I flirted briefly with some zero inbox schemes, but it’s too much work. I can’t be bothered with categorizing, labeling, and sorting my mail into folders, so I rely on Windows search.
So I’m totally down with this nytimes article, especially Step 1.
But the problem with a lot of organizational systems is that they replace one anxiety (“My stuff’s not organized”) with another (“My stuff’s not organized according to this specific system”).
Not to get too Zen here, but maybe the best system is no system. Or, put another way, the best system requires the least behavior modification.
1. STOP ORGANIZING, START SEARCHING I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by e-mail folders and labels. Those tools held so much promise: they were rational ways to divide your e-mail into logical chunks.
But their upkeep could be their undoing. What if one message did not get placed in the right folder? What if a message was not archived properly and disappeared in a routine purge of e-mail data? Maintaining a label or folder regimen requires constant and furious vigilance. Fortunately, technology has rendered folders and labels, if not useless, severely diminished in their importance and promise.
When you are looking for something, you are often looking for one thing: A flight confirmation number, an invitation to dinner, a bank statement. Almost all e-mail programs and operating systems now have a powerful search feature that can pull up any message that contains the word, number or phrase you are looking for. Windows 7’s universal search will find any e-mail stored on your computer; so will Mac OS X’s Spotlight. All of the major Web mail services will allow you to find a message based on sender, subject or body text.
Keeping a folder may be a good idea when there’s more than one thing to look for — when you have e-mails related to a specific long-term project like family vacations or home renovations — but for the most part, you can leave your in-box messy.
Side note: Bear in mind that the search solution will not work as well for e-mail stored on your smartphone. If you are an iPhone user, for example, Apple’s mail app lets you search only what is in the “to,” “from” and “subject” fields. What is in the body of the e-mail remains unknown. If you are using a Web mail provider like Gmail, you can search for words in the body by using the Google app or navigating to the mobile site.