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  • June 15th, 2009 | 1:22 PM
Email - save, trash, organize?

One good thing happens when you are offline and not able to go check things out on the Internet - you engage your brain in other useful pursuits, like cleaning and writing and getting organized. We were offline for much of the weekend due to router issues and while I did do some writing I did more thinking and planning and trying to get my act together in a couple of areas long overdue - files and emails.

Let me just say this straight  off - I am not a natural organizer. I love the IDEA of being organized. I love looking at pictures of beautiful organized offices and workspaces and computers. But it doesn't come easy to me and it isn't my natural state. I need a certain amount of clutter around me to feel comfortable but one place I dont need clutter is online. I am tied of feeling weighed down by so many copies of emails and documents and who knows what I have saved to my virtual "junk drawer." (Yes, that's the name of the folder.)

I decided to start with email. I use Outlook because I do like the integration with the various other MS products and the calendar/reminder system. But a few years ago I was still using Eudora and so when I set Outlook up I just ported over all my old emails. Let me say that again in case you didn't hear me. ALL. My. Old. Emails. Oh my. I had email going back to 1997. Why? I have no idea. I am slowly, year by year, folder by folder, throwing them away. What a relief! It has been easier to do that than it has been to tackle my overwhelming In-box which, at the beginning of the weekend had about 800 emails in it because I had either read it and not deleted it, read it and had to do something with it or not read it yet. I'm now down to 87. Working my way toward single digits.

One of the tricks I remembered and started to implement again is to take off the setting to have it fetch mail for me every so often. When I was at the dayjob I had it set to grab new mail every ten minutes because you could never tell when something needed handling. I realize I don't need to do that at home. I can grab the mail when I know I will have to to process it, at least a first pass (delete the junk that made it past the filters, etc) Huge sigh of relief there. Less stress than seeing the little Outlook notification that would float over the bottom right hand of my screen as every email came in.

While I use Gmail as a first line filter for most of my mail (and when I had the day job it was nice to be able to check my mail if I was waiting for something important) I like being able to sort my mails into folders. But I have been saving way too much and mostly because I was too lazy to process email correctly the first time. There are some mails to save, interesting conversations between friends, usually about the process of writing or brainstorming a project. Those aren't things I'm not going to find online when I want them. But the internet has changes from way back in my early days of Delphi and bulletin boards. Thanks to our friend Google it is easier than every to find book lists and reviews and a lot even archives from various listservs.

So what I am trying to figure out is how to process mail going forward. I am reducing the number of folders I have for starters. I am making better use of Outlooks FLAG and CATEGORY features. (Would love to hear if any of you use those and how.) I have set up "rules" in Outlook to automatically file some mail in specifi folders so that I don't have to move it myself later. It comes in and stays in my "unread" search until I read it. Then if I don't delete it, it is already filed. What I have to remember is that if I read it and don't need to keep it or do anything with it I need to delete it right after reading. That's probably the biggest new habit I have to develop.

The hardest thing for me to figure out what to do with is the outbox of sent mail. My husband (also an Outlook user for work) just lets Outlook archive it all but he doesn't send as much mail as I do. There are a lot of mails that I don't need to keep a copy of but trying to remember to clean out the sent mail box is tough.

So what do you do? How to you process/handle/save/organize/trash your email? What's your system?

I really want to know.


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( 17 comments — Leave comment )
June 15th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
Depends on where the mail comes from.

Firstly, I use Hotmail for as my main email. Almost everything goes there.

Blog post replies get read, then deleted.

Any email from my writing classes at HRRW get read, then shunted off into another folder. Passwords for various forums are in another folder. Then, there's a folder for each of the bills that get paid. I have another folder for important RP stuff that needs kept. And since I participate in NaNo, I save the "peptalks" sent during November in another folder.

I delete a lot of it after reading. I need to go through and try to determine why I'm saving the ones I'm saving.

But mostly, a lot of things get read and deleted. Either they don't need a response or I have already replied, and so, it's not needed any longer.
June 15th, 2009 10:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, so you have better habits in place that I do for starters.

I am getting better at the deleting after reading. Now I just need to make my way through all the stuff I have saved and toss 90% of it.

What do you do about your outbox?
June 15th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
I never even look at the 'sent' folder. It doesn't count toward my storage capacity, so there's no reason to look at it.
June 16th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Oh to be able to leave those things alone. Thanks for the info.
June 15th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
First of all, I have a bunch of accounts. I use Hotmail for any online shopping or signing up for accounts on web sites where I am likely to get spam. Gmail is for my friends and social media stuff. Outlook and my work e-mail is for work only. I have an account thru Stanford Alumni that I use just for business networking (it forwards to my current work e-mail).

In general, the key is expedient filing/categorizing. If I have no clue, I keep it in my inbox. At the end of every month, I move everything in my inbox into a folder marked with the month and year. And then if I go back into that monthly archive for something, I make myself file the email under another folder or delete the email when I'm done. And then I nuke the monthly archive on a rolling basis(yearly for personal stuff, quarterly for work).

Here is the thing: if you force yourself to delete the old stuff at regular intervals, it will encourage you to be a better filer.

