number of emails per hour = the new productivity measure?

In a modern business environment, email is everywhere. When using Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange / Outlook solutions, it is even the underlying technology for collaborative scheduling, tasks management and notes taking! And with emails being the “killer-app” for the mobile communication, from Blackberry to Palm Treo devices… it sometimes feel like your number one “productivity application” is your email client, with the word processor becoming the underlying technology for writing electronic documents sent over the Internet. Could this mean that the number of emails per hours (eMpH) one is able to process is the new way to measure productivity?

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As mentioned in my post about the Blackberry, when it comes to email, my goal is to have less than 10 messages in my inbox that still need my attention. After a few days of off-site meetings (or are you one of those who do email while in meetings?), my inbox started to fill itself up, getting me very far away from my target. Tanking time to go through it and “catch-up” with my inbox, I noticed that my average score is between 30 and 40 emails per hours: A little under 2 minutes on average per email. This includes the FYI notes that are very quick to read, those forwarded to someone else, the longer emails that need detailed answers, those that will require longer actions once the “email cleaning session” is over, and the ones that could be treated in 2 minutes or less. I was actually quite surprised how little time on average I need per email. What is your eMpH?

In this information age, another funny metric is the number of RSS feed entries you can go through per minute. Using any RSS reader, you usually are able to skim through by filtering by subject and description, and then reading the full entry if it is of interest for you. I currently subscribe to a fairly large amount of feeds, and interestingly enough, it takes my blog post per minute ratio is also at about 30 to 40, taking into account the full articles I read and those I just skim through. Is there a link?

It is really interesting to see how technology has changed the way we work in recent years. From my side, my email client has almost completely replaced the word processor, my RSS reader has replaced the various web pages I used to go every day to check the latest… both technologies have enabled to dramatically increase the number of information that can be consumed and actioned within a given period of time, but can also sometimes feel out of control. Try going on holiday for a week. The only option could well be to take an extra day just to catch-up with your inbox and voicemail… but then again, there’s always the “Select all + Delete” method, knowing that if it’s important enough and not yet sorted, the person who sent the first email will follow-up with you anyway, not that I would do that :-)

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One thought on “number of emails per hour = the new productivity measure?”

  1. Gérard,

    I feel the same: the percentage of my time spent in email seems to be increasing slowly by steadily over the years. When it comes to the inbox, my goal is to get to zero (yes, zero!) emails in my inbox after “inbox processing”. Five is not acceptable, two is not acceptable, one is not acceptable. In the GTD way, if it can’t be processed in 2 minutes or less, and requires some action, after I figure out what it is, and I should do next about it, it goes on a to-do list.


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