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Why Email Has Become Dangerous 255

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the run-away-run-away dept.
mikkl666 writes "The Sydney Morning Herald runs an interesting story dealing with a study about email user behavior, explaining how and why email can be a terrible distraction: 'It takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email. So people who check their email every five minutes waste 8 1/2 hours a week figuring out what they were doing moments before.' Email is also compared to slot machines in the way it works psychologically: 'So with email, usually when I check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there's something wonderful — an invite out or maybe some juicy gossip — and I get a reward.' There are also some hints offered on how to keep control of the inbox, for those of us already addicted."
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Why Email Has Become Dangerous

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  • by BitterOldGUy (1330491) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:34AM (#24945627)
    with regards to comment sites!

    Now, WTF was I doing....

    • by networkconsultant (1224452) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:38AM (#24945675)
      Slashdot wastes far more time than e-mail :D
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Definitely. The best email I get is trying to sell me Nigerian iPod Enlargers... I'd rather a chance at +5 Insightful any day.
      • by AioKits (1235070) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:42AM (#24945719)
        Slashdot is merely the tool for my shovel leaning. Seriously, what were we doing? Don't remember...
        • by somersault (912633) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:46AM (#24946669) Homepage Journal

          The best/worst part of TFA (and I couldn't really keep myself reading after this pile of crap) is this:

          Mr Reynolds has even begun to think of email as rude and invasive, preferring to use tools such as Twitter and Flickr. He also uses social networking sites such as Dopplr, which tracks people's travel, to find out if they are away before he contacts them, and status alerts from instant messenger or Twitter to help him decide if now is a good time to interrupt them. Other tools, such as blogs and wikis, have decreased the amount of email that he sends and receives, while RSS feeds and recommendations from friends and colleagues allow him to keep abreast of the most important news.

          How the heck is checking multiple social networking sites, blogs and RSS feeds going to be any less distracting or addictive than having one place to check all your messages? Using multiple sites in such a manner means that every single message you send then becomes a mini adventure in itself, which is a surefire way to lose your train of thought. And since when was sending someone an email 'interrupting' them? Email will only interrupt you if you have a client open and set to alert you, or have been stupid enough to leave email enabled on your phone while doing whatever it is that requires you not to be interrupted.

          • How the heck is checking multiple social networking sites, blogs and RSS feeds going to be any less distracting or addictive than having one place to check all your messages?

            Fair point. I've managed to put some distance between myself and my email by connecting all my email accounts to Thunderbird, and just firing up the client two or three times a day. I don't really care if anyone hates me for it, they can always call me if the matter is urgent.

            Slashdot is my major distraction, I waste WAY too much tim
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Bent Mind (853241)

            Reading the bit you quoted, I'd say that Mr Reynolds has only recently discovered that Outlook isn't a Web browser. The next step is the realization that you don't have to open the message as soon as it arrives.

            I especially liked:

            which tracks people's travel, to find out if they are away before he contacts them, and status alerts from instant messenger or Twitter to help him decide if now is a good time to interrupt them

            My IM client is almost always set to busy. However, if you need to contact me, please send me an e-mail and I will respond as soon as I am able.

          • ow the heck is checking multiple social networking sites, blogs and RSS feeds going to be any less distracting or addictive than having one place to check all your messages?

            Great point, but perhaps an even bigger one is this: How is having twitter (and IM programs, for that matter) constantly popping up status alerts going to be less intrusive? Not only do you now have multiple programs popping up alerts, instead of just your email client, you also have moved from email to programs that are by their nature

      • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:49AM (#24945837)
        Yes: Email is also compared to slot machines in the way it works psychologically: "So with email, usually when I check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there's something wonderful â" an invite out or maybe some juicy gossip â" and I get a reward." There are also some hints offered on how to keep control of the inbox, for those of us already addicted."

        My sentiments regarding slashdot!
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Email is also compared to slot machines in the way it works psychologically: "So with email, usually when I check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there's something wonderful."

