People are usually inefficient when they’re looking for lost items, according to a new study.
It’s Monday morning. You hit snooze four times. You feverishly packed your lunch for the day. You’re already late. You find your coat, go to grab your keys—you left them on the kitchen counter, right?—only to find that you did not, in fact, leave them on the kitchen counter.
If you’re constantly misplacing things and wasting your mornings scrambling to find them, join the club. People are usually inefficient when they’re looking for lost items, according to a new study from the University of Aberdeen in the U.K.
While the study was small, the findings were helpful. Researchers tracked the eye movements of 14 people scanning two side-by-side images full of lines—one organized, the other chaotic—to find a particular line set at a 45-degree angle to the left.
They altered the images so it was either easy or difficult to find the line segment. A quick glance at the organized image should have been enough to detect the line, but some volunteers spent an equal amount of time looking at both images.
Translation: You might be wasting your time scanning organized areas for hidden items.
The takeaway? Whatever you lost is (unsurprisingly) probably hiding in a messy area: “If (what you’re looking for) were present on the easy side, you could easily see it using peripheral vision,” study author Anna Maria Nowakowska, told Seeker.
“Looking at the easy side gives you no new information; it only slows you down.”
She explained further that people “waste a great deal of time looking in locations that they already know don’t contain the thing they are looking for.”
“If you’re looking for your keys, you should focus on the areas with the most clutter, because if they were somewhat more obvious, you would have found them by now,” she says.
So next time you can’t find your keys while rushing to work on a Monday morning, save yourself a few minutes and head straight for your junk drawer, the pile of clothes sitting in your room, or the messy stash of mail scattered across the table.