I remember when getting email was fun. Granted, that was probably still somewhere around my undergrad years and my college classmates and I are all just past or staring down our 20th anniversaries soon here. Now it’s just a constant onslaught amongst the sixteen other mechanisms of communication.

At the start of 2021 I was curious about what my general email traffic looked like. While I’m sure there are various software solutions for tracking exactly my email input and output, what got archived as opposed to deleted, etc etc… I went with the extremely unexciting but functional (and non-surveilling) spreadsheet. Twice a day most week days I capture numbers — a total of four per day:

  • Inbox Start
  • Deleted Start
  • Inbox End
  • Sent End

I was curious about my general habits and what the workflow appeared to be. I’m not trying to Deeply Optimize Me or anything like that; no I don’t need fourteen new suggestions about filters and tags. I already know that anything filtered disappears into a black hole and I’ll absolutely miss deadlines as a result. This wasn’t about that, it was seeing what was actually a really heavy email day? Was it heavy in that I read and deleted a lot? In that I read and responded a ton?

I am not an Inbox Zero person but I generally like to keep my work inbox around 50 items. I can quickly scroll through that. It probably tells you something about how the past 18 months have been that my inbox hasn’t seen 50 yet this calendar year. The lowest it’s gotten is in the 70s.

And I’m certainly not *asking* for more emails…

But now I am curious if I’ll reach 20,000 emails deleted by the end of the year. It’s this kind of soft goal.

The average number of emails I delete a day is 87. That doesn’t include anything that I’ve sorted into folders–that’s just things that are now in the deleted folder and will eventually go away next time I do a full trash empty (hoping for that on/around December 23 — though with grant deadlines, I do expect that *something* will come up that I have to address the week between Christmas and New Years). If I stay at that– minus weekends and with the usual up and downs, I’ll absolutely reach 20K, I’m already past 17K. But December tends to be quieter, there’s the Thanksgiving holiday, and people start to wind down their years.

I haven’t decided if I’ll keep the spreadsheet going for 2022. It’s a entirely nonsensitive dataset that means nothing to anyone but me, but it might be fun to use with students who are doing a visualization experiment. Here– what story can you tell with these columns (and the calculation columns I have running that tell me how many emails I sent, is my inbox lower?) They could map it against day of the week and catch the few weekend days I logged or Do I Delete More on Mondays? Or I could just archive it and move on.

But part of the reason also I wanted to look at it was because it’s the sheer volume. I can read and process extremely fast. For a not insignificant number of those emails, I glance at the subject for a second and then delete. For another chunk it’s read and consume and then delete. — And again — this doesn’t include the read and file, just the delete. If I set up one of the stalking softwares, my guess is the amount of email I’m actually consuming for work is another 10-15K.

If we assume an average of 15 seconds per email — balancing out all those that required a minute or two of reading and those which went immediately to the bin — I’ll have spent 2 weeks this year just deleting email. *Two Weeks* That doesn’t include Teams, Slack, or any other work related communication platforms. And this isn’t an activity that gets evaluated or for which I’ll get relief or support. I’m sure someone will pop up with how I just need to Have Better Time Management and Filters despite the part up there where I said that doesn’t work for me.

Two weeks for one of my 5 major inboxes. Definitely helps to explain why email doesn’t feel as fun anymore.