Every year about this time I archive off all of the email I have kept from the previous year into a PST file for safe keeping. In the past I have attempted to maintain a complex hierarchical folder structure: A customers folder with subfolders for each customer I work with; A Microsoft folder with subfolders for internal projects and initiatives, other internal announcements, performance reviews etc.; and a folder for any personal mail I want to keep. No matter how good my intentions at the start of each year I have been unable to make this strategy work consistently for me and I always end the year with a whole bunch of items read, but still sitting in my inbox unfiled. Why? Three issues I think:
- I don’t know where to file it.
It’s not clear in my categorization system where the email should sit. Maybe it makes sense to file it in more than one place. What do I do? Copy it to both places? Create a new folder for it? No – path of least resistance wins – leave it in the Inbox.
- It’s too difficult to file it.
Well – not difficult exactly, but more that I can’t be bothered when I have so many more pressing things to do. With so many folders to navigate it’s just way to many clicks to find the right place to store the mail. Guess what? Path of least resistance wins Round II.
- I leave it there to remind me to do something, and never get around to filing it.
Frustrated by this I got thinking this past year about why I file stuff anyway. The simple answer is so that I can find it again. But over the last year I have found that firstly Windows Desktop Search and then Vista search has meant that I almost never use the folder structure to locate email anymore. Desktop search is simply so fast and so powerful that it has entirely changed the way I look for information on my PC.
I have been thinking for a while about making a change in the way I do filing to embrace this work pattern, so I now present to you my new Low Cal Outlook file system:
Just three folders, pretty unambiguous I think. Either a mail is personal, relates to one of my customer’s projects, or is about an MS internal project or program. I don’t think I’ll have a problem with items 1 & 2 on my list any more. Some of my colleagues have gone one stage further have a true minimalist approach of a single folder called Stuff for archiving. That would sure make filing even simpler, but I am not sure I am ready to make the psychological leap of keeping absolutely everything together just yet.
I am still to figure out a way of managing issue #3 that works for me. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on .