Taming email overload, the RescueTime way

Note: For more about email overload, check out this post, where we discuss some of the root causes and several strategies for dealing with it.

We’ve known for a while that communications can be a huge time-sink. Many people treat their various input streams as something that needs to be on all the time. There is constantly some sort of Pavlovian bell ringing, be it an instant message notification, new email indicator, or a buzzing mobile phone. They’re really difficult to tune out when you’re trying to focus on something else, and as such, they’re one of the largest contributors to people looking up at 5pm and not having a clue where their day went.

Turns out, they also may not be that great for your health. A recent study at the University of California at Irvine found that people who frequently checked email were more scattered and had an elevated heart rate, keeping them in a constant state of high-alert, which is linked to all sorts of health problems.

We think about that stuff a lot here at RescueTime, and this week we whipped up a report that you can use to gauge your own level of communication overload, and decide for yourself whether or not communications are playing too large a role in your days.

If you’re a RescueTime user with at least two weeks of data collected,
Click here to launch the Communications Overload exploration

Here’s a snapshot of what part of my personal report looks like:

If you are a new user and can’t see the report yet, you’ll have to wait a week or so until you have enough data built up for us to give you any interesting insight.

If you’re not currently a user, but would like this information about yourself, sign up for an account. You won’t be able to view the report for a couple weeks, but you’ll get lots of other great information about how you’re spending your time in the meantime.

With this report, you’ll be able to find out:

  • what percentage of your time is devoted to communication
  • what types of communications activities you’re spending the most time with
  • what hours of the day you are the most active with communications

There is also a handy calculator to raise some questions about your time in email. And finally there are a few tips on how to start getting things under control.

We put it together rather quickly, but hopefully it’s a useful view into your data.

What do you think? Do email / instant messaging / phone calls / etc make up an overwhelming amount of your day? What are your favorite strategies for dealing with it?

Update: Here are some more details on how  you can use RescueTime to manage communication overload.


  1. Here are a few other resources to help manage your time in your inbox:

    SaneBox is a service that automatically sorts your email into several folders based on each email’s importance.

    Boomerang for Gmail is a Firefox / Chrome plugin that lets you take control of when you send and receive email messages.

    Unsubscribe from unwanted email subscriptions, discover new ones and organize them all in one place.

  2. Thanks for your article. Aware of how much time we waste on email, we might realize we do not need so much to do our job. I like a near empty inbox every evening. Bob

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