Prioritizing unread e-mails: people send urgent responses before important or short ones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Authors

  • Anna L. Cox
  • Jon Bird
  • Duncan P. Brumby
  • Marta E. Cecchinato
  • Sandy Gould

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University College London
  • University of Bristol
  • Northumbria University Newcastle

Abstract

People are overwhelmed by the volume of email that they receive. To ensure their emails are read, senders sometimes use explicit inbox-level cues in an attempt to garner the receiver’s attention. We report the results of a field experiment that investigates whether and how such cues influence recipients’ email processing behavior. Forty-five participants were sent 360 emails each over a three-week period. Inbox-level cues were given to indicate: (1) the urgency of responding, (2) the time that would be required to work on a response, (3) the importance of responding, (4) and the salience of that importance. Results show that email prioritization is influenced by an interaction between these cues. When emails were not time-sensitive, participants sensibly prioritized responses to messages that were most important and required the least effort to respond to. This rational triaging strategy faltered when emails required a time-sensitive response; urgent messages were responded to quickly regardless of other cues. The results are discussed with reference to Kahneman's dual-process theory of judgment and decision making.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalHuman-Computer Interaction
Early online date23 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Nov 2020

Keywords

  • e-mail, prioritization, inbox management, decision-making, time pressure