Filing Reference Emails

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by sesteph6, Apr 16, 2018.

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How are you Filing your Reference Email?

  1. I use 1 folder that everything goes into.

    44.1%
  2. I use many topic folders.

    55.9%
  1. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    The question I have is how much time does it take to maintain the folder system vs how much time does it save me? If I only need to pull that stuff rarely but it takes me an hour a week to maintain that system I've got 52 hours a year into the filing system. Say I have to pull that data back out once a month and if it was not sorted it would take me an hour to find it all. That's 12 hours spent vs 52 hours to make it faster. Not worth it IMO. There are many more things I'd rather do with 40 hours than spend them filing. Now plug in your numbers and decide that way.

    Look at the lifetime cost of sorting into folders vs the benefit.
     
  2. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    While I totally agree with you, and I don't sort, there may also be a question of the cost of missing something--if the job is of a nature where missing something would have large consequences, that could be another reason to file.

    For example, I mentioned coming up with a history of work on a project. I did that by searching on the name of the one person that worked with me on that project. If I had forgotten that, oh, yeah, an intern worked on that project in February, I might miss that in my search, but I would have caught it with sorting.

    I'm still not sorting. :) But it's a possible factor.
     
  3. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    Good point. That should be added to the time cost to find something.
     
  4. bboogaert

    bboogaert Registered

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    What e-mail system are you using. Our company uses Gmail and archiving is sort of filing. But selecting an archive is just a matter of hitting the label button, filling out the 1or 2 first letters of the name of your archive folder and gmail will present the ones starting with those words. Same for searching in the archives it is a matter of seconds.
     
  5. AFG

    AFG Registered

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    Count me as another convert to "one big folder".

    In fact, I mainly use Outlook's default "Archive". Conveniently with BackSpace as the "move to archive" button.

    I use Outlook's search - often with searches saved as Search Folders. Combined with sorting in those views, much better than searching through Archives in Gmail.

    Years ago I used to use many folders - back when I used emacs for email, programmable so that I had folders for each major mailing list. Too much hassle, especially on modern mail systems like Outlook and Gmail which are not programmer friendly.

    Slightly more recently, I used a machine learning system to sort mail into categories like important/not important. But that was for incoming, not for filed reference material.

    I am thinking of creating two folders - one "Archive-Keep", the other "Archive-Deletable" - to distinguish stuff that I can easily delete if my email storage becomes full, from stuff I want to keep longer. (Actually, have had these two things for a long time - but UIs for tools like Gmail and Outlook get in the way, since there is usually only a single "I'm done" button. When I have been able to define my own buttons / mouse bindings for the two types it's okay - but so many "modern" tools make such programmability harrd, even using AHK. BTW, there are really two separate properties - Archived(Y/N) and Keep/Deletable - but I want two separate buttons, Archive and Mark Deletable vs Archive and Mark Keep.)

    Since my current flow is OneNote based, I may copy email - typically just the important parts of the email - into my OneNote LOG or REFERENCE notebooks. There I can link it to other material on the topic - webpages, etc - that are not in email.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
  6. Geeko

    Geeko GTD since 2017

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    I prefer to have several folders for different reasons:
    1. This kind of structure allows a better configuration of search folders, especially in combination with tags.
    2. Deciding where to put an email gives me a better processing experience.
    3. I feel more comfortable with a lot of small folders than with a single very big one.
    But you have to make sure that your folder tree is squeaky clean and has exactly one bucket for each kind of email. I have this problem at work with a shared email account but I will hopefully be able to apply some GTD practices there (without calling them GTD ;) ).

    Cheers,
    Tristan
     
  7. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    Ok, so I need your advice: where should I put the following emails:
    1. From my wife about the next year vacation plan? @family? @vacation? @finance?
    2. From my bank about credit for building my company's office? @finance? @bank? @business? @realestate?
     
  8. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    Where would you first look for it?

    If I had a similar set of things the vacation one would go into the vacation project support folder because that is the necessary condition. The bank letter would go into the Bank-business folder because I have separate folders for personal and business accounts.

    I don't sort e-mail that much but I will pull relevant e-mails out as dups into my regular project support material.

    Right now I am looking at reorganizing my current e-mail because the one huge folder system has overloaded it. I need toeither archive or delete thousands of messages. Since I do regularly go back decades to refer to e-mails archiving is the obvious solution but so far my 2 different atempts at automating that have had spectacular failures. So I now have a project to sort a certain number of old e-mails daily into a new separate structure that I can search.
     
  9. Geeko

    Geeko GTD since 2017

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    I would ask you two questions:
    1. Which of these categories has the most attention?
    2. Where would you put the item, if it came on paper?
    Cheers,
    Tristan
     
  10. mcogilvie

    mcogilvie Registered

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    For me, it’s not just improved search that makes it possible to use one reference folder. There is also threaded email chains, which means I don’t have to hit exactly the right email to find a complete record of relevant emails. Also, both of the the list tools I have used in the last decade, Omnifocus and Things, support links between email and list items. Mostly, I don’t even need to search.
     
