Intel recently published “Infomania”, a paper on e-mail overload, over at firstmonday . Although the topic has been reviewed on the internet numerous times, this paper talks about some real life experiences from within Intel.
For example, did you know that a typical Intel knowledge worker receives 50–100 work–related e–mail messages each day. Not much you say? True, but then take into account that these mails often continue to accumulate, adding to the workload: messages need to be read and disposed of, i.e. even more uninvited work generated by those messages, reducing time that people can devote to their primary work.
More numbers: “on average, knowledge workers can expect three minutes of uninterrupted work on any task before being interrupted. Sources of interruption include e–mail, instant messages, phone calls, text messages, co–workers, and other distractions. The majority of these distractions are attended to immediately.” Immediately! It is estimated that this fragmentation of the workload adds up to a cumulative time loss that can run as high as 25% of your work day. As a result “The combination of these phenomena has led to a state where employees are so stressed and overwhelmed that their ability to function is seriously impaired, and their quality of life and job satisfaction plummet.” Sounds familiar to anyone?
“While e–mail is a legitimate – and vital – part of today’s workplace, much of it simply isn’t. Intel employees spend an average of some three hours per day processing e–mail. About 30 percent of messages (one million per day) are unnecessary. The unnecessary fraction consumes about 20 minutes every day. That’s fully paid time not devoted to useful work, spent creating, forwarding, opening, reading, and processing messages whose real value is less than the time consumed.”
Problem impact areas are:
- Direct loss of productive time
- Reduced mental capacity
- Disappearance of quality “thinking time”
- Breakdown of organisational processes (going from plan-drive to interrup-driven)
- Reduced quality of life
My favourite quote in the article: “Today, the only time we can think is when the flight attendant orders us to close our notebooks prior to landing.”
P.S. The ADT in the title stands for “Attention Deficit Trait“, a term coined by professor Edward Hallowell, who asserts that the cognitive impact of Infomania causes people to work well below their full potential.