Tips to Organize & Manage Your Documents and Email

by Sherryl Perry on September 2, 2010

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In my last post “Will Documenting Something Now Save You Time Later?, I confessed to being a documentation junkie. Since I received more than a few comments that made me believe it was helpful, I started thinking about other ways this obsession with process, procedure and documenting might be of benefit to others. One of my blog readers asked about tips on organizing their computer files and someone that I often exchange emails with mentioned being overwhelmed by emails generated from a LinkedIn group. Both of these conversations prompted me to share a couple of ideas that work for me.

Tips on Organizing Your Computer Hard Drive

First off, I think of my computer as one big filing cabinet organized with “green hanging” folders and then “manila folders” inside each hanging folder.

As an example, I had a new client who hired me to move their blog from WordPress.com and incorporate it into their website. I began by creating a new folder (my “green-hanging” folder) for them. I created all of our correspondence and my work files loose in that folder. I also created 4 sub-folders (my “manila” folders) for: (1) their original website, (2) their new/changed website, (3) pictures & graphics and (4) a folder for WordPress.

Since the name of this new folder is my client’s name, there’s no risk of my not knowing what the content is or not being able to find the folder. If this new folder had been for new software that I was learning, that would have been the name. Occasionally, I will create a folder that’s a little more obscure and might need something to jog my memory (a download for a plugin or extension maybe). In that case, I would give it an entry in my Excel spreadsheet. (The one I discussed in my previous post on documentation.)

Tips on Organizing Your Email

If you’re like me and participate in online groups and subscribe to comment threads, your inbox can get pretty overwhelming very quickly. I start my mornings speed-reading through my emails over a cup of coffee. If there’s anything urgent, I’ll address it as soon as I’m coherent/awake enough to make sense and be productive. If it’s spam, I delete it and if it’s email that I no longer need/want, I unsubscribe from it.

Basically, I treat my email inbox the same way that I treat filing on my computer. I use the same “green-hanging” and “manila” folder structure to organize my inbox.  I do not use rules to automatically direct emails to these folders because when I’ve tried that in the past it didn’t work for me. Emails would get forgotten and I wouldn’t address them. All of my email goes into my inbox and I sort it out from there.

Tips on Managing Your Email

  1. Delete any items that you recognize as spam.
  2. Respond to emails that are urgent or can be dealt with quickly.
  3. As you preview/read your emails, take one of the following actions:
    a. Delete it.
    b. Reply/forward it. Then delete it.
    c. Reply/forward it. Then move it to the appropriate folder.
    c. Read it & move it to the appropriate folder without replying.
    d. Leave it in your inbox until you act on it. If it’s time-sensitive, flag it with a due date.

Note: When I first posted this article, I talked about using the preview pane in Outlook. Thanks to Susan Oakes for pointing out that this can potentially infect your computer with a virus. Personally, I do use the preview pane but I am diligent about keeping my operating system and my anti-virus programs up-to-date. Having said that, using the preview pane can be risky. Therefore I’m not advising anyone to use it. (Gee . . . I hope I don’t sound like a lawyer here. – No offense to lawyers intended.)

Hope this gives you some ideas on organizing your files and emails. What works for me may or may not work for you. Each of us has our own style. How do you manage your computer files and emails? I’d love to hear from you.

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lyza
Twitter:
December 26, 2012 at 9:55 pm

If you’re a filer, don’t neglect that huge folder full of sent items. It might make more sense to create individual Sent Items folders for each client or project, and file the appropriate messages where they’re easy to find. You can even set up rules to do the filing for you.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
December 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm

That’s a great tip Lyza. I’ve organized my Outlook folders by clients and projects. I hadn’t thought about setting up rules to organize my sent items but that’s a great idea! Thanks.

Kelly Batke August 17, 2012 at 1:30 am

To add to those interesting points, I would recommend using specialized software to manage documents, particularly if you have a home or small office/business. You can get a solution like Sohodox that will let you scan, organize, store, search and edit documents in simple ways. Such small office solutions can let you tag documents, store them in folders as well group them by document types. This makes it easier to find the documents. You can configure the software to automatically capture email from POP3 servers. Overall, small business document management software can help you manage your office a whole lot more efficiently than simply using your default Windows file management system.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 17, 2012 at 10:41 am

Hi Kelly,
I just took a peek at Sohodox and it looks interesting. I’m a solepreneur. So, investing in a solution like that would be beyond my needs and budget but I can see how that could be helpful to business owners with several employees. Thanks for sharing the information. It’s always good to know what sort of solutions are available. I like the idea of being able to automatically capture email from POP3 servers. (That immediately reminded me of how important it is for businesses to establish clear policies on using company email.)
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Audrey September 24, 2011 at 3:44 am

Hi Sherryl! You gave some really good tips here on how to organize documents and email. I won’t add some more as I do the same things with you. I’d just like to salute you for this post as I believe that it’s really important to be organized and to keep everything around you in order. Unorganized files, clutters, unfinished business (like unreplied emails), etc. give us stress actually. They drain our energy every time we see them. 🙂

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 24, 2011 at 10:56 am

Audrey, I completely agree with you. Unorganization, clutter, emails – they are an energy drain. Thanks for weighing in! Yesterday, I turned off all of my email notifications from Twitter and it was a joy to look at my inbox this morning! 🙂
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nick goddard July 12, 2011 at 7:30 am

I like your thoughts on email. You have to be ruthless. Like you, I’m a bit of a documentation junkie. If I have a piece of paper that [might] be useful in the future, I keep it. Then every couple of months, when things start to pile up, I’ll have a purge and chuck loads of stuff.

