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  • Email Filing Methods

    I am working on getting GTD fully up and running. I'm currently trying to figure out the best method for me to file my emails. When I first started using outlook, I would have tons of different folders and sub-folders to file emails. I eventually found that to be a bit problematic as many times I would forget where I would put something and would have to search multiple places, or run an advanced search in outlook to find the item.

    Then I decided to keep all the emails in folders by date, broken down in quarters. So I would have one folder for all the emails in first quarter, another folder for second quarter and so on. That helped some as I would have all the emails in one place, and I could just change my sorts to find what I was looking for. But sometimes I would still have to look through a number of emails to find what I'm looking for.

    I am now using Outlook 2003, which has some advanced features, such as search folders that make things a bit easier. The only modification I have made to my filing system by date, is that I know use my categories as a sort of folder. That way I still have all the emails in one place, and can resort them by sender If I need to, but I can then view them by category to get a view of them broken down in their own buckets. The only draw back I see at this point is that I'm going to end up having a huge list of categories. Also if I ever have to log into a computer that isn't my own at work, I have to reload my categories to the registry. I've thought about going back to individual folders and having them alphabetically like my paper system, but I'll lose the ability to resort emails by sender. I could set up a search folder to find items by a particular person, but that could become a pain.

    So I was hoping to get some feedback on how some other GTD users have their email filing systems set up, and if you think my method will work, or if there are some problems I may have overlooked. Thanks. I can't wait till I get this thing running smoothly.

  • #2
    GTD with Total Workday Control

    Michael Linenberger's Total Workday Control using Microsoft Outlook has some filing methodology suggestions and is based on the GTD workflow process, so you might find it helpful.

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    • #3
      Under what circumstances do you need to look at old email? Those circumstances define the filing system you should use. For instance, if you keep email because it contains reference information for projects, then file it by project. If you keep it to document your conversations with particular people, file it by sender. If you keep it for time reporting or other auditing purposes, file it by date.

      Function defines form, not the other way around.

      Katherine

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      • #4
        Katherine,

        That's good advice. I'll have to think about that some more. It really depends. Sometimes I save the emails for both reasons. Other times the email doesn't really belong to a project, it may have just been a question I needed answered related to a system maintenance type issue. The other challenge I come across is that many times 1 email can contain information that pertains to multiple projects. With the categories I have found it easier to associate the email to multiple categories, then to copy it to multiple folders.

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        • #5
          To what extent do you need to save email *as email,* rather than because of the information that it contains?

          The trivial example of this is email containing someone's contact information. Put the contact information in your address book, and throw the email away.

          But the same idea applies to lots of other reference emails. There are zillions of outliners, note managers, and other tools that are far better at handling reference information than email will ever be. For example, if you had an involved email conversation about a technical issue, it may make more sense to pull all of the relevant information out to a single file (or Wiki page, or OneNote page, or whatever) than to save all of the emails indefinitely. The extra time it takes up front may more than justify itself down the line.

          On edit: I would say that the less transient the information is, the less likely it is that storing the email is the way to go.

          Katherine
          Last edited by kewms; 04-19-2006, 10:52 PM.

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          • #6
            I guess most GTD'rs will cringe when I say that I archive all emails once I have read them (and the ones I've sent). There are only two categories I need, emails sent and emails received. If I need info on a current project I am doing, and I know the info is on email and has been sent in the last couple of days I sort my archive by date descending and can find it in seconds. If I'm struggling with something and vaguely remember that someone sent me an email that has information to do with that subject sometime last year, I will filter for that person and sort by date. Usually it doesn't take long to find the message. If I want to remember what I said in an email about a certain issue I can find it in my sent messages if I remember the rough date that the issue happened.

            More than once I will remember a distinctive phrase that someone used in a particular email so I can search the whole archive. If emails were stored in different categories it would be a real pain to search each one after the other (although I guess it depends on what email program you're using).

