By Laura Vanderkam
FORTUNE -- If you'd like a jarring experience sometime, try reading the famous children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alex and his family go pick up Dad at the office, causing all sorts of mischief, but what's strangest to the modern reader is the illustration of Dad's desk. He has a phone. Paper. Books. But, since Judith Viorst's story was first published in 1972, no computer.
In 1972, you realize, office workers spent zero percent of their time on email. Forty years later, though, checking email has become synonymous with working, to the point where it seems to be taking over our working lives.
According to a July 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report on "the social economy," the average knowledge worker now spends 28% of her work time managing email. If you work 50 hours per week, that's 14 hours stuck in the inbox. McKinsey's report suggested that workers could improve their email productivity by 25-30% through better use of social collaboration platforms, buying back 7-8.5% of their workweek. But even if your company isn't investing in such platforms, here's some low-hanging fruit for getting your head out of your inbox for a few of those 14 hours:
According to an analysis of 5 million emails from Baydin, an email management service, the average email user gets 147 messages per day and deletes 71 (48%). Deletion takes an average of 3.2 seconds. That doesn't sound like much -- about 4 minutes per day -- but if you're deleting 350 emails per workweek, that takes around 20 minutes per week, which adds up to more than 16 hours per year.
Or look at it this way: According to the American Time Use Survey, the average married, employed father who has children under age 6 spends just 2.4 minutes per day reading to them -- which is less time than the average email user spends deleting emails. Play offense with your inbox by getting yourself off any lists you don't read, and unsubscribing to commercial messages. More
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