Just need to start being more ruthless in the first place!

Sorry for coming late to this.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Thanks for dropping by Nick! It’s always good to hear from a fellow documentation junkie. 🙂
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Andrew Walker June 13, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Sherryl hi. I really love your post. It’s really informative and useful. I like to organize my messages and emails, but I never really can optimized it. Now after reading your article, I guess I can do it better. Thanks a lot!

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
June 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Hi Andrew,
Thanks for letting me know that you found my post helpful. I think there’s always room for improvement. I have a portable file under my desk right now that is crying out to be organized. Well, actually it’s organized well. What needs to happen is to have most of it thrown out and the folders recycled. I know it’s been at least 6 months since I’ve opened it up and I could really use the storage space. 🙂
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John Knights May 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm

great tips.. I should be as organized as this. It’s like all my files can be seen at my desktop! the hardest part is if you don’t know where to put them.. sometimes I even store my files at my recycle bin, yeah store them!

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
May 31, 2011 at 11:07 am

You store files in your recycle bin John? I’m not sure how that would work for me. I try to keep my desktop fairly clean. It does take a while to create a file system that works for you but I find following the green hanging folder with manilla folders to work well for me. Good luck figuring out what works best for you!

John Knights May 31, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I find it funny doing that.. but that’s for me.. I do have my important files saved somewhere else. BTW, this is the first time I’ve heard about “manilla folder” is that some kind of a new type of folder?

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
June 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm

John, I’m just referring to an old fashioned filing system. – You know, the traditional metal filing cabinet with the green hanging folders inside and then the smaller plain manilla folders within them. That’s just the logic that I apply when I’m organizing my computer files. For example I have a main folder called “clients”. That’s my green hanging folder. Then each folder for a client is a “manilla” folder tucked inside. I guess the smaller folders within each client folder identified as images, documents etc. are held together with paperclips? I may be getting carried away here but I can almost always quickly find what I’m looking for. 🙂
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John Knights June 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I see. Seems pretty cool to me of how you handle things around. I hope that style works for me as well.. lol 😀

Jes May 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Thanks for all the email organization tips! Even a computer savvy person like me can still get unorganized and it’s usually with my email. I find that my main problem is that I put emails off, or read them and reply but never put them in the right folders. Thanks for the tip. I’ll make sure to really take your advice and make an action for every email I receive!

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
May 31, 2011 at 11:05 am

You’re welcome Jes. Email can be such a time consuming task. Organizing my emails into folders really saves me a lot of time in the long run. It makes it much easier to find what I’m looking for. Now, if only my spam filter in Outlook would work a little better. 🙂
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Maureen December 2, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Hi Sherryl,

Being organized can save lots of time, so your suggestions are well-founded. I have a long list of folders and sub-folders in my email – one for each of my clients just in case I need to refer back to an email they have sent me. It works great.

Another thing – it’s a great idea to set certain times during the day to read your emails rather than being distracted by them all day long.

Time is our most precious commodity. We need to use it wisely!

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
December 2, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Hi Maureen,
Great tip about email. I try to do what you suggest and address my email 2 or 3 times a day. I find I’m more productive if I deal with it that way. Sometimes, I close Outlook down completely because it can be such a distraction. The problem is that I’m working virtually with another person and I need to get her emails. We may need to come up with another plan – instant messaging maybe.

Ron October 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Organizing your documents and email is very important. I use to do always so I can easily find my important files.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 20, 2010 at 11:39 am

Glad I could help. Recently, I’ve been finding myself creating a lot of “rules” in my email client to help get a better handle on spam. Even though my antivirus does a good job of directing spam to my junk-folder, I’m finding that setting up additional rules helps too.
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Jason October 14, 2010 at 8:29 am

Very helpful and informative post about organizing and managing your e-mail, which is really a big burden and headache for people like us whose receives tonnes of e-mail daily that needs to be organized and get managed in a proper way. Hopefully by implementing your tips it would counter easily… By the way thank you very much….

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 14, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Thank you for letting me know you found my post helpful. I’ve found that once you have a good method in place, it becomes easier. Now, if only we could find away to eliminate more of the spam without risking blocking legitimate email. I need to find the time to set up some more email rules to direct spam to my junk folder based on some of the “subjects” that have been popping up in my email box recently.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 6, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Thanks so much for commenting! While it does take time to organize while you’re working the payoff is worth it in the long run.

