Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Be Like Gmail - Search Don't Sort... Your Cutlery Vol 1

Search, don't sort!

GMail relies on searching, more than sorting, why not do that to everything?

Google Mail (Gmail) is built around searching. While this seems simple, it was a major paradigm shift from the extreme amount of sorting one did prior to the highspeed, searchable email we take for granted. Now, because search technology is so good, there’s no point spending your valuable time sorting anything. When you do need to find 10 out of your last 1000 emails, it takes far less time to search for those 10 rather than have spent time sorting all 1000.

So, why is your cutlery drawer such a mess?

The lesson learned from Google is, sometimes the time taken to sort is a waste since it doesn’t appreciably decrease the time to find what you’re looking for from an unsorted collection. Applying this to a cutlery drawer is a real world example, is it really any faster to pick out a fork or knife from a sorted drawer rather than an unsorted drawer? How fast is it to dump the removable cutlery rack from the dishwasher directly into the drawer, versus individually removing and sorting each item? I submit, dumping the dishwasher cutlery tray directly into the drawer is faster and there is no extra time lost looking for a fork versus a knife in the unsorted collection/pile you see in the photo.

Are you actually doing this?

I’ll keep you posted on how well this goes over in my house and if I can persuade my wife to search, not sort. Stay tuned.


  1. A friend on facebook has suggested that sorting is faster, particularly when pulling multiples from the collection / cutlery drawer. When getting forks for a family of four, I'm forced to admit a sorted drawer is faster...

    Perhaps this only works best for single individuals? Question, if you were a single man and you did this, would you always remain single?

  2. Well, it seems everyone is using facebook rather than the built in web comments here. Here are some notes from a friend on facebook

    When putting cutlery in the dishwasher basket, I organize it so that all utensils of the same size/type go in adjacent slots. When pulling them out of the dishwasher, I simply pick up all the utensils of one type at a time and dump them into respective tray positions.

    In my opinion, the problem with the Gmail/Utensils analogy is that the utensils pile doesn't contain enough metadata for your visual cortex to easily find the utensil you need with a high degree of accuracy.

    Our utensils set has multiple sizes of spoons, which, when piled together, aren't easily separable by visual inspection alone. Before I started organizing utensils in the dishwasher slots pre-wash, they went in haphazardly - I often had to pull from my hand the one small spoon in the bunch of big spoons I picked out of the baskets, before putting them in the drawer.

    1. (writing as Finding Optimal)

      Well, if you sort all the same cuttlery together in the slots in the diswasher basket, isn't there a risk of too much spooning? If you are going to sort things, doing a quick pre-sort by putting the individual dirty cutlery pieces into the correct slot of the basket makes a lot of sense, the spoons will spoon and not get clean. Have you found this issue?

  3. #FirstWorldProblems

  4. Hey Dave. The spooning does often prevent cutlery from getting cleaned well. Even spoons of different sizes seem to find a way to snuggle up and stay dirty. Sorting pre-wash seems like a good idea but in practice it doesn't work too well. Sorting post-wash makes getting clean utensils a lot easier, and to me that's the important bit. When you're serving or hungry you want quick access to the tool you need, whereas when unloading the dishwasher you're already engaged in a sorting exercise so you might as well do it 100%.

    Additionally, I sort my gmail because I find that searching places a burden on my memory that I'm not willing to carry.

  5. Ahhh. Spooning.

    I don't have that problem, since my dishwasher's basket separates each utensil into its own slot.

    I could see it being a problem if you have a dishwasher that doesn't have the slots like this one.

  6. you are optimising the wrong thing! You should have one type of utensil only -- a spork! then sorting and searching are both O(1).

  7. The difference between machines and humans is that machine don't have feelings.

    Humans get pissed off when they have to search for something they need. Also, most people wouldn't classify the act of sorting to be unpleasant.

    Long story short, searching may be more time efficient, but sorting is more emotionally efficient and emotions are what govern our opinions and decisions - so we tend to sort.

    Another thing to cosider is that a sort can be performed during low value time i.e during commercials, where-as an as-needed search can end up wasting high value time i.e. when a family of four is waiting for their goddam forks.

    1. I'd disagree, I'm happy to search rather than sort. I'd also suggest, completely anecdotal, that most people will favour a back-end-load (searching) to a front-end-load. While we've all been told that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, given how heavily financed everyone is, we prefer to have our cake and pay for it later.