Quantifying Productivity: Dealing with Information Overload in Gmail
I recently noticed that even though I have not been using my Gmail a lot lately, my inbox seems to be filled with messages every morning. To take a closer look, I turned to Gmail Meter to analyze my Gmail usage in July. The Gmail meter is a Google app that can be installed in Google Docs (open Spreadsheets, go to Tools -> Script Gallery, search for Gmail Meter app, install it and then run it on the top of the spreadsheet). The report is sent to you by e-mail and includes usage statistics like top senders and recipients, average traffic by dayparts, weekday, and day of the month, average response time and average message length. Most of these information is presented to you in a form of simple easy-to-read charts (click on images to enlarge):
In my case, the most interesting insights for July were:
- I received 518 emails from 73 people, and sent 46 emails to 7 people
- 80% of my incoming e-mails ended up in trash
- most of the incoming e-mails were received between 6 am and noon, on Wednesdays and Thursdays
- most of the outgoing e-mails were sent between 10-11 am and 3-4 pm, on Tuesdays and Thursdays
- most of my e-mail responses are under 30 words, and are sent within 4 hours after initial contact.
To investigate further, what kind of emails I have been receiving, I downloaded email data that came with the report, went through each of the 570 incoming messages and tagged them by the following categories:
- Existing Services: emails from the servicse and companies that I am already using (e.g., Bonobos)
- Sales Sites: emails from discounts and sales sites (e.g., Groupon, Google Offers, etc.)
- Web Services: service notifications from technology services (e.g., Twitter, Pinterest, etc.)
- Professional: emails from Linkedin groups, headhunters, other work-related services
- Hobbies: emails from Quantified Self and Biohacking meetups, and other interest groups
- Personal: personal communication (friends and family)
- Bookmarks: links that I sometimes send myself in order to check out later
- Finance: bills and notifications from banks, receipts, etc.
- Other: anything else that could not be tagged under the categories above.
Here is the breakdown of my July inbox by these categories, and what happened to these messages (click on image to enlarge):
As you can see, over ⅔ of my incoming emails are offers, promotions and service notifications, and these e-mails mostly end up in the trash. And speaking of information overload: emails from some of these senders are especially long. For instance, messages from the sales services were on average 345 words long, with the longest from Groupon (950 words on average!), and the shortest from Google Offers (196 words on average). I already started unsubscribing and opting out. Let’s hope my inbox in August will look cleaner!
Finally, I am not surprised that I sent only 46 e-mails, and that personal communications comprise less than 10% of the total inbox volume: lately, I have been using more Facebook to communicate with friends. In one of my next posts, I will take a look at Facebook data, and discuss various ways it could be analyzed.