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Vox Pop: Sell me on manual email filing

tow.com » MsgFiler

Lots of the kids are excited about the arrival of MsgFiler, which is a neat litte app for helping you file away your messages in Mail.app:

MsgFiler is a plug-in for Apple Mail which quickly files emails into existing mailbox folders. MsgFiler’s fast searching means you just have to type a few characters to find the right mailbox. Move selected messages with a click or open a mailbox without having to navigate the mailbox folder pane. MsgFiler is optimized for keyboard-only usage, perfect for Apple Mail power users.


But I'll just play devil's advocate on this one: if you find yourself inordinately excited about the arrival of this (admittedly clever) application, there's an excellent chance that your email archiving system is unnecessarily complex and, in fact, is in need of a major streamlining. Discuss.

Me? Here's my own folder hierarchy (and the Mail Act-on key I use to send selected messages there.):

  • To Respond (CTRL-R)
  • Archived (CTRL-A)
    • Receipts and things I Bought (CTRL-B)
    • Passwords and account info (CTRL-P)

That's it. Personally, I abandoned the byzantine filing system quite a while ago, and so far -- given a mindful combination of Smart Folders and Spotlight -- I've yet to find a compelling case for manually filing beyond a depth of more than one folder.

So, my larger question for you guys with more than, say, five or so archive sub-folders:

How often are you using your archiving hierarchy to retrieve old mail? In other words, give me your success stories and best practices by which the time spent on meticulous manual filing has paid outsize rewards in finding stuff later. Or, perhaps better put: what are the limitations of Smart Folders, and what would need to change about them to get you out of the manual filing routine?

Because, I gotta tell you, it kinda seems like a lot of busy work given what seems like modest functional pay-off. But you school me...

Dan's picture

Here's my problem with "Reply-To"...

Here's my problem with "Reply-To" folders or flagging messages for further action: you're setting yourself up to re-read the email -- or, in GTD terms, to re-process the email. And those people who are drowning in email barely have time to read their email once; why read it twice?

I think it's far better to determine what the next action is, schedule time for that action on your calendar, and either delete the email or store it in an appropriate folder. I keep email folders for precisely this purpose: as a reference for action that I've already scheduled when I first processed the mail. (If you're an Outlook user, you can just drag the whole email into the appropriate date/time on your Calendar.) Handling mail this way means that you don't have to figure out WHEN you're going to respond to an email, and you don't have to review the "Reply-To" folder to see what responses you have to make. On the first round of processing, you've already figured out when you're going to handle that email.




An Oblique Strategy:
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