On a web conference today, I caught a glimpse of someone’s inbox.
Protip: Close your email and IM if you’re presenting something. Unless of course, you want me to see your email folders, including the ones where you store “house” email.
But I digress. The person’s inbox had probably 40 folders, some of them with nested folders, which I’m guessing isn’t that uncommon.
As I’ve stated before, I used to organize email into logical folders, but filing email always took too much time. Inevitably, some email wouldn’t fit nicely into an existing folder, prompting a new folder, causing an infinite loop of organizing and reorganizing.
Years ago, I switched to the flat inbox approach. No folders, just one long list. I now have a local email store of 35,000 emails, plus another 4,000 on the server.
I’m generally able to find email I need based on attributes like, who I think sent it, when I received it, etc. For any others, I use Google Desktop. It’s a lot like my workspace and personal paperwork, i.e. organized clutter.
This system works well for me. As a hopelessly neurotic organizer, I’m freed from the obsessive compulsive desire to file everything. I usually have a good recall of where something is based on its attributes, which is kind of like organizing I suppose, without the filing bit.
Of course, there are occasions when I can’t find something by searching, which is maddening, but they’re rare.
I know a lot of people file email (and dead tree documents) and many even use filters and rules to file email for them.
This seems counterproductive to me. People complain endlessly about having too much digital communication, so why do they add meta-work to each artifact?
Maybe that’s why people cannot achieve inbox Zen because they enforce filing constraints on the process of “doing email”, rather than just doing it.
What do you think? Are you a filer? If so, why? Are you like me, i.e. a searcher? What works/does not work for you about that system?
Find the comments.
Update: Realizing I feel the same way about Facebook and Twitter lists, i.e. too much work. Search needs to be better.