Don’t Organize Email / It Isn’t Their Fault

Over the Christmas season my father told me he wanted to take some time to organize his email. I replied, “Don’t. I think you’re wasting your time.”

I know we all went through the INBOX ZEROOOOEEEEE phase and we’re past folder-itis, so it’s no surprise that an IBM study has found that organizing email into endless folders isn’t the best use of your time. Just learn to search better.

My father and brother both organize email in this archaic way. So does nearly everyone in my office.

While those of us who learned to use email search might just have an Archive folder we search through, my father and brother create folders by company, by project…I’m not quite sure the method, but bottom line they both have a lot of folders and subfolders and probably even sub-subfolders and sub-sub-subfolders.

I’m not so sure it’s strictly because they’re old school. Us Mac people have the built in Mail app, and even indie software, like Sparrow, let us search by subject, from, to, and other fields right from the upper-right search field.

But a lot of people don’t use Mail.app. My father and brother use Outlook. Outlook taught them that the best way to find email is to have a meticulous organizational system, because Outlook is a mess.

Use Outlook to manage Hotmail Live Windows Mail Express ME messages1

Take a close look at that screenshot. There are four text fields, three of them for search, one of those for searching email, and that one only searches the inbox. Outlook users don’t get the cool Spotlight-like search operators we do. They get this.

Don’t blame your co-workers for bad email practices. They work with what they’re given.


  1. Photo by osakasteve used under a Creative Commons License