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How to organize emails

About two months ago I had to restructure my company inbox due to a software change to Microsoft Outlook 2010. I used this opportunity to think about how I organize my emails and today I would like to share my findings with you.

In the past, I had several local files where I stored my current emails as well as my archived emails in a structure that had grown for years. Most of the files were organized based on different projects and had a hierarchy with up to six levels. – To be honest, I was already annoyed when I had to scroll up and down to file a new message in one of the folders which I could not find immediately.

Thus, I decided to do some research to improve my email organization. I googled and read a lot to get ideas about how to organize my emails in the most efficient way.

To sum it up, there are two different approaches: chaotic vs. structured

In the chaotic approach all processed emails are archived in just one folder and emails are retrieved by searching or sorting. – It takes only a second to archive the email but some more seconds to retrieve it.

The structured approach relies on a well-organized (as low as possible) folder structure where it is easier to retrieve emails. – But it takes a longer time to create the folder structure and to archive the email.

To reduce the archiving effort, a filing plug-in for Microsoft Outlook called my attention. Xiant Filer simply suggests folders where you are likely to move email to.

Due to the fact that I am more a structured person, I decided to continue my folder approach with a less complex folder structure and to give Xiant Filer a try to reduce the time for moving my processed emails to the right folder.

After two months of testing, I can confirm that Xiant Filer works well and it really reduces the time I need to file my emails.

Unfortunately, I was not able to keep my simple folder structure and it became more complex from week to week. As a result, I have to scroll up and down again to locate the folder where I filed the email I am looking for.

Thus, I have just decided to give the chaotic approach a try. I am going to move all processed email into just one folder for one or two months to see if this strategy is more efficient for my company inbox. – If it does not work, I can use Xiant Filer to return to my old strategy within a few minutes. ;-)

I will keep you updated about the results. Please feel free to post your strategy for organizing your emails.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, I can recommend to start with a blog post by Maik Preßler on emendatio.org (German) where he referred to a study of IBM Research about „Am I wasting my time organizing email? A study of email refinding.“.

Xiant Filer can be found here: http://www.xiant.com

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