Emails have been around for quite some time. It all began a long, long time ago (1971 to be specific) when Ray Tomlinson chose to email… himself, to test this new technology.
Over time, emails have become omnipresent, and impossible to avoid in nearly every industry. You would think that with the rise of the web and mobile apps for communication, emails would become obsolete. Nope. Emails are still around and will be for many years (probably until we can telepathically communicate via a chip). And they cost us a lot of time (and money).
The average employee is said to receive 121 emails per day. Assuming they usually need to respond to some, this means that a few hours each day are spent in the inbox. These hours add up quickly. Quite understandable for support or sales staff, but for everyone else? Perhaps unnecessary.
In this calculator, we've gathered formulas for calculating how much time you might be spending lurking in your inbox. What's even more fun - we tell you what you could do with that time instead. There's a whole, wide world of opportunities out there that you could indulge in if you could limit your email time by even a tiny bit.
How to use this calculator?
It's pretty easy to use this calculator. Start by entering several details about your current emailing habits. You can also provide a few more details if you want want some physical alternatives. Then magic happens!
Provide us with the following numbers:
I usually receive X emails/day - tell us the approximate number of messages you receive a day. Skip everything that goes into the spam folder. If your 'promotions' folder receives plenty of emails, but you don't bother to take a look, skip this as well.
I check my inbox X times/day - how many times do you open your email client, whether it's on the web or mobile? Doesn't matter if you check it only when a new message notification pops up, or you check it periodically. Give an honest number here.
I tend to … - here we ask how serious you are about all these new messages you receive. Do you:
- Read emails with regular speed - open an email, read it briefly and move onto the next one
- Read each carefully - spend a little extra time on an email, giving it some thought while still reading it
- Skim read them - open it but very briefly read what's in there, just to get a general sense
- Only glance at each - don't even open it but quickly look at a subject line and/or preview text and move onto the next one
Just choose your most common behavior, even though it will naturally vary depending on the content and the sender.
I respond to … - Here, we ask how many of the emails you declared in the first field you actually respond to. Maybe you need to respond to all of them? Or maybe just a few? Let us know.
Each takes me X minutes to respond - Finally, let us know how long on average you spend responding to each of these emails.
Then, we ask you for a few more details. If you give your weight, age, gender and your country, we'll fetch your life expectancy and perform a few further calculations.
Now, you'll see how much time you dedicate to emails every day. Surprised? Underwhelmed? Either way, we think it's worth trying to cut this time by even a little bit.
How is this calculated?
When trying to determine the length of your email time, we sum up the time spent reading emails and responding to them. We also account for the time needed to refocus on your task once you have completed your visit.
According to “The Cost of Email Interruption”, a paper published by Thomas Jackson, Ray Dawson and Darren Wilson, “The time it takes the average employee to recover from an email interrupt and to return to their work at the same work rate at which they left it, is on average 64 seconds.“
For that reason, each of your visits accounts for an additional 64 seconds of wasted time. It might be that your email check is inevitably connected with a visit to the water cooler that happens to be three floors down (careful on the stairs!). If that's the case, your number may be a bit undervalued.
We also take into consideration the amount of time you may be spending reading each email. Litmus has published an interesting summary of this. Apparently, the amount of time spent viewing emails is slightly increasing each year, with the average being 11.1 seconds in 2016.
We take this value as the default option hidden behind "I read each email with regular speed". Of course, the number will differ depending on your reading speed, the length of the text, the readability of the emails and even attitude. We think it's fair to assume that the average duration will fit most of us.
For other options, we assumed the following values based on Litmus’ work:
- Read carefully - 20 seconds
- Skim read - 5 seconds
- Glanced - 1.5 seconds
If your emails are extremely long and you need 20 seconds to even skim read them, adjust your option.
The other calculations are straightforward - we multiply the number of emails you respond to by the average time it takes to craft your response. It's then all added together to see the total time spent on emails every day.
What could I use this time for?
As we usually do here at Omni, we like to give you some alternatives to the time you just magically recovered. These can be some very simple to realise tasks, such as going for a walk or launching Netflix. But we also challenge you with some more ambitious tasks - walking the famous Pacific Crest Trail or cleaning the planet a little bit. Pick whatever works best for you. :)
When determining the number of calories you could burn, we take the Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) into account. This fairly reliable factor determines the speed at which your body burns calories at a given pace or intensity. We give you the following options:
- walking (slow pace) - walk at the speed of 1-2 mph (1.6-3.2 km/h) - so a very slow stroll
- walking (average pace) - averaging 2-2.5 mph (3.2-4 km/h) - a regular walk that probably won't get you tired
- walking (fast) - not running yet but moving at a speed of around 3.5 mph (5.6 km/h)
- jogging (average pace) - the average jog at around 4.5 mph (7.2 km/h)
- jogging (fast pace) - this one is a bit faster and you might get tired at some point, with an average speed of 6 mph (9.6 km/h)
- running (very fast) - a sprint at around 10 mph (16 km/h). If you can keep up this pace for an hour or two - you're in good shape!
Find more options in the full MET Table.
Walking a 4,270 km (2,653 mi) trail in the 15 minutes you managed to recover might not seem like the most realistic idea. Take it with a grain of salt. If you were to save these 15 minutes every day, you could get more work done. Bit by bit, this would accumulate to some really impressive number. After some years you would find yourself having accomplished a lot more because you optimised your email usage. And which boss would say "no" to your kind request for a few (dozens of) months of well-deserved hiking?
The last idea comes from something that we did at Omni ourselves. Seeing how many cigarette butts are left carelessly in the vicinity of our office, we decided to take action. One day, the five of us went for a walk and managed to clean an impressive 1,000 butts in just half an hour. Imagine how many you could pick up with your recovered email time.
Check out our dedicated Cigarette Butts Cleanup Calculator with a lot more data about the campaign and the formulas behind it. And join us!
How to reduce my email time?
Often, reducing the time spent on emails can be really easy. Here are some of our tips for you and your teammates:
- Be concise. Make your emails short, and yet, actionable. Don't get bogged down in long descriptions - use bullet points, screenshots, and bolded content. Make it very simple for your reader to get the point of the email and they'll treat you the same way.
- Avoid back-and-forths. Provide all the information your reader needs right away. Don't send vague emails that will result in 10 back-and-forths in the next half an hour. Anticipate what the reader might misunderstand or have questions about. Give a clear answer before they've even asked.
- Don't sort emails into folders. Splitting your messages into dozens of folders might seem like a great idea for keeping order, but it's only costing you more time in your inbox. Rather than having all the incoming mail in one place, you need to jump between folders to find the right conversations. Use tags instead.
- Cc/Bcc only those that need to be there. Think twice if so many people need to receive a copy of your email. For each that you add, you risk them responding, costing you even more time. What's more, you might be wasting the time of others, sending them the content that often doesn't require any action from them.
- Think if email is the right approach. Often times, describing a complex issue in an email will take a lot more time than a quick call or conversation would do. Sending a Slack message is much faster. Assigning someone to a Trello card will work better than an email with a list of tasks to perform. And these are only some of the many examples.
- Mute notifications. Do you really need to react to an email the moment it arrives? Probably not. Receiving constant notifications about new emails can mess up your entire to-do list. Mute the notifications and focus on the task at hand. Set up regular time periods where you can check your inbox and respond to your emails all at once. Then, go back to your task and visit again in an hour or two.
This calculator was built in cooperation with the team behind Mailtrap - a platform for testing emails on staging and development.