Characterizing and Predicting Email Deferral Behaviour

The Twelfth International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM) |

Published by ACM

Email triage involves going through unhandled emails and deciding what to do with them. This familiar process can become increasingly challenging as the number of unhandled email grows. During a triage session, users commonly defer handling emails that they cannot immediately deal with to later. These deferred emails, are often related to tasks that are postponed until the user has more time or the right information to deal with them. In this paper, through qualitative interviews and a large-scale log analysis we study when and what commercial email users tend to defer. We found that users are more likely to defer emails when handling them involves replying, reading carefully, or clicking on links and attachments. We also learned that the decision to defer emails depends on many factors such as user’s workload and the importance of the sender. Our qualitative results suggested that deferring is very common, and our quantitative log analysis confirms that 12% of triage sessions and 16% of daily active users had at least one deferred email on weekdays. We also discuss several deferral strategies such as marking emails as unread and flagging that are reported by our interviewees, and illustrate how such patterns can be also observed in user logs. Inspired by the characteristics of deferred emails and contextual factors involved in deciding if an email should be deferred, we train a classifier for predicting whether a recently triaged email is actually deferred. Our experimental results suggests that deferral can be classified with modest effectiveness (25% precision, 65% recall). Overall, our work provides novel insights about how users handle their emails and how deferral can be modeled