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Stop organizing your email into folders: Searching your email is way faster (study)

by | Jan 14, 2014 | Technology

Takeaway: Stop organizing your email; searching through your inbox is way faster.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 12s.

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A recent study by IBM (PDF) asked the question: what takes less time, searching through your inbox to find a buried email, or organizing your email into folders?

To figure that out, researchers analyzed “345 long-term users who conducted over 85,000 refinding actions”, a whopping sample size to say the least, and they discovered some pretty incredible results. I’ll spare you the fluff and jump right to the main result:

  • Searching through your inbox is much faster. On average, it took participants 66.07s to search for an email, and 72.87s to find an email in a folder.

But the study doesn’t take into account how much time a user spends sorting their emails in the first place! When you add in that time (the study measured that “people spend an average of 10% of their total email time filing messages”), searching through your inbox is the winner by a wide margin.

I’ll agree, there’s something to be said about clearing your inbox to neutral so you you can start fresh every time you fire up your email, but you still shouldn’t spend any more time sorting your email than you need to.

As the study put it, you “might expect folder-access to be more successful than search, [because you] have made deliberate efforts to organize messages into specific memorable categories”, but search is so much more efficient at the end of the day because it takes you so long to organize and sift through your folders.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of two books: Hyperfocus and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in 27 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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