Managing “emails”

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Email Management generally refers to the systems and methods that can be implemented to become more efficient when it comes to handling the abundance of email office workers received every day. Email management is a method for increasing email efficiency while reducing the negative effects that email handling can have on an individual's productivity and job satisfaction. In the workplace, inadequate email management may waste a significant amount of an employee's time, as well as obstruct other employees, and have a detrimental influence on the firm as a whole. Email processing can take up more than 28% of an employee's workday[1], and if handling patterns aren't streamlined, it might be much more. The reason behind the importance of understanding email management is that email is today used as one of the main ways of communication and communication is not only a requirement of ISO 9001:2015 standard but also a standard requirement across all ISO management system standards (ISO 14001, ISO 45001, ISO 27001 etc.).

Background of Email

Figure 1 Worldwide daily Email traffic 2015-2019 [2].

The very first version of what we now know as email was invented in 1965 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) This was a part of the university’s Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTS), which allowed users to share files and messages on a central disk [3]. This was a huge revalation since now communication could happen fast and instant, through the advancement and the expansion of technology email fast became the common way for communication both in businesses and private alike. At the end of the 1990s emails had gone from a luxury/curiosity to become a societal expectation like having a phone number.

Today emails are by far the most common way of communication with a staggering 333.2 billion emails sent every day (2022) [4]and in total it is estimated that about 5.59 billion active email accounts exist worldwide [5].

Email is used for organizations of all sizes such as the government communicating with the population, B2B, B2C as well as one of the most prominent ways to market. As the number of internet users continues to grow and communication through the internet has become a daily routine. Marketing through emails has become a commonplace, even an inevitable phenomenon. Nowadays marketers use a lot of effort on webinars and video campaigns as well as other new opportunities to reach their customers. But even with new ways of marketing sprouting every day, email still seems to be generally the most effective. Email in fact generates 42$ for every 1$ spent which amounts to 4.200% of ROI[6] as well as being up to 40 times more effective at reaching target consumers, than Twitter or Facebook[7] making email by far out scale any other options for marketing. The global E-mail marketing market was valued at $7.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to increase to $17.9 billion by 2027. [8].

Importance of managing emails

In organizations, it is clear to see why email remains one of the most popular means of communication both for social environments as well as for businesses. Email makes it quick and user-friendly, enabling quick decision-making within the organization. Compared to other means of communication, emails are also one of the most cost effective [9] and a rich[10] form of communicating. With these characteristics, email usage provides significant gains both for organizational productivity as well as efficiency.

Even though there is no doubt how much organizations across the globe are benefitting from using email to communicate both internally and externally, emails come with some pitfalls. The volume of emails sent and received every day is huge, which also results in this volume having huge cost implications, both organisationally and personally. To support the volume of emails organizations are estimated to spend up to $17 billion every year on email software as well as work time spent reading and writing emails.[2]. It is estimated that workers on average will spend 28% of the workday sending and checking their emails alone, which is about 10.5 hours per week in an average danish 37.5 hours workweeks [1]The average worker is also typically interrupted every 5 minutes by email.[11] Consequently the phenomenon of information overload or; email overload emerges, rather than email being beneficial for the organization and its users it now may be detrimental to the productivity. Email easy-to-use and substitute for other means of communications, such as meetings, calls, etc. may further reduce efficacy because a substantial proportion of emails sent or received within organizations are either non-business related (personal), non-business-critical, or just unsolicited spam.[12]

In general, the phenomenon of email overload describes the situation where possible business disruption due to email use, may significantly harm the well-being of users and impair their productivity. The term Email overload is well defined and is a phenomenon occurring when email use overwhelms the user. The term is most directly linked to the huge number of emails sent and received as well as the raw hours spent handling them such as writing, responding filing, and sorting them. Email overload is also less directly linked to the result of email use gives rise to the stress of its users.

The consequences of a huge volume of emails are that workers may fail to respond to critical mail, responded less accurately / wrong, ignore information, or even quit. Studies have shown that email systems contribute to the top two sources of workplace stress - 1) constant interruptions and 2) deadline pressures[13] and the instantaneous nature of email might contribute to users feeling compelled to respond instantaneously coursing stress, as well as mail compiling in the inbox around the clock.

Email plays such a big role in most organizations and people's lives, that with prober email managing there is a lot to be gained. In fact, it is estimated that poor communication is the number one reason project fails and is a contributing factor in 56% of projects that have failed. [14]

Email Management

The core problem of email management takes its roots in the email overload that organizations face everywhere. Email overload is a well-established problem [9] and is a recognized problem, still many organizations fail to handle this problem. When it comes to email management there are two perspectives to be considered: the individual's perspective and the organizational perspective. The individual is what each person themself can do to handle and manage emails properly, making sure not to miss any critical information as well as not being stressed by the abundance of mail ticking in every hour. The organizational perspective is how the flow of information can be restricted or improved to help everyone within the organization receive less and more focused emails, lessening the burden.

