How much do you waste on email?


How much time does the average employee spend on email each day? You’d think that’s a simple question, demanding a simple answer. But it’s not.

When I went to the magic Google Machine, and asked that question, the top five answers not only differed, but answered an entirely different question: “how much time is wasted on email each day?”

Now, this implies two problems. The first is that nobody really knows the answer to how much time we spend on email because it varies from person to person and day to day (but - spoiler alert - it’s a lot).

The second is that there is an implication that email, by definition, wastes time. Call me sentimental, but I don’t think ALL email wastes time, but boy I’ll grant you it can feel like it.

In terms of how much we spend, the estimates range from six hours a day (admittedly Huffington Post includes personal email in this number, and doesn’t restrict it to work hours) to somewhere between a third (The Atlantic magazine) and a half (pretty much everyone else) reading and responding to email.

That’s a lot of time, money and brain cells expended. Here’s some simple math.

Let’s assume you’re making a salary of $50,000 per year. (That seems high as a base, but let’s face it a lot of the real work like cooking your burgers and changing bandages is done by people who are too busy to deal with email as part of their jobs - this is largely a white collar problem). It also makes for easy multiplication because that’s $25 per hour. If we figure an eight hour work day (stop laughing) and a third of that is spent on email, that’s 2.64 hours a day. That’s $66 per work day, or $1,320 a month. That by the way is purely hourly cost, it doesn’t include lost productivity, rework or mental health costs.

Now let’s think about how much of that time and money is truly wasted. It seems endless; spam, ‘keeping you in the loop’ emails (despite your desire to escape the loop), emails thanking you for your answer to their last email, it just keeps coming and sucking up your life. So depending on the day, your work and your mood, somewhere from another third to a half is, well, let’s call it ‘unproductive’, rather than ‘wasted’. That’s a lot of time and money.

How do we stop email from slowly draining our will to live?

  • Take the 30 seconds to unsubscribe to newsletters, ads and other things that you no longer want. If it does nothing more than shrink the volume of email, you’ll still feel awfully proud of yourself
  • Check email only a few times a day. You’d be surprised how much “urgent” correspondence really isn’t…. and you can often combine several emails in one if you take the time. At least finish what you’re working on before diving into your inbox.
  • Send Instant Messages or pick up the phone! Email is not a synchronous tool, nor is it very good for immediate problem-solving involving multiple people. Use it properly.
  • You know all this. Quit whining and do it.

Email has its uses. But it can, like so much in life, be used for good or evil. That’s a choice we all make.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.