          Obligatory xkcd reference [xkcd.com]

          (don't forget to mouse over)

        • But then I'm a geek and have set up a random-futurama-quote autoresponder for when I get *that* bored.

          • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:48AM (#24946707) Homepage Journal
            I don't think email is any more distracting that talking ...in fact, I find it less so. I do at times carry on almost real time conversations on email, it is quiet (no one else in cube land can hear what you're saying). But, if someone comes to talk to me....the conversation at times goes on longer than needed, and not everyone takes the hint that you are finished and leave...

            Nice thing with email, it is asynchronous, you can leave a conversation hanging if you have to do something else which is more difficult to do conversing in person or on the phone.

            While I know that supposedly only old people in korea use email, I find it one of my best tools for conversing with people, often multiple ones at the same time. And since nowhere I've ever worked allowed IMs due to security reasons, I've never really used them. But, pretty much everywhere has email...

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        In fact, email probably ENHANCES productivity when the subject of the email received is:

        "Stop Reading Slashdot and Get Back to Work"
    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      Don't forget that there are other kinds of interruptions too - like IM clients that has the same effect.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by somersault (912633)

        Getting a marketing call is the worst. How the fark did they get my direct dial number? It's not just bad because it's directly distracting, it's bad because afterwards I get pissed off that I was distracted.

        At least if I choose to check my email (or IM) messages it's because I want to [know if I have any replies on /.]. Also if I'm busy I can just not check my email. Since I use Outlook for my work mail I can just check the system try to see if there's a mail icon anyway (but this only works for the main i

      • And other humans just in general.

        I always keep all of the communication apps I have running on a different desktop from than the actual work I am doing. And turn off all automatic beeping and rectangle blitting to the active desktop. That lets me prioritize messages rather than someone else.

  • Hey (Score:5, Funny)

    by PunkOfLinux (870955) <mewshi@mewshi.com> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:35AM (#24945643) Homepage

    I check my e-mail more often than every five minutes and I

    What? What was I doing?

  • Email is the best (Score:5, Insightful)

    by adamruck (638131) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:37AM (#24945649)

    As far as not interrupting work, email is better than any other medium because I can choose when to read the message. That is not true if someone calls me, or walks into my cube.

    • by houghi (78078) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:43AM (#24945731)

      People call me telling they are going to send a mail.

      I used to check my mail two or 3 times a day, but where I work now it is a 'must' to respond immediately on every mail. Only half the work is done.

      I guess the only people actually working is IT to keep the mail server up and running.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by digitig (1056110)

        Quite. I usually check my email at the start of work, before and after lunch and at the end of the day. I used to get phone calls asking why I didn't respond to an email 10 minutes earlier, although I seem to have managed to train my co-workers that email is not an immediate means of communication (and that the "high priority" flag is their priority, not mine).

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by jep77 (1357465)

        I guess the only people actually working is IT to keep the mail server up and running.

        Which is why I spend ALL day e-mailing...just to make sure it's working... And I get paid to do this? What a country!

      • by VeNoM0619 (1058216) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @11:39AM (#24947545)

        People call me telling they are going to send a mail.

        People call me asking me if I got a memo, then I politely say I got it already, that I just forgot to put the cover sheet on it. But they insist on sending me the memo again just in case.

        Then my other boss walks in my cubicle, and asks if I got the memo, as I politely respond I just forgot to put the cover sheet on. But he insists that he's "gonna have to go ahead and send me the memo again".

        I can't wait for the meeting with "The Bobs" to explain how I only get about an hour of actual work done a day.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tomji (142759)

      Same here, I need to focus and often do not check my email for an hour or two.
      Any phone call complelty kills my focus.

      Stupid studies like this that do not consider the impact of alternatives just make my bosses encourage others to call me instead of writing me a well structured Email.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zarkill (1100367)

      At our company there's always talk about how "email is so impersonal and such an inefficient communication method" and "wouldn't it be much better to just pick up the phone or walk over to someone's desk", and every time it comes up I try to raise this very point.

