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Stop Organizing Your Email… The Fastest Way to Find an Email in a Haystack (And a Paper Filing Tip)


It is nice to see some science applied to email usage. Ever since “Lookout for Outlook”, later acquired by Microsoft and then built-in to Outlook, and since using Gmail and the power of Google’s search engine built right into the company’s email platform, my folder use has been limited. Search is where it is at. Today’s search engines can find an email in a haystack faster than hunting through folders. And IBM has done a study and proved this.

Threaded conversations, available in Outlook, Gmail, Thunderbird, Apple Mail, and almost every other available platform, let you deal with a string of messages as a unit. The same study by IBM concludes what many have known intuitively for some time… dealing with a threaded conversation is much more productive than dealing with an email conversation spread across multiple individual messages in your inbox. Finding a message furthers the benefit of using conversations. Don’t believe me… check out the study: “Stop Organizing Your E-mail” http://zite.to/jVz56t 

Finally, the same search engine speed can be used to help you manage your paper files. Don’t waste time filing in anything more complex than “put it in the next available folder”… Let me explain. A friend of mine, Joel Kanter, told me some years back that he had found a way to find anything in his paper files in a few seconds. What was Joel’s secret? A filing method called “The Paper Tiger” by Monticello Corporation which used search and the words that came to your mind about anything you were filing. The Paper Tiger uses a simple and very logical file labeling system. Actions #1, 2, 3, 4… and Reference #1, 2, 3, 4, … You file Action items in the next available folder and reference items in their next available folder. You enter a brief set of keywords or descriptors that could help you find the file in future into the Paper Tiger software. Then you get back to work. When you need to find the paper you type a word or two that comes to mind into the Paper Tiger search engine and there it is – you are immediately directed to the folder numbers that have any items referenced by the same keywords. After years of alphabetical and categorical and … (insert your favorite filing method here), the Paper Tiger approach made everything very easy. They even give you a set of pre-printed labels to get you going.

If the Paper Tiger software doesn’t support your system(s) of choice, you are still okay… Today’s software, like my favorite digital file cabinet “Evernote”, can be used with the Paper Tiger method, giving you easy reference to the paper in your life if you choose to file versus scan/digitize (and it works on Mac, PC, Android, iPhone, iPad, etc.)  

Every since Joel’s Paper Tiger tip and “Lookout for Outlook” my use of folders has been greatly simplified. I hope IBM’s study convinces you to let go of folders for email and to turn on threading… and Joel’s tip benefits you as well if you still use paper. 


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