Why 80 Percent Of Your Emails Are A Total Waste

Thinking twice before you press “send” can save your organization literally thousands of hours each year, a recent study shows.

Why 80 Percent Of Your Emails Are A Total Waste

If the execs at your company are pouring out emails, the organization will soon be drowning–or so reports the Wall Street Journal.


It goes like this: A study by the University of Glasgow and Modeuro Consulting followed the email patterns of International Power, a London-based power company.

They found the executive team was spending 1.5 hours a day sending out an average of 56 emails. Their over-emailing behavior proved contagious–just as ideas, happiness, and sickness are.

“Before you know it, you’ll spark a ripple, a flurry of emails across the organization,” says Andrew Killick, who founded Modeuro.

From what Killick says, organization-wide email saturation is a fascinating case study in the way in which an influential individuals’ behavior shapes that of the group. The Journal continues:

While email can sometimes be a quick and convenient way to gauge interest or disseminate information, it’s often not the best tool for the job, he said. About 20% of the time, we’re using email correctly–leveraging it to communicate across time zones or answer a well-defined question. But 80% of email traffic is “waste,” he said–stuff that’s useless or really requires a phone call or face-to-face discussion.

In other words, keeping someone “in the loop” isn’t doing them a favor. Killick told the Journal that it can be an “enormous” waste of time–which reminds us of LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s advice to always mind who gets CC’ed.

Unboxing the inbox

Recognizing that waste, Modeuro asked the leadership at International Power to “think twice” before forwarding email or sending a message to multiple people. That intervention yielded startling statistics, according to the Journal:

  • The initiative led to a 54% drop in the number of emails sent by execs.
  • Though the company’s other employees weren’t told to do so, they sent fewer emails too–by 64%.
  • Taken together, the company gained 10,400 hours annually.

The mystery, then, is how to get out of our inboxes. Killick says that we won’t find inbox redemption in app. Instead, we can opt for a finer phone call or a co-investing conversation. That’s the surest way to change our outlook.

Hat tip: The Wall Street Journal

[Inbox Image: PaulPaladin via Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.