This is the first in a series of posts about my email filing routines. Since the idea for Tagwolf came out of a frustration during my email filing activities, these routines helped to shape the product and therefore I want to share them with you. I will start off with the simple question of why I file, followed by posts about how I file and I will conclude with the (surprisingly deep) topic of how I search.
But first back to the beginning: why do I file? Actually, there are many good reasons for not filing emails or at least not in a hierarchical folder structure, as advised here for example. Some of the main arguments against filing are:
- The vast majority of emails that I file I never use again. This strikes me every time I have to browse through a folder email by email. Most of them I never touch after filing.
- Filed emails present a risk. There is a wealth of information is stored in emails and some of that information can harm you or can divulge sensitive data if exposed. All the big corporations that have banned the use of pst files in their record management policy must have a good reason for it. And even on an individual level there is a risk: do you know how many passwords you have received via email?
- Filed emails present a data protection challenge. This is the nuts and bolts version of the previous risk. Archived emails on a local computer give a false sense of security. The information is exposed to all the normal dangers such as disk crashes, theft or other security exposures. Solutions exist, but they come at a cost and require quite some discipline.
Is this the end, then? We close the shop, go home and move on to something else?
Well, no. I definitely think filing email is an important activity. Before Tagwolf however, my point of view was not so clear cut because of productivity considerations. Obviously, email filing loses a lot of its appeal if the activity itself is too time consuming. But even without Tagwolf I felt it worthwhile going through the painful exercise of manual filing.
My business partner’s reaction when I asked him why he keeps his emails, sums it up nicely: “There is no way I could live without filing, my emails are my professional memory!” This can be broken down into reasons in favour of filing and, strangely enough, they are more less the mirror images of the three reasons for not filing listed above:
- The important emails in my mail history are of vital importance. OK, I never open most of the filed emails again, but the ones I do open are extremely important and I use them very frequently. This is exactly the image of the email repository as a knowledge base that Leo refers to.
- Filed emails are a form of insurance. This is the formal version of previous argument. From time to time, luckily not very often, I’m so glad that I have kept that one email in which somebody made a commitment, confirmed a formal agreement or recorded a decision. Actually this is just the “internet age version” of good old record keeping.
- Filing emails is easy. Indeed, it is very easy and quick to set up a personal email filing system. Certainly when compared to a corporate or cloud based solution, the overhead of setting up your filing system is minimal and your control over it is maximal. From a productivity point of view this is almost a no-brainer.
Question: Do you file your emails? Would you feel comfortable without an email archive?