Last week, I started talking about productivity (and by “talking” what I mean is “paraphrasing from ayearofproductivity.com“).
During the writing of that post (Office Politics: The Art of Productivity), I discovered this magnificent article: Stop organising your email into folders: searching your email is way faster.
What followed, I’m embarrassed to say, was not dignified: said articles were forwarded on to various critics, generally accompanied by some variation of the phrase “HA!”
So I thought I’d continue that here.
The Fear Of Being A Fraud
The general theory behind inbox folders:
- We get many many emails each day.
- Wouldn’t it be nice if we just filed those away appropriately for future reference?
- It makes your inbox look clean.
- And if ever you need anything, you just go straight to the folder that it’s in.
- And also, you inbox looks clean.
- Did I mention the clean inbox?
- *sighs contentedly*
- *sighs at all those other disorganised people*
- *sighs smugly*
Although I only suspect this, because I don’t do any inbox filing.
I keep telling people that my inbox is organised chronologically (because that’s how it arrives). Although admittedly, were it not for spam filters, cash flow budgets would be nestled next to pharmaceutical companies promising to enhance my endurance.
For some years now (and I do mean years), there has been a task on my To Do list titled simply “organise inbox”. I have been plagued with feelings of inadequacy. And I’ve been waiting for other people (clients, really) to realise my dark secret. That I’m actually a fraud with no organisation skills and please don’t trust my opinion because it’s backed by no filing system at all apart from a brief foray into “smart folders” that now lie discarded, gathering virtual dust, and yet still managing to judge me by presenting themselves for my attention whenever I open my mail client.
Only now, I’ve faced that fear, and realised that it makes no sense to spend time filing emails.
Why Email Folders Make No Sense Part 1: Looking For Old Emails
Here is the thought process that one would have to follow when looking for an email in the well-organised inbox:
- “Okay, I’m looking for an email from whatshisname about such-and-such”
- “Right, so, would I have put it in the folder for mails from whatshisname, or for mails about such-and-such?”
- “Oh yes, I remember now – I put it in the sub-folder for whasthisname in the folder for such-and-such”
- “Look at how beautifully arranged my filing system is!”
- *pauses to self-congratulate*
- *clicks on such-and-such folder*
- *clicks on whatshisname subfolder*
- *scrolls through looking for email*
Here’s my process in my not-organised inbox:
- *types “whatshisname” and “such-and-such” into search bar*
- *presses enter*
- *scrolls through looking for email*
And here’s the IBM study to prove that it takes longer to find emails if your inbox is organised. The key points:
- It takes a disorganised person using a search bar 66 seconds on average to find an old email.
- It takes an organised person using their folders 73 seconds on average to find an old email.
- That’s, like, 10% more time. Just on searching.
- Also, there is absolutely no difference in effectiveness: both “email strategies” have the same success rate when it comes to finding mails.
Why Email Folders Make No Sense Part 2: Checking Your Emails
Here’s how I check my mails:
- *scrolls through mails*
- *ignores the unimportant ones*
- *reads the important ones*
- *replies as necessary*
- *goes back to other work and/or buzzfeed*
Here’s how the organised inboxer has to check their mails:
- *reads first mail*
- *replies if necessary*
- *thinks about how to file it*
- *drags and drops it into a file*
- *moves on to next mail*
- and so on.
There is just no way that is quicker. According to the IBM study – people spend 10% of their time filing. But I don’t believe that – it’s probably only 10% when you average it out against all the no-time-at-all that people like me spend putting emails into folders…
By all means – if organising your inbox makes you feel more productive and happy at work, then you should continue what you’re doing.
But I shall be impolitely responding to any further suggestions that I organise my inbox.