      How am I supposed to concentrate on what I'm doing if someone actually walks up to me and asks me something, or buzzes me on my phone? These things are interruptions that REQUIRE an immediate response. It's not like an email, where if I see one com

      • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @12:28PM (#24948363)

        Fortunately, I don't care about reviews any more.

        I use email because:
        #1. It is self-documenting. If you ask me the same question next week, I'll forward you the email I sent you last week.

        #2. It is self-documenting. If you want to claim that you didn't agree with something next week, I'll forward you the email where you did agree with it last week.

        #3. It requires a LOT more thought than talking. That means that people have to THINK about what they want to say rather than calling me and uh, well, I was, uh, that thing, it, uh, was, uh ....... Why waste MY time for YOU to get YOUR thoughts in order?

        #4. It allows me to send you lists like this. I can identify each point and if you have points to add, you can add them. You can reply to my points, by number.

        #5. All of the above WHEN IT IS CONVENIENT FOR ME. (and when you consider it convenient for you). You have a RECORD that YOU involved me. Now the ball is in my court. I will get to it as soon as I deal with the issues that are more important. And I expect the same from you.

        FUCK "immediate human contact". The people I've encountered are (generally) not pre-disposed to clear communication. They are easily distracted and LOVE personal anecdotes and trivia. That's fine when I'm at lunch or grabbing coffee or whatever. NOT when I'm trying to fix a problem before it impacts the entire company.

        When I'm working, I am WORKING. I expect the same from you.

        Put it in email. That way we'll have documentation for who was involved in the decision, what the decision was, why we decided that way, what criteria we considered and what options we discarded.

        If we have a "face to face" meeting, then SOMEONE is going to have to take notes about that and THEN write up those notes and get everyone's sign-off on them so they can be used as documentation.

        My current CIO hates the way I use email. I believe it is because he hates having a papertrail of his decisions.

    • Twitter? ROFL (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:08AM (#24946035) Homepage
      I agree with most of the article, but here's one that makes me ROFL:

      Mr Reynolds has even begun to think of email as rude and invasive, preferring to use tools such as Twitter

      Yeah, right! And did you know that heroin was invented because doctors in the 19th century thought morphine was too addictive?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zappepcs (820751)

      You should try this just to watch what happens. When one of those people that wants your time visits your cube, and while they are talking the phone rings, ignore it while they look at you like they are waiting for you to answer it. I treat the phone like email in that regard. If it's important, they'll leave a message and I'll get to them when MY schedule permits. Depending on caller ID, I might answer, might not. It's not the medium that is distracting, it is whether a person will let themselves be distra

    • by Aceticon (140883)

      The things is, the barrier to entry for other people to send you an e-mail is lower than to phone you and much, much lower than to walk to you cube.

      So you're a lot less likely to get e-mails for unimportant things.

      Then there's the fact that many e-mails are pieces of conversations that spread over multiple e-mails (e.g. question e-mail, answer e-mail, thanks e-mail)

      On top of this there are things like mailing lists and automated e-mails that pretty much mean you're pretty much being spammed by your colleagu

      • by 1u3hr (530656)
        Then there's the fact that many e-mails are pieces of conversations that spread over multiple e-mails (e.g. question e-mail, answer e-mail, thanks e-mail) On top of this there are things like mailing lists and automated e-mails that pretty much mean you're pretty much being spammed by your colleagues or automated agents. The end result is that the information to noise ratio of e-mails is much, much worse than in traditional means of communication.

        If you just let everything pile up in your inbox.

        If yo

        • by Aceticon (140883)

          Space to store filter definitions in Outlook is limited. Where I am now I long ago used all available memory for filters in Outlook....

    • That is not true if someone calls me, or walks into my cube.

      That's why I built and internapault. It works on employees at levels higher than interns with the correct shielding. And, yes, Dilbert is my hero.

    • by D Ninja (825055)

      As far as not interrupting work, email is better than any other medium because I can choose when to read the message. That is not true if someone calls me, or walks into my cube.

