Email Productivity Tip: Use Search, not Folders

Last Updated Oct 16, 2011 11:12 PM EDT

Odds are that your email is organized into folders. Lots of folders. In an effort to get your messages out of the inbox to reduce clutter -- and to make it easier to use your inbox as a sort of dynamic to-do list -- you probably have a large number of folders that you browse when you need to find an older email. How's that working out for you? According to IBM Research, using email folders is significantly slower and less efficient than searching [pdf link].

Here's the deal: In a recent study, finding email via straight-up searches took an average of 17 seconds, while finding that same email by browsing through folders took 58 seconds. That's significant, and when you add up all the time you spend slogging through Outlook folders every day, it becomes apparent that you could take extra vacation days with all the time you'd save.

Researchers theorized that most people use folders to reduce clutter in the inbox and enable people to use current email messages as a to-do system, which is actually a bad idea to begin with. But folders are fatally flawed on multiple levels. Just consider the ambiguity associated with email filing; is the message you're looking for a status or a project? Anytime you have to search through two or more folder for something, you've wasted time.

Almost all modern email programs, and especially the likes of Outlook and Gmail, have robust search features that can find email with specific words in it more or less instantly. Give it a try, and you might just find that you've saved yourself a significant chunk of time each day. [via Lifehacker]

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