email overload

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Email is broken and it's time to fix it. Or is it that we've broken email, and it's time we fix ourselves? This presentation examines the problem of information and email overload from a research perspective, and presents a synthesis of different approaches we could take to start to resolve the issue. Prepared for my final masters capstone presentation. Not meant to be entirely read or understood without accompanying narration. See my website at for more on the topic of information and email overload.


Information & Email Overload

Email is broken and its time to fix itResearch and Responses to Information and Email OverloadWeve broken emailus

The Costs of Information OverloadIn fact, research conductedshows that the problem cost the U.S. economy around$997 billion in 2010.- Jonathan Spira, 2011. Information Overload: None Are Immune. Information Management,21(5), 32.Nearly $1 trillionBut one calculation by Nathan Zeldes and two other researchers put Intels annual cost of reduced efficiency, in the form of time lost to handling unnecessary e-mail and recovering from information interruptions, atnearly $1 billion.- Paul Hemp. (2009). Death by information overload.Harvard Business Review, 87(9), 8389. Harvard Business School Publication Corp.$1 billion at Intel aloneA study by Microsoft researchers tracking the e-mail habits of coworkers found that once their work had been interrupted by an e-mail notification,people took, on average, 24 minutes to return to the suspended task.- Paul Hemp. (2009). Death by information overload.Harvard Business Review, 87(9), 8389. Harvard Business School Publication Corp.24 minutes of focus lost for each switchStressed IT professionals are linked toissues of organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and work exhaustion.Two recent studies have emphasized the importance of technostress by studying the impacts of technostress. These studies have found that individuals experiencing technostress havelower productivity and job satisfaction, and decreased commitment to the organization.- Ayyagari, R., Grover, V., & Purvis, R. (2011). Technostress: Technological Antecedents and Implications.MIS Quarterly, 35(4), 831-858.Lower productivity, job satisfaction, decreased commitment, turnoverWhat are the causes?1.We have discarded our social contract.2.Volume increasing, but quality/complexity is the bigger problem.3.Popular coping methods exacerbate the problemWhat do we already know?Its a big issue to a lot of people!Wrote a quick post (rebuttal) and put it on Hacker News:Email is not broken, we are.Got up to #3 position within an hour, generated 30 comments and 53 points (as of now)50/50 on the positive/negative tone of the commentTraffic bump?Its a big issue to a lot of people!

Its a big issue to a lot of people!7,415+ views on that post80 Twitter shares11 Google+ sharesMY SERVER SURVIVED! Existing ResearchInformation overload proposed as idea in 1970s, research began in earnest in the late 80s, early 90s.Email overload research began in mid-90s.Split across psychological and HCI barriers, little treatment in the management sciences.Existing ResearchInfluential researchers with an email overload focus:Nicolas Duchenaut (Xerox PARC)Victoria Bellotti (Xerox PARC)Steve Whittaker (University of Sheffield)Danyel Fisher (Microsoft Research)Eric Horvitz (Microsoft Research)Bernard Kerr (IBM Research)Heavily practitioner drivenEmail = Tasks CommunicationEmail is now about tasksMultiple researchers have found that email has morphed beyond long-form communication into a task center.The more involved the task the higher the overloadHowever, neither rapid-response nor extended-response tasks are, we believe, the source of the biggest headache in managing e-mail overload (as defined in Whittaker and Sidner, 1996). We believe that a significant source of overloading is an overlooked factor that we call interdependent task management (Bellotti et al., 2005).The Overall Cause of Email OverloadBellotti et al., examining email as a center for tasks, found that users perceptions of overload corresponds to the number of unresolved tasks in the users inbox (and not the volume of messages incoming).- Hogan and Fisher, 2006Common Coping TechniquesFiling for organizationAction folders for specific itemsMassive folder structures for recall

Attention ManipulationMarking read messages as unreadResending messages to oneself to remember themForwarding to others

Bad BehaviorsNot communicating interaction expectations (social contract)Multicasting (CC spam, for every 100 people CCed, the org loses 8 hours of working time)Over-delegation resulting from the cheapness of emailConstant email checking means you never achieve full productivityMost of the common coping methods mentioned on the previous slide

Overload 2012 - San FranciscoInformation Overload Resource Group (IORG)Productivity vs. AccelerationIn a nutshell, current thinking and practice has confused productivity with doing more faster, or acceleration.Time out is a punishment because of our focus on productivity as a society. David LevyIn this post-industrialist society, we dont have a very good definition of productivity. Jonathan SpiraOnly 5% of a knowledge workers day is available for reflection and deep thinkingTechnostressA real physical problem causing increased stress, decreased health, poor productivity and job satisfaction, family life conflicts, and increased turnover likelihood.Most likely caused by fragmentation of workIn an information economy, attention is a scarce resource (Ayyagari et al., 2011). Scattering attention squanders both our competitive advantage as well as our wellbeing.Executives deal with ~300 messages a day, with 40 requiring quality, complex decisionstoo many (Zeldes, 2010).Technical SolutionsResearch-Driven SolutionsAppraisers (weighted rules) Terry, 1993Priorities System Horvitz et al., 1999TaskMaster Bellotti et al., 2003Auto-filing using intelligent agents Whittaker, 2005Classifying messages by type - Coussement et al., 2008Industry-Driven Solutions

Industry-Driven Solutions

Industry-Driven Solutions

Industry-Driven Solutions

Tech solutions have been tried, but few have stuck or been implemented.WHY?Incomplete implementations (ie, you cant replace Outlook)Lack of actionable dataSOLUTIONSOnly build small tools that can integrate with existing clients and solutionsWe need an email anonymizer for researchSolutions: Technical IdeasT-Idea: Present messages based on context (time available, place)

T-Idea: Present messages based on context (time available, place)

T-Idea: Present messages based on context (time available, place)

T-Idea: Autosuggest related resources

T-Idea: Visual indicator of availability and current overload measure

Solution: Behavioral EducationWhat type of email manager are you?

Re-establish the Social Contract!Decide on your email checking and response habits, both personally and as a team.Write down these expectations as a charter or as a contract, publish for the team.Define what will happen when people need faster responses, be aware of the habits of others.Tips: Do these NOW!Turn off desktop alerts in your email clientPut your receiving on a schedule, block out email times during your dayTurn off desktop alerts

Schedule send/receive times

Schedule send/receive times

Schedule send/receive times

Future ResearchWe need more usable/minable data. Create an email collection system that sits at the server level and collects anonymized data to create a corpus for researchers.Knowledge management science to replace our existing and unfitting industrialist management scienceProductivity vs. AccelerationAttention self-manipulation: what and why do people repurpose tools to deal with perceived overload? Do they realize the harmful effects?UIs to break the message inboxand line item metaphors.


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