Searching vs. Sorting

Question – where should reference emails be stored?  Many people follow a strategy derived from paper filing by creating a large number of subject based folders into which they sort their messages.  Another strategy is to have only one reference folder for everything and power search it.  Is either approach better than the other?

algorithmsAccording to the book, Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, there is an answer to this question.  On page 72 of the paperback copy, they explain the dynamic at work:

“And one of the most central tradeoffs is between sorting and searching.  The basic principle is this: the effort expanded on sorting materials is just a preemptive strike against the effort it’ll take to search through them later.”

On page 73 they state:

“Filing messages by hand into folders takes the same amount of time as filing physical papers in the real world, but emails can be searched much more efficiently than their physical counterparts.  As the cost of searching drops, sorting becomes less valuable.”

Therefore, the advice is to get by with as few email reference folders as possible.  Save the time you would have spent sorting emails for something more useful, like watching adorable kitten videos on YouTube …


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