You’ve Got Email! Does it Really Matter to Process Emails Now or Later?

Resource Author:  Ashish Gupta, Ramesh Sharda, Robert A. Greve
Resource Date:  11/01/2011
Resource Name:  Information Systems Frontiers
URL:   Link to Source Article or Site

Some very fascinating findings regarding the optimum frequencies at which to check email.

Email consumes as much as a quarter of knowledge workers’ time in organizations today. Almost a necessity for communication, email does interrupt a worker’s other main tasks and ultimately leads to information overload. Though issues such as spam, email filtering and archiving have received much attention from industry and academia, the critical problem of the timing of email processing has not been studied much. It is common for many knowledge workers to check and respond to their email almost continuously.

Though some emails may require very quick responses, checking emails almost continuously may lead to interruptions in regular knowledge work. Managing email processing can make a significant difference in an organization’s productivity. Previous research on this topic suggests that perhaps the best way to minimize the effect of interruptions is to process email frequently for example, every 45 min. In this study, we focus on studying email response timing approaches to optimize the communication times and yet reduce the interruptive effects.

We investigate previous recommendations by performing a two-phase study involving rigorous simulation experiments. Models were developed for identifying efficient and effective email processing policies by comparing various ways to reduce interruptions for different types of knowledge workers. In contrast to earlier research findings, results indicate that significant productivity improvements could be achieved through the use of some email processing policies while helping attain a balance between email response time and task completion time.

Findings also suggest that the best policy may be to respond to email two to four times a day instead of every 45 min or continuously, as is common with many knowledge workers. We conclude by presenting many research opportunities for analytical and organizational IS researchers.