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Improve Productivity, Stop Organizing Email

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Improving productivity is a goal of many managers and employees. But for improved email productivity, an incredible secret may be to try and be less organized.

An op-ed piece from CBS News argues that the among the best email productivity tip is not to use any folders at all:

The point is that 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.

Email Productivity: Laptop Keyboard

© Flickr user liamdunn

This first piece of email productivity advice is exactly correct. Having a filing system makes sense for papers and archives, which will be kept for years and rarely touched. But email is a living conversation and only represents a momentary need, so there’s no reason to try and organize it for all eternity.

Unfortunately, the article take a turn for the worse. The author suggests:

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.

This is, frankly, terrible email productivity advice. If you’re using the search feature of email, you’re not actually processing (and deleting) email conversations. Instead, you should work to eliminate all of the messages in your inbox down to zero.

Why have a stress-filled, always-filled inbox that you can search, when you could instead have stress-free, often-empty inbox that you can analyze just by looking at it? That’s the path to maximum email productivity.

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