The WHERE of the WWW of Mastering Email

Once actioned or a decision made on an email, it should be moved out of the inbox (see 7 Reasons to Keep the Inbox Empty article). 

Many leave completed or finished emails in the inbox these days, for a number of reasons;
  • it takes too long to file them away in an email folder
  • they not sure where to file the email
  • there may to more than one folder the email could be filed in
  • its easier to find it again later if it is left in the inbox

The first principle for controlling the WHERE of Mastering Email is to separate finished or completed emails from those unfinished or incomplete, in the same way that we finished paperwork, documents and files are moved off our desk (ie: our working and decision-making environment) and put into a filing system or cabinet of some sort.

Even those who keep all their email in the inbox are often unaware of the psychological 'drag' that results from having unfinished emails and tasks with those that are finished. The concept of keeping all email in one place to minimise filing and make it easier to use search is exactly the correct approach to storing and filing email these days. It’s just that the inbox is the appropriate folder for that purpose.

The inbox is simply a decision-making environment. Once actioned or a decision made on an email, it should be moved out of the inbox. The aim should be to empty the inbox at least once a day and preferably each time it is visited.

The second principle is to simplify your email folder system or structure to make it as quick and easy to use as possible. Most of us who have been suing email for some time have added folders over time and developed a folder structure with a large number of folders; some have a very large number! And these tend to have grown organically rather than is a strongly structured or organised manner. As a result, they are often very difficult and slow to use when filing or retrieving emails.

The ultimate example is the Google model. Most people think of google as a search engine. But when you think it about, google is simply one big filing cabinet . . . and comes with a powerful search engine! We can use the same model for our email. Rather than store email in a number folders, even if it's only a small number, why not store all email in one single folder and use sort and search to re-find them as needed later?

Now this may involve a bit of relabeling of email subject lines before filing so that they are easy to find when searching. You may need to modify or add to the incoming subject line so that it makes sense for you. For example, an incoming email may refer to 'widgets' but your mind tends to use the word 'gadgets' instead.

So, before you file the email, open it up and change the subject line, replacing the word widgets with gadgets. 

Even better, you often add a word or phrase to an existing subject line so that you don't change the original wording, making it easier to sort by the subject line. For example, you might simply add the word Update or Confirmed or Finalised or Widgets to the existing subject line.

This way you can sort by the subject line (also known as the conversation thread) and see the progression of the conversation as words are added to the original message subject line. That way, when you search for the email you can use a word or terms that makes sense for the way you think. The sender can still search at their end using words or terms that make sense for them.

Most people are unaware that you can modify the subject line of any incoming email. What's more you can also modify any of the content in the body of the message and then save it in its modified form. You may wish to add some notes of your own in the body of the message so that your thoughts are captured in the same place, alongside or inserted into the sender's words and sentences.

One of the advantages of this is that it also allows you to remove any attachments, store them in an appropriate place on a hard drive and insert the link to those attachments in the original message. That way, you are getting large attachments out of the mailbox (which was designed as a communication system, not as a storage system) but still keep a link or connection to them.

All the best!
Steuart G. Snooks