Small Business

Is email filing a waste of time?

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If your email inbox is overflowing and you think you’re due for a little spring-cleaning, think again. Research from IBM looking at the efficiency of email filing systems has found, while it may make your inbox look tidier, it doesn’t necessarily promote efficiency when it comes time to email retrieval.

IBM’s research centre, IBM Research – Almaden, in their study ‘Am I wasting my time organizing email? A study of email refinding’, investigated whether building a system of folders for the management of emails was in fact the best method for when they had to be dug out again.

But first, some facts and figures – it’s no surprise email is the most commonly used form of communication in the workplace, but did you know an estimated 2.8 million emails are sent per second? That’s a whole lot to crowd your inbox.

What’s more, workers spend around 10 per cent of their total time inside the email application simply filing messages. On average, a user will create a new email folder every five days to help manage their filing system.

The researchers at IBM gave 345 email users 85,000 attempts to find old messages and the results overwhelmingly indicated that those users who sifted through folders took longer than those who used other retrieval methods, such as search or scrolling through email threads.

“People who create complex folders indeed rely on these for retrieval, but these preparatory behaviours are inefficient and do not improve retrieval success,” says the study.

“Modern email clients provide alternative opportunistic methods for access, such as search and threading, that promise to reduce the need to manually prepare.”

In English, what this means is that email systems often incorporate features – such as email threads and the search function – that make locating emails easy enough without the need to manually file.

Here are some tips to streamline your inbox:

  1. If you initiate the email thread, use the subject line to outline the email topic as comprehensively as possible.
  2. Use folders in general topics or overall project names to narrow down your inbox, but don’t rely on these for retrieval – use search where possible.
  3. Use your computer’s address book to store contact information. This reduces the need to trawl through emails to uncover a long-lost phone number.
  4. Depending on your email application, you can often highlight senders or topics in different colours. Use a different colour for different projects or areas of the business.
  5. In some email applications, you can also label the ‘project’ for an email to make it easier to group similar themed email conversations.

Published on: Friday, July 08, 2011

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