Your email can save your bacon

So many people hate spam (rightly so) and their growing inboxes. I often hear claims from people who have deleted everything in there just to achieve Inbox: Zero status. If this is you, you could be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Emails are digital proof of instruction, task ownership and lots of other things. I can’t tell you the amount of times email has saved my bacon throughout my IT operations career, so let’s stop hating on email. It’s not just a tool for accountability, though. Email is also a knowledge store, but only if you can find what you’re looking for. There’s a staggering amount of company knowledge stored in the mind; we already know that. The rest of that knowledge is documented, with only the tiniest bit in a structured format, while the rest is unstructured and un-filed within various kinds of documents and email.

My methods may make me seem like a hoarder, but it certainly isn’t clutter. Maybe you can adapt what I do into your process for handling email.

Email Triage

Delete the trivial stuff as soon as you’ve read it. Things like “HR are cleaning the fridge out, so please remove your mouldy sandwiches.”

Act on the contents of the email and then archive it. If it’s time sensitive or can’t be done right away, flag it (I use the yellow star in Gmail). When it’s done, archive it into a folder.

Make folders for your archives. Email folders are your friend. In my ops days I would have one Outlook folder per month (labelled Aug09, for example). As soon as a new month kicked in, I kicked the previous month’s email out of the inbox and into the designated folder. The inbox was only for current material. You can make folders that suit your purpose. Nowadays, I use Gmail and have a folder for each regular client. Folders are searchable individually, which cuts down on time needed to look for stuff. Especially when you already have a bit of an idea which folder an email will be in.

Review folder contents over time. Go back and weed out any emails you’ve kept where the contents are no longer useful. Maybe that client has moved on, maybe those systems referred to are obsolete and don’t exist anymore, maybe that person has left the company. You get the idea.


Are there methods to your inbox madness? Share them in the comments.

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