Email management on the individual level

Reduce the number of times you check the mail

The average office worker checks their email 15 times a day which is about every 37 minutes [15] which is far too often and by far more than necessary. A survey from March 2020 based on responses from 3.200 people showed that only around 33% of customers/clients expect a response in less than an hour [16]. Research also shows that it can take some people up 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully recover after an interruption [17]. Of all messages received it is only 35% that need a reply and a staggering 64% that does not need any reply at all. A high portion of productiveness is lost due to over-checking emails and being distracted by the mail notification. To solve this problem The Institute of Management suggests individual users should turn off messaging notifications and only checking emails as little as twice a day [13].

File emails correctly

When managing emails filing them can be a very strong tool to use but unfortunately, it can also do more harm than good if done incorrectly. As seen from figure 2 below, professionals postpone replies to emails that need a reply, hence a lot of time is wasted when the professional later returns to the postponed emails, re-reading them. Most people that deal with this problem create folders for various topics and archive emails accordingly. But on average people end up creating a new email folder every five days and have about 37 different folders on hand [18]. When filing emails, one should not have a lot of folders for different topics but a few folders for which action should be taken regarding the emails such as TODO or read later. Having a lot of topic folders actually cause more time spend on filing all the emails due to having trouble finding the correct folder for the mail. A system proposed by the Texas Tech University Libraries (see figure 3) is filing emails in what is called 10 minutes triage. When filing emails, only spend 10 minutes on this task in which you decide what to do with all the new emails you have received. Either you immediately delete (such as spam, irrelevant or finished emails), respond, file after action, or delegate the mail to whoever the task is meant for. 10 minute triages also fit well in environments where checks of emails are needed less often such as every 1-2 hours.

Inbox 0

Going for 0 emails in the inbox is very a strong method of making sure no mail is forgotten or overseen. This should be done by archiving all emails that have been dealt with. Emails that are completely finished and which are not needed again should be deleted immediately. Having a full inbox will also be very distracting making rereading old emails a common occurrence.

Reduce number of Irrelevant Emails

According to an article on Superoffice, the average person opens 20% of “permission mailers” (e.g. newsletters) which they then spend on average about 15-20 seconds reading each of these emails, taking more than four minutes each day [20]. Just deleting an email takes an average of 3.2 seconds, adding up to more than three minutes per day. This is a small but important reason to unsubscribe and block unwanted emails rather than just deleting them.

Write More Precise and Less Emails

Email Overload often leads to frustration due to the feeling of never getting work done, as a result, this leads to people trying to answer as fast as possible to get to the bottom of the unread mails. Research suggests that one of the causes of email overload is that a lot of emails are unclear and incoherent hence leading to more confusion and thus more emails [21]. When sending emails it is very important to an informing subject title [22], as well as the content of the mail, being very clear and understandable reducing confusion for the receiver. Other forms of communication channels should be promoted more such as face-to-face talk or phone calls which is a richer medium for communication than emails.

Texas Tech University Libraries (2018) [2].

Email Management on the Organizational Level

Email Guidelines

Companies should issue guidelines, which would include the use of email only after careful consideration, avoiding letter style writing, not sending "thank you" emails, and using acceptable abbreviations, e.g. ‘FYI’ [23]. Many of the emails employees received are also shown not to be relevant for them. Usually, these irrelevant emails were a result of emails sent to all employees[24]. This was particularly true when employees used a reply-to-all message where the entire company received the message yet it was only ever useful to one or two individuals[24]. To eliminate or reduce this problem it should be encouraged to restrict the use of "email-to-all" messages, and especially "reply-to-all" messages. To achieve this on an organizational scale better education and training on the use of email should be done.

Inform of Email Management Policy

The organization’s corporate email management policy should makes it clear what emails employees should be able to identify to keep as official records and what emails can be deleted. Most importantly, employees in the organization must be aware of how and where official record emails are to be captured and retained. [25].

Encourage Different Ways of Communication

Since information can be lost using email as a communication channel and since email is a prominent way of communication inside organizations, a strategic shift in organizational culture is proposed [23] by discouraging the predominant use of email in favor of more effective methods such as face-to-face or telephone interactions. This could be encouraging by having teams that are working closely together on a daily basis, located in the same place physically, making them use face-to-face talk as an easier and more accessible communication option instead of emailing. e.g. open offices could be a way to lower the number of emails sent within the organization.

Software That Can Help With the Handling of Emails

With the rise of technology, communication has moved online giving birth to new social technology. At the beginning of the 2010s companies started to move their internal communication from emails to social technology such as Alack, Asana, Teams and other communication tools. Research done by Mckinsey showed that about 72% of companies today use social technologies in some way but very few are anywhere near achieving full potential benefits [26]. A lot of companies have spent resources on developing ways to reach consumers through social technology but McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) still expects there is at least twice the potential value gain in using social tools to enhance communication, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises than used now. Other software products such as Microsoft Outlook incorporate integrated applications for handling emails such as automatic rules for handling spam/junk emails as well as sorting/clustering emails into pre-defined folders, helping a lot with reducing the time spent on managing emails. [27].



When implemented and applied correctly email management can be a strong tool both on an individual scale and an organizational scale.

