This Is Why I Haven’t Replied to Your Email

The psychological toll of email phobia.

Posted Feb 08, 2019

Kratz/Shutterstock
Email-Phobia
Source: Kratz/Shutterstock

Most of you are familiar with the most common phobias: Acrophobia, fear of height; arachnophobia, fear of spiders; Ophidiophobia, fear of snakes; agoraphobia, fear of being in large, open public places; and Claustrophobia, fear of being in small, enclosed spaces.

What about email-phobia? Have you ever heard of that? Do you suffer from it?

Email-phobia is fear, or rather irrational anxiety, induced by thoughts about reading and replying to emails or by actually reading and replying to your emails. It is usually induced by work-related emails. The most common form is rooted in a rather full inbox that grows larger every day.

I have email-phobia!

There are some rather effective “email hacks” that can help you deal with a full inbox, hacks such as unsubscribing from every mailing list you can get away with unsubscribing from; only checking emails once or twice a day, not every few minutes; organizing your inbox by making folders for read email, including a "To-Do" folder; using a separate email address to communicate with family and friends; not responding to emails after 8 o'clock in the evening; deleting everything that looks like spam (if it turns out not to be spam, they'll contact you again), and so on.

Email hacks are life-savers for some, but they cannot help me, because I have already implemented all of them.

As of today Feb, 2019, I have 37,130 unread emails in my inbox. Yes, that's thirty-seven thousand one-hundred and thirty unread emails!

That’s the root cause of my email-phobia.

Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I’m a procrastinator or just plain lazy, please hear me out. When I moved to Miami in mid-2014, I had no work email. After all, I was changing jobs. So, I hadn’t gotten my new work email. In a sense,  I had an empty “inbox.” Zero unread emails.

This is my fifth year living and working in Miami. So, I have lived in Miami for 1,662 days. On average, I respond to 30 emails a day and delete or archive another 20 emails a day. So, while I have lived in Miami, I've dealt with 49,840 emails total.

The total number of unread emails plus the total the number of emails I’ve dealt with since 2014 yields 120,210 emails. That's how many emails I have received since I moved to Miami. I have lived in Miami 1,662 days. So, this means that I have received about 72 emails per day on average, including weekends and holidays. Let’s round it down to 70.

Now, let's return to my email habits. I delete or archive about 20 emails a day, and I reply to about 30 emails a day. Deleting and archiving usually takes me about 10 minutes, but replying to the 30 emails takes me three hours, on average.

When I say "three hours," I don't mean that it takes me three hours to read and reply "Thanks, got it!" or "Will do!" to 30 emails. I could probably do that in 10 minutes. No, the reason the 30 emails take me three hours to complete is that they usually require me to do something else besides reading the email and then click on one of the suggested "canned replies:" "Wonderful!" "Great, thanks!" "Sorry for the late reply."

When I say that it takes me three hours to reply to 30 emails on average, this is because I include the time it takes me to complete the mildly to moderately labor-intensive tasks requested in the emails, like advising students; checking my calendar to see if I can meet on a particular day; sending a several-paragraph long answer to a student’s good but complicated question; or updating the APA website's placement record for our Ph.D. program. The three hours I count as “email time” do not include completing highly labor-intensive tasks, like reviewing a journal article; giving a colleague detailed comments on her new manuscript; or writing a chapter for a collection of essays I am invited to contribute to.

Since I deal with 30 emails per day but receive 70 emails on average per day, 50 emails go unread every single day. If I were to deal with all of the 70 emails I receive each day, it would take me five hours per day, which is 35 hours per week.

If we assume that I work 70 hours a week, which is well above average for the U.S., then in order to clear my inbox every day, I would need to spend 35 hours per week just on emails. That’s half of my 70-hour long work week! And after the 35 hours, I still wouldn't have completed any highly labor-intensive task requested in the emails. In fact, I wouldn't really have done any of the things my word contract requires of me.

My job requires me to do a lot of things that are not email-related. In fact, my work contract doesn’t even mention email. Among many other things, I am expected to do research; write articles and books; go to conferences and workshops; go to department meetings; write grant proposals; review grant proposals; teach classes; prepare for teaching; advise my own students; advise all “cognate” students who want to take our “cognates” (a cognate is a Gen-Ed package of three courses), and advise all graduate students in our department who are on the job market.

This is not an all-inclusive list, and it only includes what my job contact and agreements require of me. In reality, I do a lot of other work-related things; for example, I am the submissions editor for two academic journals, and I am one of the two people who responsible for preparing a formal report that ranks and comments on Ph.D. programs in the U.S.

If I were to use 35 hours per week on emails, which is half of my 70 hour long workweek, then I would be unable to do what my job contract and agreements require of me! Because I "only" spend 21 hours each week on emails, this means that every week 350 emails go unread. Forever. It makes me feel incredibly guilty. That’s why I have email-phobia, and:

That’s why I haven’t responded to your email.