"Overpoliteness is not a behaviour easy to change because at its root is the fear of social humiliation, or of accidentally insulting or upsetting someone else. But we do need to negotiate a different set of rules for what is polite in email and because it’s eating time without us even realising. As I wrote in the Guardian, it takes on average 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after you’ve been interrupted by email, so the cost of each pointless email is:
Total time cost = T(sw) + T(srec) + T(rr) + T(rrec)
T(sw) = time taken for the sender to write the email
T(srec) = time taken for the sender to recover their train of thought after sending the email
T(rr) = time taken for the recipient to read the email
T(rrec) = time taken for the recipient to recover their train of thought after interruption of reading the email
If we assume it takes a modest 30 seconds to read, write, send and file the email and it’s 64 seconds to recover train of thought, that means it’s 188 seconds for the whole process, just over 3 minutes. Of course, if the recipient responds with another email, we start this all over again - that’s another 3 minutes down the drain. It all adds up. You could easily end up wasting hours each week just being needlessly polite.
This isn’t to say that I advocate being rude by email! Email’s a difficult medium to communicate well through, and many people cause more problems than they intend because they failed to consider how their words might be misread. But we do need to send less phatic email.
I wonder if one reason for this urge to send phatic email is that we have no reliable way of knowing if our email has been received and read. Because we want to know that about the emails we send, we assume others want to know that about the emails they send (they probably do) and so we feel a need to acknowledge everything. If email could be just a little bit smarter and could do this acknowledgement for us - although not by sending a read receipt which would simply be yet more bacn! Maybe if it marked a sent mail as ‘opened’ that’d be all the indicator we’d need."