Increase efficiency and stop using email folders

Keeping email in folders is pointless with today’s technology. It pointless before the increase in search capabilities, but now it really is.

Many of my clients that I setup Google Apps for always say “What about my Folders?!?” I tell them to give them up, but to make the transition easier I import their email from Outlook with the Google App Migration Tool.

In May this year IBM Research released a study showing how the usage of folders is actually an inefficient way of organization. PDF Link

It is a great read but here are a few key points

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(of data)

Another important reason for reexamining how people manage and access email is the emergence of new searchoriented clients such as Gmail [12]. Such clients assume the benefits of the opportunistic approach as they do not directly support folders. A second novel characteristic is that they are thread-based. Building on much prior work on email visualization [2,19,20], Gmail offers intrinsic organization, where messages are automatically structured into threaded conversations. Threads potentially help people more easily access related messages. A thread-based inbox view is also more compact, enabling users to see
more messages without scrolling, helping people who rely on leaving messages in the inbox to serve as ‘todo’ reminders.

The study’s researchers wondered why people continued to use manual foldering when it was clearly less efficient.

They concluded that need to file emails in folders was not to make it easier to find those emails later – it was a reaction to being overwhelmed by email volume. “Users receiving many messages were more likely to create folders, possibly because this serves to rationalise their inbox, allowing them to better see their ‘todos’,” the study said.

I use a few “labels” which are like folders, but only to monitor other emails coming in that are automatically archived. All email I receive is read, replied to if necessary and then archived. I do use the ‘starred’ label for reminder of people follow up on.

What are you waiting for? Give me a call or email and I’ll set you up with Google Apps and help you kick the Outlook addiction.


  1. Loren Nason on October 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Testing out Comments plus on my site. Leave comment with regular way, Twitter or FB

  2. Realty ONE Group on October 10, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Loren, Interesting article. I haven’t heard anyone argue that email folders are inefficient yet. I’m guilty of filing my emails into folders. I use the search function too, but sometimes I can’t remember the correct keyword to search. Folders/labels at least let me browse the category. Not sure I’m going to switch it up quite yet. (I dig the comment options.) – Phil

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