She talks about using folders to store email, which is what I do. For details on using folders check out Alyson’s newsletter. What I describe is how I put those folders into action.
One of my goals for this year was to get my email under control. I started the year with over a hundred emails in my inbox and a disorganized system for dealing with them. I’ve gotten my queue down to 6 a few times but I still haven’t conquered it. My goal is to end each week with 0 emails in my inbox AND to minimize the number of times I have to touch each piece of email because it’s unorganized. I swear I reopen some of the same ones over and over again when things become a mess.
I read my email both from home and from work so I use an IMAP email server (which keeps the actual email on the server so I can read it from anywhere and it always stays on the server). At home I use Thunderbird to read my email but at work, due to the firewall, I have to use Horde, a webbased email package (not my favorite but I survive). I don’t have much time at work to read emails but I check it throughout the day and respond to a few emails here and there.
I’ve found that the fewer folders I have the more organized I am. If there are too many choices for where to put something I get confused and don’t know where to put it, which tends to result in me ignoring it. So I’ve tried to eliminate any ambiguity in my system.
This is the folder structure I came up with at the beginning of the year and seems to be helping:
I have 4 art business related folders:
- art action - this is where I put emails that I need to do something with. This folder has subfolders for specific things I might need to do with the email such as:
- weekly to-dos – these are emails I have to act on by the end of the week. I clear out this folder at the end of the week.
- items for my blog – things I might like to blog about someday
- mailing list – people to add to my email list
- letters to answer – it’s hard to respond to all of the emails I get in a timely manner so I store them here so they don’t make me feel guilty sitting out in my inbox. While I love getting the email it can take me weeks to months to respond to it. When I have a few moments I’ll go in here and respond to a letter. I view these correspondences more like real letters and try to give them more thought than a quickly dashed off "thanks for the input" type of response.
I often send myself emails with notes I need remember to be sorted into these folders. A great way for me to keep track of things I think of at work and need a place to jot down.
- art galleries – here I have a subfolder for each gallery that represents my work. The list is currently fairly short but I have no doubt it will be much longer by the end of 2008.
- art shows – I create a subfolder for each of my upcoming shows (juried, group, solo, etc) that generates emails to keep them sorted out
- art misc – one subfolder for each project I have going, or workshops, etc. Plus one subfolder labeled misc requests for the one-off type requests that I need to handle
These are my active art email folders and they are available at home and work through my IMAP mail server. When a show or project is over I move the folder to my archive – local folders on my computer at home in Thunderbird – so it doesn’t clutter things up. Every 6 months I’ll sort through folders like the misc requests and archive those emails also.
In addition I have a folder called To Be Filed for email that will go directly from my inbox to my archive folders. I use this while at work because my archive folders are not available.
I also have 3 folders I’ve found very useful over the years:
- Online Account Info – where I store the zillions of emails related to all the accounts I have all over the place, REI, banks, airlines, etc. Anything with account info I might need goes here.
- Online Purchases and Sales – all emails related to things I buy and sell online. I occasionally go through and delete old receipts I no longer need, printing off the ones needed for taxes. When I travel my airline and car rental confirmation emails are dumped in here so they are quick to find and they aren’t cluttering up my inbox.
- Print and Delete – things I know for sure I need to just print out and then I can delete. Usually for taxes or some other book keeping task. Again I generally use this while I’m at work
I also have a folder for anything kid related, usually school stuff, that I need to have at both home and work. This folder is emptied at the end of the school year.
I belong to only 1 email mailing list, Fiber Connection, and I have a filter on my inbox to direct all emails from this group to a separate folder. I read and delete (or move to one of my subfolders above) these emails almost immediately. This is yahoogroup and yahoo stores an archive of the emails, so no need for me to do it also.
I used to belong to all sorts of mailing lists but I’ve decided they are mostly a huge waste of time. So I’ve removed myself from them all. And surprisingly I manage to survive just fine. Although I suspect that whole "nature abhors a vacuum thing" manifests itself in my blog reading habits. The nice thing about blogs is I go to them when I want to see the content and it doesn’t come to me and distract me.
The last remaining and most annoying email group are what is now being called bacn – email you have subscribed to but in general it annoys the heck out of you when it arrives. Frequent flyer mileage updates, the near daily special offers from vista print, newsletters, etc, etc. Great stuff to read when we have time but please stop appearing in my inbox.
For a while I tried to create filters to sort all this stuff into a separate folder so it didn’t junk up my inbox but lately I’ve decided it’s a losing battle. So I’m in the process of redirecting all of this stuff to a different email address. This isn’t junk mail – I want to get the emails – I just don’t want it mixed in with letters from my friends and notes about my art.
I’ve been reading email since 1985 and I’ve tried many ways of organizing my incoming email and processing it in a reasonable manner. This new scheme feels like the best fit for my needs, maybe because I spent several weeks analyzing my email habits and needs and then devision a system that fit those needs. My old plan was usually to think "I have no where to put this – I think I’ll create a new folder", which didn’t work out so well.
This is probably way more information than anyone will read, and I could have answered quite a number of emails instead of writing this, but it was good to sit down and think through my organization to see if it makes sense, ie I’m procrastinating.