            I have been burned too many times by deleting emails (and other information) that I really could have done with at a future date. It does depend on what your doing and on yourself- I seem to have an ability to remember vague details about emails when thinking about subjects related to them. For me, the sorting, filtering and searching of the author, date/time, subject and even size of emails is extremely useful. I'm even thinking about building a reference/ database system based around this where each piece of info is stored like an email and has date, title and subject fields.

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            • #7
              I used to have all sorts of folders in Outlook, ones for customers, suppliers, potentials etc. If I stayed on top of the filing it worked well, but the two drawbacks were the time it took to file a load of messages that I had dealt with, and also the sheer folder overload!

              Outlook 2003 has helped a lot with the search folders, and a little tool called Lookout has completed my ultimate email armoury!
              Do a search for 'Lookout for Outlook' in Google and download it. It is a search engine for outlook that runs off an index, so it is incredibly fast and very flexible. You can search for words in the email, dates, names, email addresses etc, and also it can index normal office documents - very handy.

              So now I just have one big 'Filed Email' folder, and if I've dealt with something it gets chucked in there. If I am looking for something it is far easier to throw a few words or a contact name into the Lookout search box than it is to either wade through lots of folders, or scroll down through pages of email. Plus my time spent filing is down to just over zero.

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              • #8
                I had a good example of how well this worked earlier on this week. Something came up and I needed to contact a former customer about an issue from a few years back. I put in their name and a single word I knew would be in the particular email I was looking for (the name of their product) and in about a second I was reading this email from 2001.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Murphybp2
                  The only modification I have made to my filing system by date, is that I know use my categories as a sort of folder. That way I still have all the emails in one place, and can resort them by sender If I need to, but I can then view them by category to get a view of them broken down in their own buckets. The only draw back I see at this point is that I'm going to end up having a huge list of categories.
                  You can still use the categories field, just don't add the terms to the master list. The drawback is that you don't have all of the terms in a list to choose from so you have to be careful to be consistent with their form.

                  Having said that, it's very flexible. It can be used for keywords that can always include the name of the associated project. FWIW, I keep a text file handy on my desktop that has a list of the commonly used terms so I can copy and paste. At minimum this keeps things like the names of projects consistent.

                  I probably store about 30 emails a day and with the advent of indexing search programs and the search folders you mentioned, its rare for it to take more than a minute to find any particular one anymore if I'm careful.

                  Tom S.

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                  • #10
                    Coloured flags, anyone?

                    (pardon my spelling, I'm British)

                    Here's my system for use with Outlook at Work:

                    I use coloured flags to indicate status, and have a rule that sets an orange flag on every incoming email (orange means "new").

                    When email comes in, I first decide what project it relates to (I have two special projects called Company Admin and Personal, for miscellaneous items), and drag it into the project folder. This empties my inbox.

                    Then I go to "unread mail", open each mail in turn, decide what needs to be done about it, and assign it a flag colour. For the record, these are:
                    Orange = new
                    Yellow = permanent reference (useful info that won't go obsolete quickly)
                    Blue = current reference (project support)
                    Green = action needed
                    Red = Waiting for someone else's action
                    Purple = Action blocked (will go green once a condition is met)
                    No colour = filed (will get deleted in my regular clean-up once it is more than two months old)

                    Next step is to go to my search view called For Follow Up, which I have grouped by flag colour, with the yellow ones omitted. This gives me an overview of what I should be doing, as it shows everything under the appropriate flag colour group. However, I also have special searches for active projects, which are similar to "For Follow Up" but filtered by folder so that they each pertain to a specific project (so I can find out what I'm waiting for on project X, or what I need to do today on project Y).

                    This system works like a dream for me, and a colleague was so impressed he also uses it (but with different flag colours! Good job I don't share his work...). The only drawback with Outlook is that it isn't easy to move sent mail to project folders automatically, but I get around that by being in the habit of checking my Sent Mail folder regularly, and moving everything out of it, into the right project folders.

