Do We Suffer from Email Information Overload?

Is “information overload” a problem in email? Yes:

  • Brits (and, presumably, most every other information-focused worker) spend 36 days each work year composing emails.
  • Seventy-two percent of email users experience “some”, “quite a bit” or “a great deal” of information overload in email according to a current study being conducted by Osterman Research. Plus, the survey is discovering that 50% of respondents are using email more than they were 12 months ago, and that only 3% are using it less.

Add to this the information overload we experience in other areas: in 2013, broadcast networks showed an average of 14 minutes 15 seconds of commercials during each of the five hours of television we watch each day; cable networks showed 15 minutes 38 seconds. Twenty-eight percent (1.72 hours) of all time spent online is focused on social media. The average user sees 1,707 banner ads per month. The typical mobile user spends 90 minutes per day on his or her phone.

What’s the problem with information overload in just email, let alone in other areas?

  • We end up missing important messages. Most of us have experienced a situation in which we missed an important email from a co-worker, customer, prospect or someone else simply because it got lost in the flood of emails with which we must contend on a daily basis.
  • We miss deadlines. Missing emails means that we miss meetings, customer deadlines and other time-sensitive events.
  • Potentially, we can lose revenue. If a customer or prospect asks a question and we either don’t answer or answer in a timely way, that can result in lost business opportunities and damage to our personal and/or corporate reputation.

So, we have two primary issues with which to contend:

  • We need to manage our information management more effectively. We deal with enormous amounts of information – so much so that we simply cannot process all of it effectively. While some may put a pleasant spin on this overload (for example, some have referred to “information overload” as “information abundance”), the fact is that we have only a fixed amount of time each day and a fixed amount of attention we can devote to important content. Much of what we encounter, particularly from social media, for example, is more drivel than meaningful information, and so placing personal limits on what we pay attention to is essential.
  • Perhaps more realistically, however, we need better tools to help us manage information more efficiently and effectively. This is particularly true for email, given that the typical information worker spends about 150 minutes per day doing work in their email system. Many vendors have attempted to manage this overload with varying degrees of success, but some of the newer tools are making good headway in actually doing something about information overload.

In short, the amount of information is growing, but the time and attention we can devote to it is not – we need better tools, particularly email tools, to address this growing mismatch.