Firstly, it will increase productivity by reducing time spent on redundant and unnecessary emails as well as improve the efficiency of filing and answering emails. Even though the quantitative benefits of correct email management may not seem all that impressive when put into perspective of a long duration of time or in the perspective of big organizations the benefits start to become irrefutable.

Secondly, it will make the communication lines internally and externally more robust by increasing the rate that critical emails will be intercepted and dealt with.

Thirdly, correct email management may help improve employees' mental health by lowering the amount of stress that can be felt from an unkept email inbox.


Email management is not just a model or a tool that can be applied one time, it is a fundamental change of how to use email and communicate. Generally, it will take a longer time to implement as it is a process that people have to get used to on an everyday routine basis. It is also hard to tell how big of an impact email management will have on a specific person or organization prior to knowing how they already handle emails and communication. Unknowingly a lot of the email management methods are inherently intuitive and might be something that is already implemented in one form or another and therefore would give variating results.

Another limitation of email management is the inconsistent nature of communication, organizations and people. Everyone has different ways they prefer to communicate as well as different needs for emails both personally and professionally. It is thus also very difficult to give general guidelines on how to become more efficient in managing emails. Email managing should be used more as a frame of reference/guideline rather than a checklist.

Annotated Bibliography

Following references may be beneficial for further reading on the topic addressed in this article.

Whittaker, S., and Sidner, C. (1996) - Email overload: exploring personal information management of email. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI ’96, ACM (1996), 276–283. For the detailed description of Email overload and why this is an important topic as well as what to do about it, read pages 276-283 from Whittaker, S., and Sidner, C. (1996). It goes through the problem the reason behind the problem and practical examples of how to deal with email overload such as how to file emails as well as full inbox do's and dont's

N.Panteli (2002) - Richness, power cues and email text pp. 75-86 For and clearer description of the richness of online communication and how companies should use and understand email as a communication medium, read pages 75-86 from Richness, power cues, and email. It is a study carried out on email messages distributed within two academic departments over a period of several months-

Whittaker, S., and Sidner, C. (1996) - Email overload: exploring personal information management of email. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI ’96, ACM (1996), 276–283. Is another source that looks at Email overload with the perspective that of emails being a business-critical tool within an organization. The research is based on a sample of 1100 employees of a multinational technology firm. the pages 276-283 goes through finding of email handling of the employees as well as weak points that's been spotted and both how individually and organizationally one can deal with the email overload problem

  1. 1.0 1.1 Mckinsey (2012) - The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies -
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 The radicati groupe (2019) - Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019 - Email-Statistics-Report-2015-2019-Executive-Summary.pdf
  3. The guardian (2016) How did email grow from messages between academics to a global epidemic? -
  4. Earth Web (2022) How many Emails are sent per day in 2022? -
  5. Outlooktracker (2020) -
  6. hubspot (2022) -
  7. Mckinsey (2014) - Why marketers should keep sending you e-mails -
  8. Statista (2020) -
  9. 9.0 9.1 Whittaker, S., and Sidner, C. (1996) - Email overload: exploring personal information management of email. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI ’96, ACM (1996), 276–283.
  10. N.Panteli (2002) - Richness, power cues and email text pp. 75-86
  11. T. Jackson, R. Dawson, D. Wilson - Reducing the effect of email interruptions on employees International Journal of Information Management, pp. 55-65
  12. N. Nelson (2003) - Anti-spam for business and ISPs: Market size 2003–2008
  13. 13.0 13.1 BBC (2000) - E-mail stress overload -
  14. Project management institute (2015) - My project is failing, it is not my fault -
  15. Forbes - Annabel Acton (2017) - How To Stop Wasting 2.5 Hours On Email Every Day -
  16. Jeff Toister & SuperOffcice (2020) - How quickly should you respond to email? -
  17. Gallup business Journal - Gloria Mark - (2006) -
  18. Harvard Business review - (2019) - Time Management - How to Spend Way Less Time on Email Every Day by Matt Plummer
  19. Dabbish, Laura A., et al. (2005) "Understanding email use: predicting action on a message." Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems.
  20. Steven Macdonald - SuperOffice (2021) - The science behind email open rate (and how to get more people to read your emails)
  21. Silvia Pignata (2015) - Employees’ perceptions of email communication, volume and management strategies in an Australian university
  22. T.W. Jackson, R. Dawson, D. Wilson (2001) - The cost of email interruption Journal of Systems and Information Technology, 5 (1), pp. 81-92
  23. 23.0 23.1 C. Evans, W. Wright (2009) - To all users: Copy all users Management Services, 52 (1), pp. 24-27
  24. 24.0 24.1 Jackson, Tom; Dawson, Ray; Wilson, Darren (2001) - The cost of email interruption.. Loughborough University. Journal contribution.
  25. Nadia Lepak (2020) - RM 101: What is Email management, its challenges and best practices -
  26. Chui, Michael, James Manyika, and Jacques Bughin. (2012) - The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies. McKinsey Global Institute
  27. David Sumecki, Maxwell Chipulu, Udechukwu Ojiako, (2011) Email overload: Exploring the moderating role of the perception of email as a ‘business critical’ tool, International Journal of Information Management, Volume 31, Issue 5, Pages 407-414,
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