An IT blog recently recommended “Want to be more productive? Don’t file your email.” There are great conversation-starters in that post, slashdot debate, and the underlying IBM study. But in the legal context, it’s a strawman – set it up in order to knock it down. Don’t read their headline and assume it makes sense for legal!
Sure, if each person spends 20 minutes daily to file emails, that adds up to a lot of time spent firmwide. I do not conclude that ’employees are losing a lot of time carrying out a pointless exercise’. At a law firm or in a legal department, the goal is not purely personal productivity:
- The goal is to allow other staff or colleagues to find those emails, and be confident that none were missed.
- The goal is to comply with record retention rules, by associating emails with the right legal work.
So where’s the mismatch?
Many of those roles in the study (marketing, engineers, assistants, executives, sales, communications) don’t require collaboration, and the study itself did not provide an email environment that supported shared storage. The relevance disintegrates when you look at the job types and compare the activities to common legal work. The IBM study itself remains objective and scientific: they tracked hundreds of people at a company, for months, in a wide range of job types, and measured time spent on scrolling, searching, making folders, etc. It’s that other blog post which leaps to propose an approach with ‘benefits,’ especially counter to the law context.
Matter Centricity – saves time on preparation, filing, and retrieval
All filing folders are not created equal. Matter Centric organization for Document Management Systems, such as iManage WorkSite and FileSite, eliminates most or all of the preparatory filing overhead, by creating familiar folders ahead of time. When the time comes to file an email, the folder is already in place.
At Cersys, we espouse filing best practices that start with a limited number of standard folders – no more than seven usually. This eliminates most dithering over which fine-grained folder to choose when filing, and it more reliably narrows which big bucket would contain the target of a later search.
Folder explosions are bad
The IBM study measured that a new folder was created every five days, on average. Folders were commonly so small in the study that little or no scrolling was required. Therefore, there are far more folders than a common Matter Centric workspace. “We expected high filers to be more successful given their investment in preparing materials for retrieval (‘I know where that message is because I deliberately filed it’). As Table 5 shows, contrary to our expectations, high filers were no more successful at finding messages than low filers. Again we checked whether high vs. low filers had a greater absolute success rate, but found no differences.”
“People who create complex folders indeed rely on these for retrieval, but these preparatory behaviours are inefficient and do not improve retrieval success. In contrast, both search and threading promote more effective finding,” the study said.
The study’s findings have big implications for those accustomed to filing emails by folder. With today’s volumes of email, it can take 20 minutes or more a day to file important emails. Spread that across a sizeable company and employees are losing a lot of time carrying out a pointless exercise.
By mandating the use of custom searches and email filtering you can claw back at least an hour a week and raise your productivity. via Tip: Want to be more productive? Don’t file your email | Productivity.
Are lawyers at your firm creating too many folders? Not using a DMS at all? Contact me – improving Document Management productivity is what I do.