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  11. AFG

    AFG Registered

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    Let me apologize in advance - I get quite strident about this sort of thing.
    I assume TesTeq's question was tongue in cheek. Even if not, IMHO the important point is that items naturally want to be filed under multiple classifications. This is labeling systems like Gmail tags take beginning steps towards supporting - an item can have several tags - whereas folder based systems only allow an item to be in a single place.

    Geeko/Tristan: Where would I put it, if it came on paper?

    First: We have this wonderful tool, computers, and you want to limit it to only imitating what paper can do? That's like saying that you can only 2 levels of indentation in a list, or that you cannot put a folder inside another folder. The sorts of crappy limitations that I have to put up with in OneNote

    Second: I worked with paper based filing systems for things like inventions and patents. I might file an item under one category, and then place a note on a card that gets filed in another category.

    Geeko/Tristan: Which of these categories has the most attention?

    Today, category 1 (say, inventions related to artificial intelligence and deep learning).

    Next year, category 2 (inventions related to high performance supercomputing)

    Categories change over time.

    ---

    But... present day tools, AFAIK, make it hard to deal with overlapping and evolving categories.

    E.g. Google had to provide a folder like interface for its labels. Copying amounts to adding a label. Moving amounts to deleting old labels and adding a new label.

    We have to deal with the tools we have. Today we have folders and search, and primitive tags/labels/categories. Geeko/Tristan's advice applies, if you are using folders. But the search-centric advice also applies, and may save time.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
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  12. AFG

    AFG Registered

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    Rant over, some practical observations:

    Lately I have been using more and more saved searches to replace folders. E.g. "Outlook Search Folders".
     
  13. Cpu_Modern

    Cpu_Modern Registered

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    What do you mean by "Tristan's advice"?
     
  14. AFG

    AFG Registered

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    Sorry - Geeko appears in the quotes, but he signs them Tristan. Minor edit to make this clear.

    Summarizing:

    [AFG preface: With a folder system]
    Geeko/Tristan: you have to make sure that your folder tree is squeaky clean and has exactly one bucket for each kind of email. ... [Ask yourself:] (1) Which of these categories has the most attention? (2) Where would you put the item, if it came on paper?

    AFG further:

    Even with a label/tag system that allows you to have more than one tag for an item, you have to be careful. E.g. did you tag something "Vacation Home" or "Cottage"?

    Tag systems should allow aliases - so that all searches for "Cottage" can be mapped also to "Vacation Home".

    Non-tag searches can avoid such hassles. Especially with context like conversations, or all emails sent in the same week.

    Labels/tags are really just "frozen searches". Use them especially when it was hard to find an item via non-tagged searches.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
  15. Cpu_Modern

    Cpu_Modern Registered

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    Ah, ok, Thanks! I thought this to be something like "Moore's Law" or "Occam's Razor".
     
  16. AFG

    AFG Registered

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    Oh, yeah: one of the things I most liked about my Machine Learning based system was that it essentially was suggesting labels/tags for me. So instead of having to remember what I had classified similar things as in the past, I just had to hit accept/reject.

    Unfortunately, that system was IMAP based, so it was suggesting folders, not labels/tags.

    I don't think that IMAP supports labels or categories. But I suppose that I could have the system add an email header. Now, what to call it?

    In general, I wish email systems had ways to annotate emails.

    File-Under:
    SOMEDAY PROJECT: improve email

    (Wait, should I file that under SOMEDAY/MAYBE, or PROJECT? With links to REFERENCE/Email-Limitations?)
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
  17. Geeko

    Geeko GTD since 2017

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    I feel honored :D

    Back to topic:
    Maybe I should note that I am mainly worknig on paper when it comes to my lists. So my email folders are sorted by correspondent (personal) or company project (professional). Additionally I use labels in Thunderbird to sort my emails into different buckets. So I live somewhere in between.
    I hope that makes things a little bit clearer;)

    Cheers,
    Tristan
     
  18. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    Yes, I've tried to show that tags/labels are much better than folders.
     
  19. Oogiem

    Oogiem Registered

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    Only if you think that way, have a clean tagging system and use a controlled vocabulary for your tags.

    My only tagging system is in Lightroom for pictures and I have a well defined hierarchy of tags so I don't get mixed up with singular vs plural, scientific name vs common name, and spelling differences. It's a clean system. E-mails are clean enough for me with a single filing or have been until I ended up with too many saved messages. I am looking at how to put them in folders now and also reduce the total volume a bit in the archive.
     
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  20. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    Yes, that's a challenge!
     

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