emails such as newsletters, sales pitches and notifications are often considered a significant factor in our email overload. But how many commercial messages do we receive? And how does this compare to our total email volume?

How many commercial emails do we receive?

Our dataset tells us that we are receiving 171 commercial email messages per month, or 9 per workday. Compared to the total number of emails we receive, this is 10,34% of our total incoming email volume.

On average we have 68 different email subscriptions (e.g., a subscription to a mailing list or newsletter). Looking over a period of 3 months, each subscription resulted on average in 7,84 incoming emails. In other words, when you end up on a mailing list, this adds 2 additional emails per month to your inbox.

Commercial messages infographic

Do we read commercial emails?

Of course, we cannot tell for sure if people have actually read an email 😊. But we can get an indication looking at the read status. Only 54% of commercial emails are marked as read. If you know that emails automatically get marked as read when you archive or delete them, the percentage of commercial messages that is actually read is well below this 54%.

How do you manage your mailbox?

Interested to see how you are using and managing your own mailbox? Try our free Inbox Analytics tool and see how you compare to these stats and those of your colleagues. You get a personalized report that gives you tips & tricks on how to improve your inbox management skills.

PS: We also give you a list of all your email subscriptions with a one-click unsubscribe option to quickly unsubscribe from all unwanted emails.

My Inbox Analytics

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