Home > Work > Where the time goes: email

Where the time goes: email

I have recently been planning a new phase of work, and one of the issues I had to consider was how much work (if any) I could assign to myself. So I have been doing some analysis of how I actually spend my time, compared to what is in the project plan.

One of the big time-consumers is keeping on top of email. So for a random week I tracked the number of emails I sent and received, and the time I spent each day processing them.

I normally process email daily. I set aside a specific time to deal with it and ignore it for the rest of the day, unless I have a spare 10 minutes or so. I try to read and respond to everything that can be dealt with easily more or less straight away. If a more considered response is needed I add it to my ‘To Do’ list and prioritise it alongside everything else.

I have defined the time to process the email as including the time taken to deal with it following my normal routine, but excluding any response that required prolonged effort. For example during this particular week, there was an issue that required two emails, taking an hour and a half to write by the time I had checked my facts, thought about it and chosen the right words. I haven’t included this time as “processing” email.

I have counted all genuine emails including staff circulars (which I am expected to read and act on if necessary), but not auto-generated system emails like those reminding me that it’s month end.

That works out as 6 hours, in practice nearly a full working day per week, as follows:

Day Emails received Emails sent Minutes to process
Monday 19 12 70
Tuesday 17 11 75
Wednesday 13 7 80
Thursday 18 11 75
Friday 19 9 60
Total 86 50 360
Average 17 10 72

Was this week typical? My gut feeling is that if it isn’t, it underestimates the time slightly. On the Wednesday I had a half-day meeting, which also involved most of the people who tend to send me emails, reducing the number that day.

What about the others in my team? I’d guess they probably all receive slightly less than me; we don’t tend to email each other too much within the team

How does this compare with other projects? I have certainly worked on some projects where emails were far more common. I remember one job I had where I was getting 40-50 per day. I have had times when I have had less email, but only in non-Project Management roles.

It would also be interesting to know if the slightly over 4 minutes per email received is a good rule of thumb to use, if in a different environment I find I have much more (or less) email. If so it would mean someone receiving 100 emails per day would have time for little else – remembering that some of them would need time and thought before responding.

One thing’s for sure, my project plan doesn’t include any time for processing email!

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Categories: Work Tags: ,
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  1. December 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm

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