23rd SEPTEMBER 2014
MobileHCI 2014 Doctoral Consortium
Marta E. Cecchinato
Email Management &
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Structure of today’s talk:
1. Research question and motivation
2. Quick overview of my research
a. Approach motivated by literature
b. 3-year plan
3. Initial findings and contributions
Are you aware of how many times you’ve checked
your emails today and where were you??
Are you satisfied with your email practices?
But first... my take home message:
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Real world problem
“Users’ perception that
their own email use has
gotten out of control”
Dabbish and Kraut (2006, p.431)
Overall Research Question:
Can technology make it easier for people to manage
their email, so as to reduce email overload?
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Literature review summary
• Different email management techniques that
may lead to email overload
• Different suggested solutions, but no
agreement on their efficacy (other than “check
• Individual preferences (filing, workflow approaches,
use of notifications, reasons for deferring replies,…)
• Context-specific (e.g. work demands)
Reflection: why and how?
Prochaska, J. O., & Velicer, W. F. (1997). The
transtheoretical model of health behavior change.
American journal of health promotion, 12(1), 38-48.
Li, I., Dey, A., & Forlizzi, J. (2010, April). A stage-
based model of personal informatics systems. In
Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on
Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 557-
Fleck, R., & Fitzpatrick, G. (2010, November). Reflecting on
reflection: framing a design landscape. In Proceedings of
the 22nd Conference of the Computer-Human Interaction
Special Interest Group of Australia on Computer-Human
Interaction (pp. 216-223). ACM.
“Having an insight about one of their digital behaviours, […]
The realization about this personal habit is the result of
using a digital PI tool”
(Cox, Bird, & Fleck, 2013, p.2)
GOAL 1 –
GOAL 2 – explore
GOAL 3 –
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1. How do people use email in their personal and
work domains across devices?
2. Do they have different strategies depending on
device used and/or domain?
Study 1 - The interview study
Study 2 - The email game study
Understanding email behavioural differences and the impact of
email on work-home boundaries
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1. What tools currently exist that aim to
help people deal with their email?
2. Are they effective in helping people
change their email behaviour?
Study 3 - Tool review
Study 4 - Performance and longitudinal
Understanding email tools and their
• Designing and evaluating
a personalisable and
• that accommodates email
individual and contextual
• can help reflect on
habits so that a
balance can be achieved.
Designing a better email tool
Exploratory study to
people use emails
across social domains
and across devices?
Interviews + Work-Life
16 participants (5
males, 9 academic
staff, 7 professional
MOBILE HCI 2014 WORKSHOP
SOCIO-TECHNICAL PRACTICES AND
Study 1 – Initial findings
• Work/personal email on
same mobile app
• Control micro-role
transitions with micro-
Academics (N=9) Prof. Serv. (N=6)
NonWork Interrupting Work Work Interrupting NonWork Boundary Control
Family Identity Work Identity
“I would never ever check
my [work] email outside of
work, purposely. It's not the
kind of job that I think about
when I’m not here. I'm not
allowed to work from home"
– P13, Female, PS.
“The first check is probably right after I
woke up, I will check everything that has
come in the night [on phone]. […] I will
probably have another look once I'm
outside the house, so during my commute
time I will check once again. And once I'm
in my office, I don't have any specific rule,
it's really case by case. […] Once I’m home
[…] I have a second work shift after [my
son] goes to bed until quite late in the
– P15, Male, A.
“I get up, check my email in bed, check my
email on the toilet, check my email
downstairs, maybe whilst I'm having breakfast,
walk to work, generally don't check my email
while I'm actually walking, when I'm waiting for
the train, on the train, maybe in the lift getting
up to work. Maybe then at work, then on the
train on the way home, in front of the TV,
during dinner, yeah, that's about everything I
– P5, Male, A.
Boundary challenges: overload and
Micro-boundary email practices:
“A strategy to limit the effects of micro-role transition caused by cross-
domain technology mediated interruptions.”
- one per role
- Creating dedicated folders from one domain in another domain
account with automatic filtering
- personal only on smartphone, work only on desktop computer.
- Deliberately removing work email from phone during time off, e.g. on
- different apps on smartphone for personal and work email
1. Professional context has a large impact on email practices: when, where
and how people manage emails and the impact these have on work-
1. We see a growing trend in the use of micro-boundary strategies to
separate work and personal emails
1. People with more permeable boundary management styles might find it
useful to create micro-boundaries within devices to help them cope with
micro-role transitions between work and personal domains, and to limit
[WP1] Cecchinato, M., Cox, A. L., & Bird, J. (2014). “I check my emails on the toilet”: Email Practices and
Work-Home Boundary Management. MobileHCI Workshop Socio-Technical Practices and Work-
[WP2] Cecchinato, M.E., Bird, J. & Cox, A.L. (2014). “Personalised email tools: a solution to email
overload? CHI’14 Workshop Personalised Behaviour Change Technologies
Society reshaping around tech. – mobile allows always online, e.g. email
Email is great communication tool, BUT expectation (even sold as service!)
This has impact on WLB… french labour agreement, daimler benz, google “dublin goes black”
Email research for 30 yrs. Complaints soon after, 20yrs ago ‘email overload’. Definition evolved:
Ways of using email (communication, task m., archive
Status overload and type overload -> personal/work email
Two shifts: not just work, but also personal email AND considering email not just a work problem.