Boboe September 17, 2010 at 8:04 am

Yep a good organization of the emails is always needed especially when you receive allot. This are some nice tips.

Carline September 15, 2010 at 5:09 am

Being organized with your stuff is a good thing. I’m a mess before but then after practicing about organizing things, I really find it amazing. I think we should be organized in anything. Keep on posting great stuffs.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Thanks Catherine. Glad you like my posts!

Christian Paulsen September 13, 2010 at 11:13 am

Sherryl,

This is great advice for managing your e-mail inbox. It’s particularly useful for those who have low memory limits at work. Thanks for sharing.

Chris

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Thanks for dropping by my blog Chris! I find the older I get just how low my memory limits can get! 🙂
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 9, 2010 at 11:16 am

Thanks for dropping by Libby! I just checked out your “Blogger’s Routine” post. I’ll have to check out the sites that you suggested where I can submit my new posts.

Libby Fisher September 8, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Hi Sherry, wow – this is a really useful article! I know for me, as a web designer, organizing emails is SO important! I use folders, one for each design project, and I keep all of the emails pertaining to that project in that file. This seems to work well for me!

I don’t use rules either, I have everything come to my inbox.

Anyways, great article – I think organizing your emails is definitely well worth the effort, it really does save you time and peace of mind in the long run! 🙂

Paul Novak September 7, 2010 at 10:17 am

This one falls into the category of “things that should be mandatory for online businesses”. It’s also one I use similar practices to manage. Now if I could just get my mail client fixed so it will recieve again. After creating a new account with my host, I can only access through the web. UGH!

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm

UGH! Is right. Weren’t we just talking about things that are working fine and all of a sudden they just break? Maddening. Like you’re not busy enough right now. 🙂

Keith Davis
Twitter:
September 4, 2010 at 9:47 am

Hi Sherryl
If one thing has defeated me it’s organising emails!
Trouble is I have so many email accounts.
Each website I create has at least three email addresses associated with it and it is so easy to get lost in the avalanche of incoming and outgoing.

It won’t defeat me so I’m going to read this post a couple of times and then get cracking.
Wish me luck. LOL

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 4, 2010 at 10:03 am

Hi Keith,

After reading your comment, I watched Outlook as it did a send/receive. It checks 42 email accounts Can you beat that? 🙂

One of my main folders is KUWTW – for email relating to this blog and blogging. I have 6 sub-folders in that folder. You’ll find it so much easier to manage your emails once they’re organized. When my inbox is expanded, it literally looks like a filing cabinet with drawers to me. All I can suggest is give it a shot. You can always rename and move folders around until you find something that works for you. Good luck!

Keith Davis
Twitter:
September 4, 2010 at 10:16 am

Wow!
42 email accounts – I’ll never complain again. LOL
Folders and sub folders has got to be the way to go – thanks for your advice.
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Keith Davis
Twitter:
September 4, 2010 at 10:20 am

Sorry for additional comment Sherryl
Just to thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a super comment.
Much appreciated… now, where was I with those emails……
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Rick LaPoint September 3, 2010 at 10:29 pm

You and my wife would get along fabulously. Although my hard drive and email are meticulously organized, she calls my office, “the cave.”

I’ll have to spend some time here and do my best to incorporate your other organizational tips.

Rick

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 3, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Welcome Rick. I read your recent post on reasons why local businesses need websites and couldn’t agree more. (Cave? – LOL)

Catarina Alexon
Twitter:
September 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Sherryl it was useful for me to read your article. As organised as I am, my emails were a bit of a mess. So now I have created new folders and moved emails to where they belong. Thanks, I needeed a push about that!

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 3, 2010 at 1:59 pm

That’s good to hear Catarina. It sure makes it a lot easier to find something if you’re looking for something and can’t remember who it actually came from.

Rob Berman September 2, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Sherryl:

Whether a file is paper or electronic the best way to handle it is to touch it the least times. I get lots of e-mails from LinkedIn groups, comments on my blog, comments on others blogs etc. I try to skim through it like you do. I do direct some e-mails to folders.

The key is to have a system and stick with it.

Rob

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 3, 2010 at 10:10 am

Rob, That is so true. Handle it once if you can. Junk mail has just moved from our mailboxes to our inboxes. (Although, I still get too much junk by snail mail too.)

Susan Oakes
Twitter:
September 2, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Good tips Sherryl. I do have the folder file system in my email but you are right I do tend to forget them especially regarding the alerts or subscriptions.

I also use the read feature in outlook so I can delete as I go. One question for you, I read (not sure if it is true) that you shouldn’t use the preview pane because of potential viruses. What do you think? I must say my antivirus tends to pick up any and puts in automatically in a folder.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm

That’s a good warning Susan. I am such a stickler on security updates and having a really good anti-virus program as well as using programs to protect against adware and malware, that I honestly forgot that the preview pane could be a problem. I watch my anti-virus program catch trojans and all sorts of spam as it comes down in the morning. So, I’ve never had any virus reach my inbox. I’ll definitely add a note to my article though. Thanks for bringing that up.

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