Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Three Keys to In Box Enlightenment

Okay, back when Stella last changed jobs (from slipper-wearing shut in to Real Office worker) she made some new job resolutions, which you can review here. While most of these were a mixed bag, success-wise, the one thing that I did do religiously was stay on top of email. And it really made a big difference in how under control and organized I felt. In addition to feeling good about my in box, it also turned out to really help with finding things. Rather than pick through 300 messages in an in box and random folders, I was always able to put my hands (my mouse?) almost instantly on the thing that I was looking for. My email system of success was as follows:

1. Deal with or delete everything as quickly as possible. I was relentless in my pursuit of emptiness, and I'd forward what I wanted to share, then delete. Or respond to what needed a response, and get rid of it (more about that later). Relentlessly. Four times a day.

2. Create a system of folders with very few layers. I made a folder system that was much like I would organize files. In fact many of the folders in my email system were the same as my paper files. If a subject warranted its own folder in a file somewhere, I used the same name for the folder in email -- then, when I needed an email on a subject as I worked with other info about that topic, it was intuitively obvious (to me, at least) where to look.

I kept a lot of email, maybe more than true in box zero devotees might feel comfortable with, but in my work it was really necessary. But I'd file things away quickly after responding or otherwise dealing with the message. Coped with, out of the in box and into a sensible, labeled place where I could find it again when I needed it.

3. Use (nay embrace) the archiving features of the email system. My employer had a pretty aggressive archiving policy (eight weeks and an item gets archived). But religious folder use meant that

a) Things don't disappear from my massively out of control in box necessitating a huge search to find them.

b) Retrieving items from the folder-only archive set is much faster.

c) I stopped worrying about the archive thing because I knew that things were organized.

I know. This isn't huge or deep, but it really is reassuring that all the online attention to managing the in box isn't just a bunch of GTD OCD, KWIM?

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