For better productivity, stop organizing email

Photo courtesy Flickr user Dvortygirl

(MoneyWatch) Everyone, it seems, spends an inordinate amount of time discussing how you should conquer your inbox to get better organized and more productive. It sounds like common sense -- hundreds of undifferentiated emails in your inbox can't be good for anybody, right? Actually, maybe it's time to stop worrying and love a chaotic inbox.

Recently, Lifehacker wrote (and debunked) seven common productivity myths. The article runs the gamut of the productivity self-help book landscape, from getting up early to get more work done to the Internet is making us stupid to the effectiveness of working from Starbucks. But the one that really got my attention was the one about email and managing your inbox.

Indeed, I've made this very point before in this blog, and Lifehacker agrees: Email programs are sufficiently advanced today that filing and organizing messages just makes them harder to find.

The point is that any filing system depends upon you being able to remember the taxonomy you've created. The report about the Smith account? Is it in the folder you called Reports, or is it still in the In Progress folder? What about Archived Projects? Your ability to find stuff is only as good as your filing system, and even then, no system is perfect.

On the other hand, if you ignore your impulse to file and just leave mail in your inbox, you can use the instant search tool in Outlook or whatever client you are using to find stuff by typing a unique word or two. Outlook, for example, can quickly retrieve messages that match any search term you enter, and you can easily filter messages by sender or recipient, by date range, and other criteria. Your email strategy should not be about spending time filing messages, but using the appropriate method to find somewthing when you need it.

What are your email strategies? How well do they work for you? Sound off in the comments.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Dvortygirl

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