On your desk, you probably have an inbox where colleagues place documents that require your attention. Others might have a mailbox or a slot in an organizer where colleagues place your documents. But what do you do with the documents you receive? Do they make it to a pile and then get lost? Are they filed in a neat filing system? Or something in between? You can distinguish yourself by making a system for your documents, and replicating it with your emails.
Here are some tips to organize yourself online:
1. Treat your inbox as an inbox, not a lobby or parking lot. It is a place where messages first arrive, not a parking lot for all of your messages. Would you allow the inbox on your desk to simply accumulate with documents for several months, or even years? Would a hotel simply allow all guests to stay in the lobby overnight? Once you read a message from your inbox, do something with it! Only leave it in your inbox if it requires attention and there is no other way to file it or respond quickly. Otherwise, reply and file.
2. Make a digital filing system that is similar to your paper filing system. This way, when you are looking for a certain email on a certain topic, you already have a folder with relevant material. This simplifies your search and makes it more likely you will find what you need in a timely fashion.
3. Make use of available tools. Whether you have gmail, outlook, yahoo, or other email services, there are flags, read/unread, folders, to-do lists, calendars, file services, and other features you can use. Why not take some time to learn what is available and start using it for your benefit? Years and years of development based on what people need has informed the email tools we have now.
4. Consider a cloud file system. There are several inexpensive or free file storage sites you can use to store your files and access them on any computer with internet. This eliminates your need to only work from one machine and provides backup in case your computer crashes or gets a virus.
5. Start small to see what works. If you are unorganized, you should start with one or two folders in your email. Start filing some messages there and then grow your list of folders and subfolders until you have a well-organized system.
Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation.