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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The Guardian: Breaking the email compulsion

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I have an article in The Guardian today (in the paper and online) about email, how it’s getting out of control and what we can do about it. It contains some of my thinking on email, operant conditioning, and how social tools can help us reduce the amount of email we send (and therefore, hopefully, receive). Here’s a taster:

Back in the early 1990s, email was a privilege granted only to those who could prove they needed it. Now, it has turned into a nuisance that’s costing companies millions. We may feel that we have it under control, but not only do we check email more often than we realise, but the interruptions caused are more detrimental than was previously thought. In a study last year, Dr Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email. So people who check their email every five minutes waste 8.5 hours a week figuring out what they were doing moments before.

It had been assumed that email doesn’t cause interruptions because the recipient chooses when to check for and respond to email. But Jackson found that people tend to respond to email as it arrives, taking an average of only one minute and 44 seconds to act upon a new email notification; 70% of alerts got a reaction within six seconds. That’s faster than letting the phone ring three times.

Time out
Added to this is the time people spend with their inbox. A July 2006 study by ClearContext, an email management tools vendor, surveyed 250 users and discovered that 56% spent more than two hours a day in their inbox. Most felt they got too much email - by January 2008, 38% of respondents received more than 100 emails a day - and that it stopped them from doing other things.

Dr Karen Renaud, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, and her colleagues at the University of the West of Scotland discovered that email users fall into three categories: relaxed, driven and stressed. “The relaxed group don’t let email exert any pressure on their lives,” Renaud says. “They treat it exactly the way that one would treat the mail: ‘I’ll fetch it, I’ll deal with it in my own time, but I’m not going to let it upset me’.” The second group felt “driven” to keep on top of email, but also felt that they could cope with it. The third group, however, reacted negatively to the pressure of email. “That causes stress,” says Renaud, “and stress causes all sorts of health problems.”

Read the rest on The Guardian website or in the paper.

Thanks to everyone who helped me out with this article, especially Tom Stafford who was my original inspiration!

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5 Responses to “The Guardian: Breaking the email compulsion”

  1. Nia Roberts Says:

    Hi there. I enjoyed your article very much; I’ve been looking at this subject too and have read the work of Dr. Jackson with interest. In your article you say that “one company delayed delivery by five minutes, but had so many complaints that they had to revert to instantaneous delivery”. Do you have a reference for this?


  2. Nia Roberts Says:

    Dwi newydd sylwi eich bod yn siared Cymraeg!

    Fodd bynnag; erthygl gwych a defnyddiol - Diolch!


  3. Suw Charman-Anderson Says:

    Nia, Diolch yn fawr iawn!

    The company in question told me this during a meeting, so there’s no reference for it. But it’s an experiement I’d love to do just to see what effect it had! Sadly, I’ve yet to find a company that would let me tinker with their processes in such a way…

  4. chris Says:

    You are referring to a Jackson study from last year (ie 2007) but the link you provided points to research conducted in 2001 (or earlier); the paper was published at a 2002 conference. Are you referring to a re-published version of the paper perhaps?

  5. Suw Charman-Anderson Says:

    Chris, I actually read two Jackson papers -

    Case Study: evaluating the effect of email interruptions within the workplace -
    Understanding email interaction increases organizational productivity. -

    I didn’t find a paper from 07, and I don’t mention a paper from 2007 - all the Jackson quotes are from those two papers - but if there is one please send it to me! I tried to be as thorough as possible but obviously it’s easy to miss stuff.