43 Folders

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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Fresh Start: The Email DMZ

Like a lot of the best fresh starts, this one's a total psych-out; also, like most of the best ones, you won't believe how well it works until you actually try it for yourself.

  1. Open your email program and create a new folder called "DMZ"
  2. Go to your email inbox and Select All
    • You might alternatively choose all email older than n days
  3. Drag those emails from your inbox into the DMZ folder
  4. Go, and sin no more.

Is this the email equivalent of covering your ears and singing loudly? Not really. You still need to deal with all the emails in your DMZ folder (personally I'd recommended "archiving" anything older than 21 days), but, most importantly, you're drawing a line in the sand. You're saying "Okay, starting this minute I quit letting 'being behind' stop me from making good decisions now and going forward." Hence the "fresh start." Get it? Tomorrow morning you arrive to a spanking fresh inbox and the chance to start anew. Of course, using your fresh start to develop an actual new habit is entirely optional, but it's certainly more reachable than ever now, right? Right.

Basically, this works at accomplishing the one thing you need more than anything else right now: to stop digging.

Think about it: how much stuff in your life has gotten unmanageable simply because you decided at some point that you were too behind to ever make a difference? More than anything you need a way to recover these projects from the brink -- to find the handle that lets you stop making it worse and start seeing a way back toward daylight.

(On another day, I'll tell you my super-secret way of paring down the biggest DMZ folder to empty in 15 minutes.)

Chuck Cheeze's picture

I certainly get my share...

I certainly get my share of emails at work, and know there are people I work with with thousands of emails, but I can't understand how you people get so dang many emails. Guess if I had a popular website maybe...

Anyway, my Inbox never has more than about 20 items in it, as a rule. I use Outlook with the Shortcut bar, folder list, email list on the top right with 1 line and no little previews of the email, and the reading pane at the bottom. This allows me to read emails without having to open them and saves time.

I use the Inbox for things I need to address, and nothing else. I use the Deleted folder for truly deleting items, and Outlook empties it every night when I shut down. My wife likes to keep all her deleted items "just incase", but I say, don't put it in deleted unless you want to delete it, otherwise put it in a folder.

I have a Projects folder with no emails in it, only subfolders: xxCompleted, xxHold, xxCancelled (the xx's keep them at the bottom of the Projects subfolder) and then a folder for each proejct I am currently working on. I drag emails into these folders as necessary and usually they are informational/discussion emails about the project. Once the project is done/cancelled/paused I drag the entire folder to the appropriate xx folder.

Of course I have other subfolders of the Inbox, for personal, company info, whatever, but for projects I am working on, everything is within that Projects folder and its always expanded in the folder list.

One other thing I have is a Complete folder that is not within my Projects folder. And I have a shortcut to it on the Outlook Shortcut bar. This is more for one-off tasks (don't need their own project folder) that, once done, I just drag the email over to the Completed shortcut and the email is archived there, and I know its a task that is complete.

I find this keeps everything very organized and very minimal clutter.

Finally, something that really helps is this Outlook tickle trick, posted here (starting at the 2nd paragraph) http://www.trenholm.co.uk/?p=59, which allows me to quickly move emails out of the inbox that don't need attention until a future date, and when that date comes, they magially appear in the Inbox.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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