One good thing happens when you are offline and not able to go check things out on the Internet – you engage your brain in other useful pursuits, like cleaning and writing and getting organized. We were offline for much of the weekend due to router issues and while I did do some writing I did more thinking and planning and trying to get my act together in a couple of areas long overdue – files and emails.

Let me just say this straight  off – I am not a natural organizer. I love the IDEA of being organized. I love looking at pictures of beautiful organized offices and workspaces and computers. But it doesn’t come easy to me and it isn’t my natural state. I need a certain amount of clutter around me to feel comfortable but one place I dont need clutter is online. I am tied of feeling weighed down by so many copies of emails and documents and who knows what I have saved to my virtual "junk drawer." (Yes, that’s the name of the folder.)

I decided to start with email. I use Outlook because I do like the integration with the various other MS products and the calendar/reminder system. But a few years ago I was still using Eudora and so when I set Outlook up I just ported over all my old emails. Let me say that again in case you didn’t hear me. ALL. My. Old. Emails. Oh my. I had email going back to 1997. Why? I have no idea. I am slowly, year by year, folder by folder, throwing them away. What a relief! It has been easier to do that than it has been to tackle my overwhelming In-box which, at the beginning of the weekend had about 800 emails in it because I had either read it and not deleted it, read it and had to do something with it or not read it yet. I’m now down to 87. Working my way toward single digits.

One of the tricks I remembered and started to implement again is to take off the setting to have it fetch mail for me every so often. When I was at the dayjob I had it set to grab new mail every ten minutes because you could never tell when something needed handling. I realize I don’t need to do that at home. I can grab the mail when I know I will have to to process it, at least a first pass (delete the junk that made it past the filters, etc) Huge sigh of relief there. Less stress than seeing the little Outlook notification that would float over the bottom right hand of my screen as every email came in.

While I use Gmail as a first line filter for most of my mail (and when I had the day job it was nice to be able to check my mail if I was waiting for something important) I like being able to sort my mails into folders. But I have been saving way too much and mostly because I was too lazy to process email correctly the first time. There are some mails to save, interesting conversations between friends, usually about the process of writing or brainstorming a project. Those aren’t things I’m not going to find online when I want them. But the internet has changes from way back in my early days of Delphi and bulletin boards. Thanks to our friend Google it is easier than every to find book lists and reviews and a lot even archives from various listservs.

So what I am trying to figure out is how to process mail going forward. I am reducing the number of folders I have for starters. I am making better use of Outlooks FLAG and CATEGORY features. (Would love to hear if any of you use those and how.) I have set up "rules" in Outlook to automatically file some mail in specifi folders so that I don’t have to move it myself later. It comes in and stays in my "unread" search until I read it. Then if I don’t delete it, it is already filed. What I have to remember is that if I read it and don’t need to keep it or do anything with it I need to delete it right after reading. That’s probably the biggest new habit I have to develop.

The hardest thing for me to figure out what to do with is the outbox of sent mail. My husband (also an Outlook user for work) just lets Outlook archive it all but he doesn’t send as much mail as I do. There are a lot of mails that I don’t need to keep a copy of but trying to remember to clean out the sent mail box is tough.

So what do you do? How to you process/handle/save/organize/trash your email? What’s your system?

I really want to know.