      Exactly. That's the entire problem with e-mail. I wonder how many times someone receives an e-mail to do something, or accomplish a task and says to themselves, "Well...I'll work on this later." Then, they wait, waste time, etc. If I want something done, I call the person or walk right into their cube.

      Additionally, e-mailing someone does not count as contacting them. Until you hear their voice on the phone or see them face to face, you have not made contact with that person.
      /rant
      //e-mail is pretty us

  • by qoncept (599709) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:37AM (#24945653) Homepage
    If you're checking your email hoping for an "invite out" or "juicy gossip," the time you are on probably isn't very valuable before anyway. In a business environment, you aren't wasting time, you're communicating. Not taking in to account organizational spam, of course.
    • I agree; I don't think I've *ever* gotten a "wonderful" corporate e-mail. I don't give my work e-mail to friends, and I don't use it for online forms... so I get neither personal communication nor entertaining junk mail.

      The only e-mail I read immediately is any e-mail from my boss, or someone on my current team. Otherwise I just ignore it until later... or delete it. E-mail really isn't much of a distraction if you proactively manage it.
    • by King_TJ (85913)

      Exactly! But beyond even that, the idea that checking one's email repeatedly means they're "interrupted from doing constructive work" is flawed.

      I know in my own situation, whether I'm reading/posting on Slashdot or repeatedly checking my email, it's because I have some free time to kill in the first place! When I'm given tasks to do, I'm going to focus on them first and the other stuff can all wait.

      The fact is, though, when you work in systems administration or computer support roles, your time isn't real

  • Dot dot dot. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:38AM (#24945667)

    Lets just throw in that distracting "talking" thing which many people are utterly addicted to. They waste hours every day talking or being talked at. Many love to exchange lots of gossip and when they hear something juicy or tell a joke and their reward center is triggered by another talker reacting positively they get a buzz like with a slot machine and it can be terrible for your concentration.

  • by FeatherBoa (469218) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:38AM (#24945677)

    usually when I check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there's something wonderful

    This describes Slashdot exactly.

  • I would have been first to comment, but the article reminded me I hadn't checked my email in nearly 5 minutes!

    On a more serious note, does anyone else feel this article is a bit on the flimsy side. To me, it reads like a bad self-help book in search of a gullible audience.
  • gmail (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tlacuache (768218)
    Gmail's helped me out with this. Any mail I'm expecting but is not critically important (developers' mailing list digests, stuff from my family, etc.) gets auto-tagged and removed from my index. So once or twice a day I look and see what new mail is in those areas. Spam gets moved to the spam bin. At that point everything else, which isn't too much, is probably something that needs to be dealt with when it brings itself to my attention. But at least I'm not getting interrupted with a "new mail" notification
    • Any half-decent mail client can do that. Apple's Mail.app sits on my dock and is badged with a little icon indicating the number of emails I have waiting that have got past my filters. I can glance at this and see if there's anything waiting for me.
  • The same goes for checking for the latest story on /.
  • I check my email maybe a few times a day. When I get a message Thunderbird shows a nice little box telling me who it's from and a bit of the subject. If I miss that there's an icon in the system tray. Why on earth should I bother to keep opening my email client window?

    • Maybe I should add that the summary shown when mail arrives it also good for evaluating if I should open the email client window or just do it later and avoid a context switch...

  • Sorry, not waste (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ccguy (1116865) * on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:44AM (#24945745) Homepage

    So people who check their email every five minutes waste 8 1/2hours a week

    This argument is essentially flawed: It does not take into account the time *saved* by checking the email every five minutes.

    If I get an email from my boss he might need an immediate answer, otherwise it is *his* time (more expensive) that is wasted if he needs an answer before he can do something.

    And this also applies for my colleagues.

    Plus since I don't have to idle while they answer, I make up for that 'wasted' time the article mentions.

    Please don't listen to this crap, if you don't want to waste time on email just ignore those powerpoints with music and flowers, but do read the work emails as soon as possible.

    • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:54AM (#24945897) Journal

      No, this is a case of folks needing to use the right medium for the right purpose. EMail is intended to be asynchronous. If your boss needs an immediate answer, he should walk over and talk to you, or pick up the phone. Sometimes, something is too complicated or will take a lot of back and forth, but is not urgent. I will schedule a brief meeting so as to presume the recipient needs to drop everything to attend to what I need. If something is urgent, I get my butt out of my chair and walk over to the person who has the info.

      Iit ain't really complicated/

      • by ccguy (1116865) * on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:06AM (#24946011) Homepage

        EMail is intended to be asynchronous

        Work email should have decent round-trip times.

        If your boss needs an immediate answer, he should walk over and talk to you, or pick up the phone.

        Yes, because a phone call is less of an interruption than a quick email. In fact a phone call is likely to interrupt if not annoy other people as well, and anyway if my boss calls me I'm going to say 'I'll check it and get back to you' anyway (my boss doesn't call to ask the time).

        If something is urgent, I get my butt out of my chair and walk over to the person who has the info.

        There's a difference between 'urgent' and 'as soon as you can'. I don't expect people to get out from a meeting to answer an email, and I think everyone's entitled to take a piss without being called on their cell. However, if they are on their desk and not doing something really urgent, I appreciate that they don't have long email checking cycles.

        By the way, I never email non work stuff to work addresses. I do have friends at work of course but if I send them something that is not related to work I use their personal addresses.

  • Push Email! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Piranhaa (672441) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:44AM (#24945747)

    This is why push email is so good. You don't (or don't need to) be hovering around your inbox like a dog wanting to get a treat. On my Blackberry, I setup filters and blocks so only the important emails come through, while the regular 'crap' stays on my inbox. It's still distracting (unless you turn on silent), but it still distracts a LOT less than checking your email every few minutes...

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:45AM (#24945769) Journal

    Okay, so what about all the other interruptions in the day (mandatory meetings that don't involve what you're doing but you have to go to it anyway, emergencies that pop up which you're required to jump after, the Boss stopping by to get your input on something he/she just saw somewhere, folks stopping by to tell you some joke they heard on TV last night, vendors(!) wanting to get a word in edge-wise with you, phone calls, etc)?

    Trust me, there's far worse than email out there (and I can always minimize my email client until I decide to go look at it).

    /P

  • 64 seconds? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ThePhilips (752041) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:49AM (#24945835) Homepage Journal

    In corporations, you have to react to e-mail fast. That's why people check it often.

    I'd say working in large companies is more dangerous (and distracting) than e-mail itself.

    Working for smaller companies, I never had problems writing 1000+ lines of code per day. Working in large companies, I have to stay after 6pm to be able to concentrate at all. And e-mail, believe me, is least of the distractions.

    • In corporations, you have to react to e-mail fast. That's why people check it often.

      Educate your co-workers! I tell everyone that I do not read my email continuously. Use emails for non-urgent stuff, big reports, stuff that needs to be filed or tracked, and quick questions that don't require an immediate response. For urgent stuff, I ask people to use the phone or IM. And if I need to concentrate, the phone goes to voicemail. If something comes up that is urgent enough to interrupt me while I do not want to be interrupted, drop by my desk.

      I don't like being interrupted by email, so

  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:52AM (#24945867) Homepage Journal

    TFA and some comments keep mentioning "checking email every 5 minutes".

    Don't you use email clients that check for new email automatically every 5 minutes and tells you if a new email has arrived? If you need to manually click a "get new emails" button every 5 minutes then I suggest you find a better program.

    In fact I've never seen an email client that couldn't do this, so what gives?

    • They're probably using gmail, hotmail, or some other web-based email system. Most people don't even seem to realise that stand-along email clients exist these days.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by travdaddy (527149)
      The end of TFA actually says:

      "Turn off intrusive alerts. Anything that pops up, flashes, or goes "ding!" will interrupt you when you're trying to focus and will trigger a response to check your email."

