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Emails: Are you letting your PC’s brain take the strain?

It’s always great when someone comes up with some research which proves you were right all along, and this one once again demonstrates that my company colleagues once again need to bow down before my immense intellect. Want to be more productive? Don’t file your email on the Box Free IT site reports that there’s now ample evidence, as if it were needed, that if you file your emails into folders, you’re wasting your time. An IBM Research study says that finding emails by searches is three times as fast as finding the emails by folder, with the likelihood of finding the intended email no greater with the folder approach.

The study ponders why people continue to use folders when it’s not as efficient as throwing emails into a big pile and letting the computer do the work. Its authors conclude that it’s not to make it easier to find those emails later, but a reaction to being overwhelmed by email volume. They conclude that users receiving many messages are more likely to create folders, “possibly because this serves to rationalise their inbox”, allowing them to better use the inbox as a task to-do list, another inefficient practice.

If you still love dragging your emails into an ever-expanding list of folders, just try using the search facility for a while, and you may well never look back. I’m just off to do a triumphant lap of honour around the office.

Thanks to reader Juri Romito for pointing me in the direction of this article.

Read more: Want to be more productive? Don’t file your email on the Box Free IT site

6 thoughts on “Emails: Are you letting your PC’s brain take the strain?”

  1. Chris, I absolutely disagree. I have many folders to effectively archive material which I wish to keep without actually archiving it (if you see what I mean). Having emails in folders allows me to find things extremely quickly without having to remember the subject or even the email address of the person that sent it. Additionally, there are all sorts of reasons for keeping the number of emails in the inbox small (or even non-existent). The first is that it makes it easy to see what needs dealing with. The second, and technologically more important, is that I access my email (with Google Business Apps) from multiple places including Outlook and the Web and particularly on my phone. The phone is set to synchronise with just the inbox. The smaller the number of emails in there, the quicker it does it, the less airtime it uses and the less I have to scroll through.
    Enjoy your lap of honour but I won’t be applauding 🙂

  2. So are you suggesting that one should dump everything else into a single “retained” folder and search that? That definitely doesn’t solve the use problem on mobile phones.

  3. Hmm, well, fair enough if that doesn’t work for you, but it does for me. I find I can search through all my emails since 2004 (6.2Gb!), using keywords, over 3G in a few seconds.

  4. I agree with Kim. In particular I have separate folders, one for each client, and then under each client subfolders for each job number. Without these – for me – things would be a total mess!

  5. Chris, While I agree in principle, there are shortcomings to the ‘dump the folders’ approach. I’ve been using the Xobni indexing tool with Outlook for several years and it is very effective but I still use (a small number of) folders as Outlook does not support the simple archive function of, say, Gmail. I also have a personal Gmail account which is good but, rather surprisingly, the search function is flawed. For example, a search for ‘swim’ will not return mails that include ‘swimming’ but not ‘swim’. Quite why Google can’t search its own package as well as it does the bilions of other documents around the world remains a mystery but it is a serious limitation if you plan to rely solely on search to find your messages.
    Thanks for the continued interesting posting and if I’m wrong about the above I’d be genuinely pleased to hear the solution.

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