Improving productivity at work is usually about feeling more organized. But when it comes to managing your email, one writer insists you need to quit worrying about filing and folders.
This insight comes from Dave Johnson, writing for CBS News. His advice:stop organizing email:
Any filing system depends upon you being able to remember the taxonomy you’ve created. The report about the Smith account? Is it in the folder you called Reports, or is it still in the In Progress folder? What about Archived Projects? Your ability to find stuff is only as good as your filing system, and even then, no system is perfect.
At first, this seems like good advice. You’re probably too busy to keep track of yet another system, even one of your own design.
However, Johnson continues:
On the other hand, if you ignore your impulse to file and just leave mail in your inbox, you can use the instant search tool in Outlook or whatever client you are using to find stuff by typing a unique word or two.
That’s where his advice breaks down. It’s true, you should not bother to organize your email. But that’s not because no “filing system is perfect” (which is a pretty defeatist attitude toward systems in general) and also not because “you can just search later” (which is just conflict-avoidance for email.)
Instead, you should stop organizing email because you should process it to deletion. Email is no place to store information. Not only are you filling the same role of correspondence bookkeeper that everyone else in your company is doing at the same time—aka, duplication of efforts—but you are saving information in a place that no one else can reach it.
If you get an email, deal with it. Save any permanent information into the appropriate repository. Reply if needed. And then, delete it.
The record of correspondence in email does not need to be organized. Once it’s processed, it should be erased. Improve your productivity. Stop organizing email.