                    The Result: I have constantly empty inbox and sent folders, I know what the state of every project is at a glance, I can find useful reference info with a simple Yellow Flag search, and the colours make it really easy to see things at a glance.

                    I hope someone gets some good ideas out of this system: for me, it's been extremely useful and has turbo-charged my ability to cope with "email overload" at work!

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                    • #11
                      At work, I use the following e-mail folders in Outlook 2000:
                      • @Waiting
                      • Archives

                      I periodically move everything out of Sent into Archives.

                      I save nearly everything, and I've always been able to find any old e-mail I needed via search.

                      At home, I have a couple of additional folders I use for filtering, but they're essentially an extension of my inbox.

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                      • #12
                        I file by project name for working projects and by function for reference materials. For example I file all incoming payments under Reference/Payments as I need them once a month for reporting and once a year for share holders reporting. I didn't find any other way of filing with flags or any other atributes as i.e. these payments are sent from different people and without any common attribute in a subj or body of an email.

                        When the project is done the folder is moved to Archive folder by dragging with a mouse.

                        The whole model looks like:

                        1-Working Projects
                        1-1-Projects
                        CUSTOMER A PROJECT NAME A
                        CUSTOMER B PROJECT NAME B
                        etc
                        1-2-Projects-Delegated
                        CUSTOMER A PROJECT NAME A
                        CUSTOMER B PROJECT NAME B
                        etc
                        2-Reference
                        PAYMENTS
                        etc
                        3-Archive

                        Regards,

                        Eugene.

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                        • #13
                          email is reference and not actionable (once processed)

                          I keep my Outlook email filing simple.

                          In collects mail (obviously). When I process messages, they can go one of several ways out from In.

                          *If it isn't actionable and not worth keeping I trash it.
                          *If it isn't actionable but might be interesting time filler one day (e.g. will never be actionable; NOT a someday/maybe) - I send it to #Read.
                          *If the mail is actionable (inc. someday/maybe) but not at a particular time or date, I drag it to Tasks and apply the appropriate context in the Category field (@Home, @Phone, @Someday_Maybe, etc.).
                          *If the mail is actionable AND has some time component to it, then there are two possibilties. If it is something I might want to be reminded about some day in the future (different than a Someday/Maybe) it goes on my Calendar at some appropriate date in the future as a Tickler. I actually add the prefix "T!". If the mail is more restrictive in terms of time (meetings, birthdays, etc.) Then it goes on the calendar at a particular date AND time.
                          *If I haven't trashed the mail or moved it to #Read (meaning I've created a Task or a Calendar entry), then I move the mail out of In to either #Processed (my generic repository) or some other folder named for a project.

                          I am actually a bit more detailed in that I have specific prefixes I add to tasks and projects, but you get the idea. I consistently keep my inbox near-zero this way.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by kewms
                            Under what circumstances do you need to look at old email? Those circumstances define the filing system you should use. For instance, if you keep email because it contains reference information for projects, then file it by project. If you keep it to document your conversations with particular people, file it by sender. If you keep it for time reporting or other auditing purposes, file it by date.

                            Function defines form, not the other way around.

                            Katherine
                            All the above is true, but most modern email clients let you group and sort and swtich views by all of those fields. So, you could keep everything in one folder and let your mail program organize for you.

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                            • #15
                              Don't forget that email doesn't have to be saved as email

                              An option I haven't seen mentioned yet is to 'drag and drop' the emails to your reference folder system on your hard drive. For example, any emails I get or send regarding projectX get dragged and dropped to the folder with all my other projectX information. Desktop Search Engines (Google, MSN, X1, etc.) will index the content of the messages and help find them in 'seconds'.

                              If you click on the saved email message from the hard drive, the mail application will open it for you just as if it were still in its native folder structure.

                              Hope that helps. Works fine for me.

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