      That seems like a really bad idea to me. Without alerts, I would be checking for new emails a lot more often than I already do.
      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        And if the title of the email is precise enough, a simple alt-tab to the email client, reading the email title, deciding that it can wait and an additional alt-tab shouldn't break your train of thought that badly.

        If email has become dangerous, it's become of spam. I wonder how much ressources (electrical power, cpu cycles, bandwidth) is wasted by it.

      • by barzok (26681) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @11:10AM (#24947045)

        Actually, I spend less time checking for mail if I have alerts turned off. The alerts are a distraction more than anything else, every time I get one it triggers me to go look at my inbox.

        The key is SMART alerts. Only have it pop up an alert if something that needs immediate attention pops up. I've done this in the past, and it lets me work for hours on end without being distracted by non-priority emails.

      • by Pope (17780)

        I have to use Outlook at work, and the first thing I did was shut the volume off and turn off those fargin' toaster alerts. The icon in the taskbar will do just fine.

  • You could say the same thing about phone calls. However, I more easily ignore my email as it is far less attention grabbing than a ringing phone. With modern phone systems, you can see the person calling and voice mail helps you not to answer. That ringing is still distracting. With email, I tend to postpone all but the urgent emails if I have to work on something. It's how people manage the technology and not let the technology manage them.
  • by omnirealm (244599) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:15AM (#24946147) Homepage

    I work in a corporate culture where if you are not available via
    instant messaging, many perceive is that you are not really working at
    the time. I know several people who wake up in the morning and the
    first thing they do is connect via the VPN to get their instant
    messaging client running so that their bosses and coworkers think
    they are working diligently. I work best by batching tasks via email
    messages, so I make it clear to people to just send me an email and I
    will get back to them within a day or so. This does not work for some
    people; one person in my organization will try instant messaging me
    and calling my office phone, but he will not bother to send me an
    email, and then he will later complain that he cannot communicate with
    me.

    As a software engineer, I remain productive by having several hours of
    uninterrupted time to focus on a particular task at hand. When the
    code builds, installs, tests, and is in the repo ready for the next
    release, then I am ready to move on to the next task, like check my
    email, which I do maybe two or three times a day. I am able to give my
    code the due attention it deserves, and I can concentrate on not
    making coding mistakes by keeping the entire code context "swapped in"
    my head while I am working on it. During that time, invariably some
    project manager somewhere is panicking about a status report or some
    other overhead and is trying to get me to update a bug ticket or
    something. Usually, by the time I read his frantic email about the
    status report, I have already fixed the problem that he wants status
    on because I was able to focus on it without interruption.

    Most people eventually figure out that they get good consistent work
    from me regardless of the fact that they cannot interrupt me freely at
    any time, like most other employees in my organization. I do wish that
    more of my coworkers would take a more proactive stance on not letting
    themselves get interrupted all the time, since I see first-hand the
    negative impact it has on their ability to function. I get annoyed
    when I am trying to talk to my boss during a meeting and he stammers
    right in the middle of an important discussion with, "Uh, wait, I just
    got am IM, I, uh, need to, uh, just a second, let me think..."

    • Interesting you mention the IM client running. Though we do that as well, I typically am listed as "unavailable" and forget to check it. My staff just ignores that and sends me emails instead.

      Go figure.
    • by rickkas7 (983760)
      Also annoying: people who send an AYT IM, then proceed to spend a minute or two typing a long IM, instead of just sending me an email in the first place, thereby interrupting me twice.

      There are definitely things worse than email distraction.

  • It only takes me 3 seconds to recover my train of thought after thinking about sex. Which is why I'm able to think about sex far more often than I read emails.

  • I get between 300 and 500 emails a day at work. (This does not include the openSUSE emails, the catalog emails and the Apache emails I get on my home accounts.) Of course, I have my trusty blackberry always at my side.

