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Putting Emails In Folders Is a Waste of Time, Says IBM Study 434

Posted by timothy
from the perhaps-the-sorting-process-is-useful-though dept.
An anonymous reader writes "There are two types of office workers in the world — those who file their emails in folders, and those who use search. Well, it looks like the searchers are smarter. A 354-user study by IBM research found that users who just searched their inbox found emails slightly faster than users who had filed them by folder. Add the time spent filing and the searchers easily come out on top. Apparently the filers are using their inbox as a to-do list rather than wanting to categorize information to find it more easily."
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Putting Emails In Folders Is a Waste of Time, Says IBM Study

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  • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@[ ]mythe.com ['jws' in gap]> on Sunday October 09, 2011 @11:41PM (#37658840) Homepage Journal

        Shouldn't that be, people in the small sample set, suck at organizing emails?

        I think some of us do pretty damned well. I have a dozen primary folders, and dated archives (year and month). Searching one huge box for say resumes that came in regarding a position we were hiring for in April. Despite how nice it may be to search by message content, applicants suck. You might think it's ok, because applicants who can't write a cover letter aren't worth finding. That's ok, except for when a superior wants to audit the hiring, and see all the applicant submissions. So the better option is to read all the mail that came in during that period? Great. That'll take a while.

  • "Reference" folder (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bodero (136806) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @11:43PM (#37658850)
    I once read a Best Practices manual for Microsoft Outlook [microsoft.com] by the Outlook team that changed how I deal with email. The premise is this:
    • Have only two folders: Inbox, and Reference.
    • When an email comes in and it does not need to be acted on, read it, then move it to Reference.
    • If an email needs to be acted upon, leave it in your inbox until the task is complete. This may be hours, days, weeks or months. But everything in your inbox is something that is waiting on someone.

    I frequently had a habit of reading emails on my smartphone and forgetting about them. Now, I can either move them to Reference on my phone, or do it when I get back to my desk. But nothing slips through the cracks this way, which was a huge problem when I first got a smartphone.

  • Re:Odd Conclusion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @11:43PM (#37658852)

    The problem is that unless the sorting mechanism is perfect you can wind up in the situation where you never see an email and don't know that it's even arrived.

    Wouldn't your mail client indicate that you have N unread e-mails (sometimes configurable to only show those N from up to M days ago) in the folder it was sorted to?
    Pretty hard to miss.

    I do think the researchers' claim is a bit silly, but your concern is tangential with another..

    The researchers checked two groups:
    1. Those who simply let the computer search their entire inbox (be that with or without sorted folders) for the e-mail.
    2. Those who go to the sorted folder they believe the e-mail to be in, and then manually look through all of the e-mails in that folder hoping to spot it.

    The second group isn't very realistic. More commonly (that I've seen), that group goes to the folder that they believe the e-mail to be in, and then let the computer search that folder. That means the computer doesn't have to look through, say, 2,000 e-mails - it only has to look through, say, 100.
    Depending on whether or not the computer can scan every folder faster than you can click to the folder, the latter can be much faster. Certainly on older computers with slow harddisks.

    However, there is one problem that crops up... what if the folder you think the e-mail is in, is not where it actually is. What if the e-mail from John about Vacation isn't in the folder 'John' but in the folder 'Vacation'?
    That's where time is usually wasted, which often results in having to search all of the folders anyway if you don't remember which other folder(s) it might be in.

    I think the vastly increased speed with which e-mails can be searched - especially if you use e.g. gmail which can search many times faster than your home box - does mean that folders become less important in terms of organizing e-mails for faster retrieval purposes. They'll still have their place for organization in general, though (i.e. 'work' vs 'personal') - but alongside tags and 'search folders'.

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