Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Filing the E-mail - Or Not

email file folders

What do you do with all those e-mail messages you want to save? Since I wrote about applying some of the suggestions from The Hamster Revolution to my own e-mail, people have asked me for more detail.

What The Hamster Revolution Recommends

The Hamster Revolution suggests these four e-mail boxes:
1. Clients
2. Output
3. Teams
4. Admin

The numbers are actually part of the file name, and they ensure that "clients" come before "admin." Since the book is focused on a work environment, but acknowledges that you'll also get personal e-mail, the author says you might want to add another folder for personal messages.

What I'm Doing

My own version of that list is

Admin includes electronic receipts for work-related purchases, messages from my business insurance company, etc. I don't have a lot of admin.

Associates includes sub-folders for BNI (Business Network International) NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers), NSGCD (National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization), etc.

Clients is self-explanatory, isn't it?

Freecycle is a folder I added, because I'm both a Freecycle moderator and an active Freecycler, so I access this folder a lot and I wanted it at the top level.

Outputs include files related to the magazine I edit, my blog, my newsletter, etc.

And Personal is also self-explanatory.

While these six folders take care of most of the messages I'm saving for reference - my archive files. I used to have many more top-level folders, and I much prefer this more streamlined approach. But I did add on two other sets of folders.

1. The four folders at the top, with the --> in front of the name, are just extremely active folders that I want easy access to. The first one is the issue of the magazine that I'm currently working on.

2. The folders with the @ in front of them will look familiar to those who use David Allen's Getting Things Done. These are folders related to things on my calendar or one of my to-do (and related) lists.

So Calendar has detailed information about things on my calendar. Next Actions (or na) are the messages related to things on my to-do lists. Project Support is information about larger efforts, not simple to-do items. Someday Maybe relates to things I might want to do. Waiting For are messages where I'm awaiting a reply. Waiting for - Freecycle are messages about pending pickups of Freecycled items.

This is what works for me - a blend of two systems, with some of my own tweaks. But there are a number of other approaches that work for others.

Another Approach: No Filing!

A number of people argue that filing e-mail is just a waste of time, since search tools can allow you to find any message you want. Merlin Mann said, "Organizing your email is like alphabetizing your recycling!" Gina Trapani suggests that all you really need is three folders: Follow Up, Archive, and Hold (a temporary holding place for important messages you'll be referring to in the next few days).

I understand the arguments for this approach - and it does have a lot of appeal. I'm continually simplifying my filing system - but I'm not ready take the plunge to this system yet.

If you have an e-mail filing (on non-filing) system that works for you, I'd love to hear about it!


Jessica said...

There's a distinction I think that is important between automatic email filters that sort your inbox into folders as it downloads your mail, and a filing system for messages you want to hang onto for whatever period of time.

If you receive large amounts of email, having it automatically filtered and sorted into different folders, it makes it easy to prioritize reading your email (eg: if you're in a hurry, maybe you skip the folder where facebook notifications go, or where mailing lists go, or read messages that downloaded in "most important/urgent folder" to "least important/urgent folder".

But that itself is completely different with how you organize the messages to go back and find important things later. Even if you have it sort your inbox into folders, you might still use a system where you move important messages and messages that need an action, etc. to a different folder where they will be easy to locate, vs. leaving all messages that are important mixed in with the unimportant messages in the same category.

Jeri Dansky said...

Great point, Jessica! I was talking about the filing system for messages you're saving, not the folders you'd use with an automatic e-mail filter.

Bethanie said...

My absolute preference for email is to use Gmail... and I don't file any of it. I can search easily and accurately and that also includes being able to sort for what I can just delete. One of the best parts is that as long as I have internet access, I can get any message from anywhere--I'm not limited to the messages that are stored on my home machine. I also use it to email documents to myself to and from work, so that I can access them and find the files when I need them.

In short: I <3 Gmail. :)

Jeri Dansky said...

Bethanie, I know many people share your love of gmail - and use it the same way you do.

And I dislike gmail; it just doesn't match the way my brain works. But I fully realize I'm in the minority, and gmail is a wonderful answer for many people.

And I have used gmail as a backup for a few critical files - mailing them to myself.

Janine Adams said...

I have automatic email filters and many folders for those. But for the email I want to save, I my inbox for emails still requiring action (I try hard to keep this to 10 or fewer at the end of the day) and then a folder called "Archive" for everything else. This allows me to avoid feeling overwhelmed by a huge inbox (and to easily find the emails that require action). And with MacMail's Spotlight, I can easily find anything I need in the Archive (or any other) folder. Works for me!

I'm with you on gmail, Jeri.

Jeri Dansky said...

Janine, thanks for writing; it's so interesting to read the various approaches that work for people.

And I'm glad to find another person who isn't thrilled with gmail. I feel quite alone on that one, sometimes.

suebk said...

My work system and my home system are two very different structures. My work email is essentially - no emails in the in-box. I file by the project and by admin. Some large projects I break down further into topics. Whilst I can search and find anything I want, the company requires me to eventually archive all my project emails to a public folder. By filing them in my system by project the archiving process is a lot easier.

At home - it's an ignored system. I did set up a system, so there is one; we just don't pay any attention to it. And it's pretty much a disaster.

The email where I receive my online group emails, I've set up a folder and filters for each group.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Okay, this is really embarrassing, but I just counted the number of folders I have for saved e-mails (business and personal): 40. Not efficient, not necessary. Today I'm going to fix this. I can see at a glance that it would be easy for me to cut down a maximum of ten, probably fewer. I think that will be a psychological boost when I sign in tomorrow, so thanks for the nudge towards awareness!

Jeri Dansky said...

Cynthia, I love knowing something I wrote helped someone make a change for the better! Thanks for commenting and letting me know.