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

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...

Brad B.'s picture

I have only 6 folders...

I have only 6 folders that I've created in my work e-mail: *Hold, *Processed, Misc.-Info, Personal, Subscriptions, and one specific to my company. (The asterisks force those folders to the top after the default ones in Entourage.)

Almost everything goes into *Processed, with a few items in *Hold, which I'll probably need to keep on hand for at least a few days until I can get to them (most often information about a given design project that I'll probably get to later on today, tomorrow, or sometime this week). Once e-mails are acted on, they get tagged (assigned a category in Entourage) by client. The Misc.-Info folder may contain FTP info, new policies, phone numbers, etc. The Personal one doesn't get used much, nor does the Subscriptions, as most things that would go into those folders go to personal email accounts. Finally, things specific to the company I work for go in their own folder for future reference.

I categorize all my sent mail by client, too. It's a pain at first, but assigning categories to new outgoing emails is an any easy habit to adopt.




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