We’ve been aware of email overload for almost 20 years. Much has been done on understanding people’s email habits especially on desktop computers, but little attention has focused on investigating how habits change on mobile devices or through cross-device interaction. From the way in which advances in technology are re-shaping society, I hypothesise that the problem of email overload is now exacerbated by cross-device interaction A better understanding of this will be one of my contributions .
One of 2 sets of contributions?
AND THERE IS A DISTINCTION TO BE MADE BETWEEN PERSONAL AND WORK EMAIL OVERLOAD
Having such premises, My overall contribution will be to understand how technology, instead of being treated as a problem, can be integrated as a solution to email overload.
Can technology make it easier for people to manage their email so as to reduce email overload?
Most research: single device use of email, no distinction between prof groups (with exceptions of managers)
I’m not going to go into detail here, but…
-NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL (check less?)
- Strong individual and context-specific work demands
So I’ve decided to take a specific approach to the problem and focus on REFLECTION.
Reflection is important for creating the motivation to change behavior.
WHY: In stage-based behavior change theories, behavior change is described as a PROCESS that requires moving through a certain amount of phases. The initial phases of these theories include raising AWARENESS on one’s behavior in order to develop those motivations to change. Later phases focus on putting behavior in action and maintaining it.
HOW: There are several ways to reflect, and one way to reflect is through PERSONAL INFORMATICS, which are a particular set of tools that quantify users behavior. Personal informatics are used according to a stage-based model (preparation, collection, integration, reflection and action) to make sense of personal experiences by recognizing trends and patterns that then inform an action.
So to recap, behavior change theories explain why it is important to reflect and personal informatics presents a way in which we might encourage reflection.
REFLECTION in itself is a process based on collected data/information that moves from a mere description, to a sense-making of relationships between data, to a re-consideration of events based on the new insights gained, to a final more general context considered.
One way of linking all BEHAVIOUR CHANGE, PERSONAL INFORMATICS AND REFLECTION is by considering a ‘DIGITAL EPIPHANIES’.
A digital epiphany is based on three steps:
Tracking (PERSONAL INFORMATICS)
Reflecting (STAGES OF REFLECTION)
having an epiphany/realization that might or might not lead to a change in attitude. (INITIAL STAGE OF BEHAVIOUR CHANGE).
So I’ve layed out a plan to tackle the issue of email overload in a work where cross-device interaction impact our work-life balance
Design a tool that takes into account those individual differences and context-specifics
Study 1 - The interview study investigates the strategies people have for dealing with email, especially on multiple devices; the ways in which they use multiple accounts; and the impacts on boundary management.
Study 2 - The email game study explores the strategies people use for prioritising which email to deal with and when. It will investigate which factors (value, effort required, urgency, curiosity) people use to help them prioritise one email over another. Devices used to answer will be tracked and correlated with emerging strategies.
STUDY 3 The review study will investigate how the tools work and what can be said about these tools from a theoretical perspective, in particular in relation to behaviour change theories.
STUDY 4 The performance and longitudinal study will investigate instead how these tools are employed or not and what is their added value, if any. In addition, it will evaluate if people perceive them as a useful resource to reduce email overload, comparing them with findings from interviews with existing users.
Current ideas include developing a tool that provides people with opportunity to measure their level of email overload, collect and reflect on their own data (according to personal informatics model) and then making recommendations of strategies they might try, given their current behaviour and number of emails. The tool will be designed using participator design and focus groups with past participants and evaluated in the wild as an explorative way to see how users engage with it, collecting both qualitative and quantitative measures.
So far I’ve looked at goal 1 and have conducted the first study TO LOOK AT EMAIL MANAGEMENT PRACTICES ACROSS DEVICES IN 2 PROF. GROUPS AT THE SAME UNIVERSITY.
Interviews and Work-Life indicator scale
Preliminary results are found in workshop paper.
We found that there are actually differences in prof. groups (no one else has made this distinction)
-permeable boundaries (academics)
work/personal email on same app phone
allow for symmetrical interruptions between W-NW and NW-W
-rigid boundaries (prof serv)
control for micro-role transitions (shifts from one role to another). They do so thru MICRO-BOUNDARY PRACTICES to limit impact of these transitions caused by technology mediated interruptions.
- Notifications: always on on computers, mostly disabled on phone, especially in those who checked both work and personal accounts suggesting they were trying to limit the interruptions and control for micro-role transitions
Professional services staff tend to only look at work email whilst at work – they have more rigid boundaries.
We did find some evidence of individual differences here though as 2 of the professional services staff had boundary management styles that were more typical of academics, and two academics has boundary management styles that were more like the professional services staff.
Our interviews indicate smartphones can interfere even in the most private of moments, favouring those asymmetrical interruptions between work and non-work that our questionnaire highlights. Smartphones are used to check emails first thing in the morning when waking up or as P5 admits, even in the bathroom:
Next study will look at email practices in a more high-pressure environment
How practices are applied into the wild, sending emails and expecting replies to study deferral behaviours across devices.
Unfortunately plan didn’t go as expected and couldn’t report findings from this study today.