Half of Emails Are Answered in 47 Minutes or Less

<a href="http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/compose-49271812?st=0eb394d">Pashalgnatov</a>/iStock

Many people seem to agree that email sucks, and almost as many of us are annoyed by “inbox zero” coworkers telling everybody in earshot how damn productive they are. We get it.

But while we all agree that email is slow, tedious, annoying, and perhaps impersonal, it turns out that many of us are actually pretty decent at returning the messages we need to. According to a new study by the folks at Yahoo Labs on how quickly emails get answered, about 90 percent of emails are returned within a day. In fact, half of emails are answered within 47 minutes, with the most likely return time being just about two minutes. (Of course many of those replies are short, coming in at about five words.)

The study—which, as the largest ever of its kind, analyzed more than 16 billion email messages sent between 2 million (randomized and opt-in) Yahoo! email users over a several month period—went a little deeper than reply times. It also studied how extended email threads play out (the longer the thread, the quicker the replies come until there’s a measurable pause before a concluding message); what time of day is best for getting a long response (morning); and demographics. Teens work the reply button the fastest, with a median reply time of about 13 minutes. Adults 20 to 35 years old came in at about 16 minutes. Adults aged 36 to 50 took about 24 minutes, and “mature” adults, aged 51 and over, took the longest at about 47 minutes. Gender seems to make less of a difference than age, with males replying in about 24 minutes and women taking about 28 (insert joke about women being more thoughtful here).

As you might expect, all those numbers go out the window when an attachment is involved: it takes emailers almost twice the time to respond to messages containing additional files. Another not-so-surprising tidbit from the study suggests that we’re quickest to reply from our phones, then our tablets, and finally our desktops. And predictably the more emails you get, the fewer you actually respond to: the data indicates that people receiving 100 emails a day may answer just five.