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Getting Over Archiving

18 Feb 2005

There have been some very good posts from Merlin over at 43Folders recently on the topic of email management — a skill you cannot avoid these days regardless of your profession. You can read them here, here, and here.

Late last year, as I prepared for taking a rare and coveted chunk of time off of work, I realized that I was sitting on an inbox with nearly 2000 messages, six hundred unread. I had lost control of correspondence. I didn’t know what was in there. I didn’t want to find out.

Eventually, after three solid days of nothing but inbox triage, I had my inbox empty. Ten minutes later, a dozen new messages showed up. I knew I had to develop some combination of habits and tools that would help me keep my head above water.

One trick came in the form of an Applescript that moves messages to an archival mailbox by using a command key. I can’t believe how much easier that simple shortcut made processing my inbox — saves me soooo much time. I’ve assigned two keys (a for “Archive” and ^s for “missed spam”). Once an hour, I do a first-pass of my inbox, shooting things into the right place without moving my hands or deciding anything more than “Keep or do later?”

Thus, I gave up on any sort of structured archiving (in direct contradiction to my RSS-reading strategy, I realize). Before I had dozens of folders for people/projects/themes, etc. etc. Blech. Now, I’ve got a folder with thousands of messages that I rotate once a year or so. Even with mail.app’s pathetic search capabilities, I can find stuff easily enough. Spotlight, I’m guessing, will make it trivial.

The bigger point here, of course, is that people who think for a living are relying more and more on search rather than browse — and eventually personal social networks — to manage the overwhelmingly complex amount of data that they need to transform daily into information, and ultimately understanding.

What tools do you use? ​