    Instead of a distraction, I find email a productivity enhancement. I always know what is going on with my staff or my customers, and I can handle situations immediately. My inbox - and I just got in to work - has 35 items in it. After I resume work (away from /. distractions) I will empty my i
  • When interrupted by an email, I can easily determine my next move at work in about 30 seconds. But, then again, Solitare isn't that hard to lose focus on.
  • I switch -- I answer the phone for two hours and then put it on do not disturb for two. I only check e-mail about once every 30 minutes and make sure my inbox has 0 items. If I am not responding to something immediately, it gets flagged for follow up, categorized, and moved. I delete 90% of e-mail -- most of it is useless. Anything that won't be taken care of within a day or two gets put on a TODO/task list or delegated out.

    Works great for me.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:38AM (#24946543) Journal

    I think the study's results are extremely age-, habit-, and context-dependent.

    1) I'm a freight forwarder, dealing with time-sensitive issues all the time, and receiving around 150 emails a day (not counting junk/spam/personal). If it took me a minute or more to return to the context of what I was doing every time I answer an email, I'd never leave work. Perhaps for people in fields where email isn't a constant thing, it would be more distracting, but certainly not for people where email IS their job.

    2) I'm 41. I've been 'on the internet' since at least the mid 90's (cred: I had a 5-digit slashdot ID at one time but forgot the login/pw....) so for me email is a very usual way to communicate, I prefer it. Even I have to admit that I'm baffled by how well younger people (teens or 20-somethings) can multitask through 8 different chat threads simultaneous. Yes, like many my age, I try to tell myself that they aren't able to think 'as deeply' in that experience, but in honesty that's a rationalization and they may simply be much better at that 'style' of comunication. For someone like my parents, I'd say yes, an email may be very jarring but for my generation and younger, not so much.

    So while I can accept that a lawyer or researcher in his or her mid fifties or 60's, on hearing the 'ding' of email and breaking out of what they were doing to read it may indeed take over a minute to get back into the groove of what they were doing, I don't believe this result is average for most computer-literate people today.

    • Even I have to admit that I'm baffled by how well younger people (teens or 20-somethings) can multitask through 8 different chat threads simultaneous. Yes, like many my age, I try to tell myself that they aren't able to think 'as deeply' in that experience, but in honesty that's a rationalization and they may simply be much better at that 'style' of comunication.

      I think your rationalisation is fully justified and "multi-tasking", to the extent it doesn't relate to the differences between the sexes, is a fra

  • True story (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jeroen94704 (542819) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:44AM (#24946645)
    A previous co-worker of mine was always complaining about how all the email he got from the project lead was so distracting, and keeping him from getting work done. This surprised me, as I wasn't having this issue, even though we were on the same team, and getting essentially the same email. At some point though, we were was sitting behind his computer together when an email came in. That's when it became clear he had enabled every notification possible in Outlook: For every incoming email, a sound played, an icon started flashing in the system tray and a system-modal dialog popped up. When I pointed out that he might get a quieter day by disabling all notifications and simply checking his email manually a few times a day (As I do myself), he became very defensive and wouldn't hear about it. His argument was that some emails required his immediate attention, so he should know about their arrival instantly.
  • People (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smoker2 (750216) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:45AM (#24946659) Homepage Journal
    This says more about those people than it does about email. If they can't keep focussed on a subject without their mind wandering off because of incoming mail, then they need other remedies. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you must. Honestly people complain about all the demands on their time, and then deliberately put themselves in situations that increase those demands. Sounds to me like they are engineering an excuse to do less work.
  • Desktop Alert (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ohio Calvinist (895750) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:48AM (#24946697)
    I think this research should inform how mail clients (in particular those at work) are created, and how mail notifications are displayed to the user. In my own experience; I think that I've become more productive having turned off the audio notification when I get new mail, because when that bell chimes, by instinct if it were, I stop what I am doing and switch to my mail client, which definately upsets my train of thought for at least 60+ seconds. I've found the best method is to use the desktop notification feature with Outlook (we're an Exchange shop). I find I can quickly glance to see if the message is "worthy" of reading immediately, and get back to work without upsetting the thought at hand (I'm a programmer) and paying the penalty.