And if you keep everything, you might as well keep nothing because eventually you won't be able to find anything when you need it and you'll just end up frustrated about why you have accumulated so much crap. I know whereof I speak. :-D
June 15th, 2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
I never did get into the habit of using one email for the online shopping stuff but I should have done so.

Doing it on a monthly basis seems doable. I feel really good about the clean-up I have done so far. I do tend to print out (gasp) really good discussions emails because I am more likely to want to grab a real folder of those items to peruse rather than read them online.

And yeah, I know what you mean about saving everythig. It was pretty scary until I started throwing things away.

How do you handle your outbox?
June 15th, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
My Outlook at work is configured to save everything I send in my outbox. I just sort it oldest to newest and every month, I delete anything that is over 3 months old. I used to do it less often, but I found that for work, if I haven't had to look at it in 3 months, I'll never look at it again. For personal stuff, I don't send as much, so I don't have to delete that often, maybe once or twice a year.
June 16th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)
oh gosh, once or twice a YEAR?

I think I might try the monthly thing. I send hundreds of emails a month. Get hundreds a day. Yikes. Whatever will I do if I breakout and have a hit bestseller? (I'll learn to deal.)
June 16th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC)
Okay, I just counted and I have 217 email folders. This is insane.
June 15th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to think my way through this process myself. When I come up with something, I'll let you know.
June 15th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
It's tough, isn't it? I did set up filters for notifications of some things because it makes it easier to open a folder, scan and then delete. I'd be interested to hear what you come up with.
June 15th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
I have two accounts, author/personal and teacher/work. Mostly I use personal because I don't like the way my work email operates. (Plus it has more mundane mail, haha)

For my personal account, I have one folder for SCBWI and make new ones if I have an upcoming conference. Other writing related categories include: critique group, memberships, website, class, and travel. Each book has its own folder, as does poetry.

I try and delete or file as many as I can upon first read, unless it requires action. If I need to act on it, but not at that moment, I save it to my in-box. That way, when I open my mail, I see that items on my to-do list right away.

Other categories include one folder for each of my immediate family, friends, purchases, and misc.

As I said, I try to delete most at once. Categorizing and filing those I might need to reference later allows me to keep them for a short period of time. I purge about once every couple of months or so - whenever I'm in the mood. Finally, keeping the action emails in my inbox makes them more urgent. Some I will even "mark as unread" so they pop.

I LOVE to organize folders on my computer and bookmarks. It is so much easier than paper filing...and much less dusty.

It sounds as if you are well on your way with your organizational idea. Good luck!

One important note: I back up all important folders and photos to an external hard drive. I burn my photos to cds, too. My best friend lost years worth of her family photos when her computer crashed. Back up is key! My novels reside on two computers, one external, and two flash drives. I don't want to lose all of that hard work!
June 16th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing your method. I think we are of a like mind. I really like the idea of having all these things in folders but I think I have too many. I just counted them and I have 217 folders. Yikes!

I am trying to implement the idea that I have folders with the same names in email, on my computer and in the filing cabinet so I can get used to looking for things in the same places.
June 16th, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
I have four email addresses: my regular one, my "biz" one which is for posting on the internet, the one with my domain, and one from Mac.com. The last three all forward to my regular one, so I get them all at once.

I use the Mail program that comes with Macs to download my mail from the server. As it comes in, it is automatically sorted into the following folders: Flylady, Freecycle, my agent, one for a friend I email with a lot, and five folders for writing groups (critique group, Chautauqua friends, etc.). Everything else goes to the inbox.

In general, I deal with email as I read it: respond or delete. If I need to wait to write a response response, I mark it unread until I've responded/dealt with it, even if I've actually read it, so I know I still need to do something with it.

After I respond, I do some filing. The inbox things get sorted into whatever folder is appropriate--Bible Study, Critique Group (I do the emails for my in-person group separately because one particular friend is in like six different groups with me), Editors/AGents, Miscellaneous Writer Emails, Research, Asperger's Info, Business, Family/Friends, Recipes, Virginia Consort.

As I read this over, I am absolutely amazed that I do this, because I'm really not that organized of a person. My desk is a mess. My house is not so bad that anyone will call the Health Department, but no one would mistake me for Donna Reed. But I've done my emails this way for so long that it's second nature.
June 16th, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
Oh, after they're read, the emails from my critique group and writing retreat group get either deleted, or refiled into various subfolders (critiques, keepers, individual mail from members that don't go to the group . . .).

This is SICK.
June 16th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
No, not sick at all. This is what I do too. I save critiques that are mine and belong to others because I learn from that. I have such an elaborate subfolder system that I think I'm insane. It wouldn't be so bad if Outlook's search capability worked better.

I'm glad I'm not alone. I want this kind of structure!
(Deleted comment)
June 16th, 2009 03:21 am (UTC)
Yeah it finally dawned on me that I didn't need to keep a lot of the Yahoo groups stuff. Mostly I am keeping just the ones from my gardening group that are specific for me so I don't have to go search. But when I counted my folders today and realized that I had 217 folders, I got a bit freaked out.

so you print things out and save them? See, I've been doing that some of the time but I think I might need to do more of that as it is easier to find things filed in the paper folder.
( 17 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

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Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

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