Am I wasting my time organizing email?
Several times I am asked why I don't order my email inbox (and my desk). Every time I have to explain that I have a search engine to scan through my email and I trust my memory knowing where I left my books and documents. Today I have found scientific evidence in an article by Profesor Steve Whittaker that proves my right that it is a waste of time to sort. And you know what, it counts for sorting documents and books as well. So goodbye clean desk policy.
A study of email refinding.
Steve Whittaker, Tara Matthews, Julian Cerruti, Hernan Badenes, John Tang. IBM research
We all spend time every day looking for information in our email, yet we know little about this refinding process. Some users expend considerable preparatory effort creating complex folder structures to promote effective refinding. However modern email clients provide alternative opportunistic methods for access, such as search and threading, that promise to reduce the need to manually prepare. To compare these different refinding strategies, we instrumented a modern email client that supports search, folders, tagging and threading. We carried out a field study of 345 long-term users who conducted over 85,000 refinding actions. Our data support opportunistic access. People who create complex folders indeed rely on these for retrieval, but these preparatory behaviors are inefficient and do not improve retrieval success. In contrast, both search and threading promote more effective finding. We present design implications: current search-based clients ignore scrolling, the most prevalent refinding behavior, and threading approaches need to be extended.
So, sorting your email inbox is a waste of time if you can use a search engine. Also sorting and tidying up your documents and books is a waste of time, provided that you know where you left it, in the first place. It is quicker to scan through your book shelf when you are looking for a title, than sort it every time again (especially when you do it by bubble sort or bucket sort).