    I have to say; I think the most absolute distracting thing is a phone ringing, beit mine or someone in the cube farm. When I recieve a call, my thought processes are rattled for several minutes and most of the time when I hang up I find I get up to get coffee, etc. Even hearing someone elses phone is is enough to break a train of thought.

    I would give anything if there were some way to have a silent, maybe on screen or vibrating FOB or something, notification to pick up the phone; and the office made everyone use them.

    At my last gig the helpdesk phone rang to our area incase the HD (2 people) were out or busy and it drove me absolutely nuts; and I am sure it cost me literally weeks worth of productivity.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by UCSCTek (806902)
      I was going to post on how high I thought the 64 seconds of distraction estimate was, yet you seem to find it reasonable. I'm usually programming or analyzing data when I check e-mail (which tends to be every several minutes) and it certainly takes nowhere near a full minute to get back into my last task--for example, I just switched back to setting up some jobs to run right now and I'd guess it took maybe 5-10 seconds before I was full speed again. Switching from that back to writing this post was essent
  • Oh brother (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jav1231 (539129) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:51AM (#24946745)
    This is bean-counter doomsdayer mentality. These are the same bozo's that try to quantify how much time you spend tuning your radio to a station or watching TV and the like. You can't get that time back. People simply aren't going to sit at a desk and use every second of their work day doing robotic activity, get over it. Humankind has already decided that the benefits of email are viable regardless. People like this either need a life or a place to go that's really quiet so they can count grains of sand in a jar.
  • Dangerous? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bonewalker (631203) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:57AM (#24946847)
    Unless you are firefighter stopping in the middle of five-alarm fire, a cop, or an EMT, etc., I don't really think a distraction from work is "dangerous". Just an incendiary word thrown into the title to make people read the article or visit the site. Lame.

    Visiting slashdot is now dangerous, too. Luckily, it is only sometimes lame.
  • Thanks for reminding me - I was suppose to be checking my email.

  • by HikingStick (878216) <z01riemer.hotmail@com> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @11:07AM (#24946993)
    For those of us with ADD, that 8.5 hour figure isn't accurate. For the ADD mind, email can mean one of two things. It's either:

    1) business as usual (we're still getting things done and may even be more productive when our minds get these wonderful little rabbit trails), or

    2) we get absolutely nothing important done (so that 8.5 hour figure would actually refer to weekly productive time.

    Then again, for a minority of the ADD crowd (myself included), Slashdot takes the place of email in serving as that uber-stimulus that actually helps keep me running at peak efficiency.
  • Every 5 minutes? Must be some alien life form. I can barely drag myself to check my email once every 2 days or so. (And that's almost my only contact with the outside world -- no cell phone, no IM, either.)

  • Anyone else find it funny that MailTrust has an advert attached to this story
  • Typically it is the reverse for me. I sit around doing unproductive things until an email interrupts giving me something productive to do. Most of my emails initiate work for me, system monitoring emails, project starter emails, etc.
  • by DocJohn (81319) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @11:17AM (#24947171) Homepage

    The study that talks about the 64 second recovery time was published in *2002*. How is this news today??!

    Oh, and it included an astounding 16 subjects that worked at one company.

    Yeah, that's good data to base generalized conclusions on about all email usage and behavior.

  • I'll be sitting at my work desk reading /. when MS OutHouse pops a message saying that my boss sent an email telling me to get back to work. I hate email.

  • Have some self-control. Don't enable email notification features or applications. Don't have your Blackberry set to vibrate or beep when you get an email. When you're at a natural break in what you're doing (need a bio-break, have to talk to someone, just need to take a minute and stretch) check it at that point. Log out of your IM client or set your status to "away" or "busy" when needed.

  • some 60 years ago I remember a study which proved that Pepsi Cola caused Polio. It was a statistical study correlating the consumption of Pepsi with the rise of Polio. Statistics -- the currently favorite method of lying.

  • ... and so I've missed quite many opportunities to refinance my house, to save big money on male enhancement products, and help an ailing Nigerian prince transfer his inheritance to my bank account.

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