The temperature of a task or What makes re-finding emails so difficult?

Are you a spring-cleaner or more a frequent-filer when it comes down to emails? A recently published study on email re-finding from David Elsweiler, Mark Baillie and Ian Ruthven reveals that this already known classification has an impact on the success of finding the right email in the daily overload.

No big suprise so far. But what makes it interesting is: spring-cleaners, people who are emptying their inbox by moving bulks of emails at once into folders find it easier to re-find a specific email! Frequent-filers, who are consciously categorizing their emails into folders, have the poorest recollection for information they need to re-find according to the study results.

An interesting observation indeed - does it mean that tidying up every day is making it harder to find your emails?


Temperature of task and mailing date are the key
The reason for this is the "temperature of a task". Temperature is a metaphor for the time since the sought information has been accessed the last time. A hot topic is something you've worked on last week, a warm topic you've worked on last month and a cold one you've worked on longer before. So the more time has passed between "working" with an email and trying to re-find it, the more difficult it is to succeed, outlines the study. 

Or are you able to remember when the lost email was sent? Congratulations, than you should be able to re-find emails much easier. This is even a more productive strategy than to remember the name of one or all recipients. Just think of the numberous "project report" or "meeting agenda" emails you send and receive every week. 


Experience and collections
Finally, no significant correlation could be found between the easiness of re-finding emails and users experience in working with them. The same can be said also about the number and size of "collections" user file their information in. 


So the bottom line is, re-finding a particuliar email is still a greater challenge as one might expect. People need tools that bring emails into context and in relation to things they talk about.


Download the study: