How much of your email do you read?


In order to classify the different types of email users out there, we often talk about "filers" (people who file their emails away into specially-named folders) and "pilers" (people who just leave everything in the Inbox and rely on searching to find the emails that they need).

I am definitely not a piler because my Inbox seldom has more than seventy messages in it, but, compared to the number of messages that I receive, the number of messages that I file away into a folder is statistically quite small (and, thus, ignorable).

Given that I am not a piler and that I am not filing away that many messages, this must mean that I delete a lot of email. This is true. OWA shows me both how many items are in my Deleted Items folder and how many of those items are unread, so I decided to do a quick calculation to determine how much of the deluge of email I am actually reading:

                it - total items in Deleted Items

                iu - total unread items in Deleted Items

                pr - percentage of items that have been read

                (it - iu) / it * 100 = pr

My Deleted Items folder currently has almost 3000 items spanning about a three week period (I periodically empty this folder for reasons having to do with obsessive tidiness; my office, apartment, and bicycles are submitted as exhibits A, B, and C). About 2000 of these are unread.  The exact percentage given the above equation shows that I read 32.91% of my email.

I'm going to postpone emptying my Deleted Items folder to see where this value trends to.  Are the percentages of email that you are reading significantly different from mine?

- Sami Khoury

Comments (16)
  1. Brad Meador says:

    Sami:

    I don’t think this calculation will be accurate for everyone.  Using a fairly generic setup in Outlook 2007 (Exchange 2007 Cached, Vista), if I view an unread message in the Reading Pane and click Delete, the message is moved to the Deleted Items folder, but is not marked as read.

  2. Lukas Beeler says:

    I’m not working in a company as large as Microsoft – but i read every (Ham-) Mail i receive.

    Legal Newsletters that don’t interest me are cancelled – so i don’t get a lot of Mail that i don’t consider wanted…

  3. Chris DeRemer says:

    My Barracuda reads my Spam for me ;)

    As I’m and obsessive delete-r like Sami, it’s hard to tell, but one of the biggest amounts of unread messages in my deleted items are attributed to system notices that come from some of our devices with useless info.  I have about 30 rules (and growing) to take care of just the syslogs, etc. so that i don’t have to read ones that don’t have anything pressing.

    Cheers

  4. Kevin McCormick says:

    Very interesting concept of generating some email statistics.  I’m giving an upcoming internal training class at our company to go over email management strategies.  I thought it would be cute/interesting to hand out to the participants a sheet of statistics about their personal email "habits".  I figured some fancy powershelling could possibly get me the stats I was looking for:

    Some others I was thinking of:

    -Number of messages in inbox / number of messages received over time

    -Total number of folders

    -Folder complexity (n of first level folders + n of subfolders^2 + n of sub-subfolders^3, or something like that)

    -Total number of read messages everywhere vs unread

    -Average time from unread to read status (is time read recorded in Exchange?)

    Would love to hear more ideas, too!

    I’m a strong advocate at my company for only leaving unread or flagged messages in the Inbox, and filing or deleting everything else.  If you’ve never read Inbox Zero, definitely check it out.  I’ve been using it for 2+ years now with great success and sanity. (http://www.43folders.com/izero)

  5. Chris Lehr says:

    No calculations needed.  Every single piece of it.

    300 in/out daily at this point.

  6. Daniel Meng says:

    I happen to read about 90% of my e-mail and have everything set-up by rules to go into specific folders.

    I generally have zero items in my deleted items folder due to the fact i empty it almost instantly after I delete something. I archive monthly keeping my exchange mailbox size below 1gb.

  7. *Bob says:

    I’m at 28% read (lots of system alerts) and I’m a "deleter" too (I wouldn’t save obsessive).  

    I have a theory that email admins are able to delete most of their email because everyone assumes we have a copy and never challenge us (e.g. “did you send / receive / read that message?”)

    I can always create another copy anyway <grin>

  8. Chad says:

    I agree with Brad’s comments in the first post.  A lot of my email goes into my deleted items as unread simply because I delete it immediately after reading, so my numbers are skewed.

  9. Porter Jervis says:

    My firm provides technical support to a wide variety of clients from law firms, professional services, architects and medical offices.  Overall Outlook users are slobs when it comes to email.  Most are pilers.  I have people with literally tens of thousands of messages in their Inbox, and more in Deleted Items.  

    Heaven help one of my consultants that work on a station and decides to ‘help out’ a client by emptying their Deleted Items folder.  

    My answer when that happens is liking it to getting mad at the trash collector for picking up your junk when you put it at the curb.

    Then there are the folks that huge amounts of email that complain about Outlook performance and just can’t understand why it’s so slow.  

    I could go on and on.

    No sympathy here.  None.  Clean up your stuff or no dinner!!

  10. hopkimi4 says:

    I’m a filer, I may put them in folders, but mostly send them to OneNote in the notebooks I keep for different projects I’m working on.

  11. Robert says:

    Broadly speaking, people all fall in to two categories:

    Those who delete everything – they never keep any emails beyond a week or two. Anything important is filed somewhere else. They’ll rarely have a PST, and if they do it’ll  be very insubstantial.

    Those who keep everything – with the obvious exception of “junk” (newsletters etc) they’ll keep every mail they receive, and probably every mail they send. It becomes an uphill struggle to help them with their storage – several multi-gigabyte PSTs require constant management.

    We’re one of the largest 5 companies in the world by profit. One of the biggest problems we have is storage (cost + backup), and the biggest problem we have with storage is PSTs. Our solution is to look at server side archiving – we are buying a solution that archives all emails sent and received, so users will no longer have to store them themselves, we can force retention policies based on content, sender etc, and, most crucially, we can get at all those retained emails if we need to (e.g a criminal investigation etc).

  12. Eric GG says:

    Not bad but you guys have too much time on your hands calculating frivolous information.

  13. Ian Liu says:

    I think the interesting value will be what percentage of relevant emails is unread in the Deleted Items folder.

    How do you measure relevance? Maybe you can calculate the percentage of emails with your email address explicitly displayed in the to (or cc) field.

  14. Stanny Nuytkens says:

    I hate pilers! =)

    Here I have made a macro that checks mails whenever I start Outlook. Mails older then 1 week AND are read are moved into their own folder based on senders domain name. Corporate emails are organized in a folder named after the person. Contact me for details: nuytkens.stanny(at)gmail.com

  15. Robert Larson says:

    You sound like a follower, whether you know it or not, of Inbox Zero methodology. I adopted this system last year. It is good. Inboxzero.com

  16. Jeff Schertz says:

    Although I can’t quite get to InboxZero status as I haven’t broken the habit of using my Inbox as a to-do list, I’m right there with you on the ‘filer’ status.  Back in my desktop migration days I could instantly tell what someone’s desktop/MyDocs/mailbox would look like the instant I walked up to their desk/office space.  Physical or digital, people exercise the same habits.

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