On Email and Organization

Some people are naturally organized – my wife can (literally) find a receipt from five years ago within minutes. I’m lucky if I can find a receipt from Mix.


Organization Through Larger Boxes

I recently read a book that suggested that people like me have a tendency to try to deal with chaos by using smaller and smaller compartments and containers, when what we should do is use bigger boxes: stop trying for fine adjustments that you’ll only give up on and toss everything in; then find it when you need it. After all you add a lot more often than you retrieve (particularly true with computers where searching is easy and fast).

Which is why I’ve come to love Evernote

Thus, it was obvious once Scott H. pointed out that he gets by on 5 email folders, and zero automatic rules that my system of 250 subfolders (some four levels deep!) and about 60 rules (with categories and flags) was a recapitulation of the exact same problem.

So now, (after carefully archiving and backing up my existing system) I have the following folders:

  • Inbox
  • Act
  • Waiting
  • Reference
  • To Archive

Touch Things Once

That same book urged that you try hard to touch each piece of paper once (rather than open the envelope, put it aside, then put it in the to be paid, then pay it and put it in the paid to be filed, then file it, etc.) 

Each e-mail item goes to one of the folders above. It only goes to waiting if it is waiting for someone else. Everything in Act gets flagged with a due date. Everything in Waiting gets flagged with a reminder date.  Reference is for things I’m pretty sure I’ll need for a blog, video or tutorial in the near term, and auto-archives in six weeks in case I’m wrong.

The “To Archive” folder is really trash for those of us who are afraid to throw anything away.  Fortunately, 500Gig hard drives are small and inexpensive. I recently bought six. 

That’s it.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

Please feel free to leave comments, your email stories and arm-chair diagnoses below.

About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty has three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects and is the author of 2 dozen books and a couple dozen Pluralsight & LinkedIn Learning courses. He was a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP and a Microsoft MVP.
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