wtfudge is a lovely weblog that uses blogger to track my thoughts, etc. it is an offshoot of where mathew hoy does code, content, and creative for all things lovely.

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Location: London, Canada

a buddhist, vegetarian, and beta-geek, i build web sites, am an iconographer, write, doodle, and noodle. i like cookies and candy and fruit juice. do you?

Monday, September 13, 2004

how bout those who swing both ways? ac/dcs?

because of this huge organisational kick i've been on lately (and after reading some interesting bits online..), i've decided to try to redo the way i check email, collect it, keep it, and more.

i came to the realisation today that 99% of emails that i get are messages from people that are updates on their lives. roughly 1% are messages to myself from work, colleagues, files, etc. - or the things that i really need to keep on garbo.

so i've wiped my entire email folder system and started from scratch.

that's tonnes of email from friends and family, my wife, volunteering, etc. all gone. a complete mail refresh.

after thinking about it for a while, i wasn't sure why i was holding onto it. i mean, email from a pal who tells me updates on his or her life is great! i love those kinds of emails. new babies, new houses, lottery winnings, soccer scores, movies they'd like to attend with me/us. those are exciting emails.

but in 2 or 3 months (or with my attention span, tomorrow around 10am) will i remember what they said? will i care? is it wicked not to care*? by that time, i'll have seen them, their babies, houses, sportcars, cotton candy, stereo machines, arnold palmer hand sanitizers, cat odour-supressant, paintjob, nosejob, newjob, and snowjob. by that time, i'll have either a) forgotten their email or b) not cared about the content anymore.

i was hella nervous about it at first. deleting email is a bit like removing part of your memories forever. those emails about setting up going to see ranger rick meets the bobsie twins at rainbow and then out for desert afterwards are great to get and take part in.

but today after looking at emails that were over 1 year old, i realised that the content of the messages weren't important anymore. the mails were planning camping trips which have already taken place, people buying new houses (which i've already been to and commented on in real-life), car dilemmas, and more. what was the point of keeping them around? i'd moved on (especially in terms of my memory - i didn't remember 3/4 of the ~1000 email messages in various folders that i went through, one at a time) and realised i would never look at them again.

so, i took a deep breath, ungrouped the threads in apple's awesome mail application, and started the delete-button-pressing.

i wiped all of my friend folders. all of my job search folders, all of my.. well, actually, i don't remember what other folders i wiped. that's how much i remember a) the contents of the folders, and b) what the actual folders were in the first place.

truth be told, i didn't really pay much attention to the messages in the folders unless they had attachments, which i kept. for about 30 mins while i went through them. i discovered that many of the files with attachments had already had their contents downloaded to garbo. why were they still around? sentimental value? because i wanted to clog email? because i wanted to waste precious hard drive space (by precious i mean this: regardless of the size of my hdd, whenever i get around 1/2 full, i panic. i have 40 gigs left and am getting nervous because i had ~80g. silly. that's a tale for another day, however).

so i wiped them and created a new structure. i created a structure that looks like this:

that's right. from close to 100 folders in the sidebar (hello xpad!), i've now got 3. 5 if you count my inboxes (there is one for my isp mail account, and one for hellaboss).

the way the folders work is this: when mail comes in, i delete it (after reading it, natch) if it's any kind of message from pals that i can reply to quickly. if it's got some important info in it, i flag it and move it to the flags folder. if it's business-oriented, i move it to the appropriate client folder (the client folder breaks down into x subfolders). if the message is something that i need to keep (directions for a camping trip, ideas for a community feature on wtfudge by a pal or two (hi frank!), or something else like that, i've put it into the archived folder.

seems a little odd, but i'm good at keeping an empty inbox. and that's the key to this way of doing things. inboxes need to be empty. after all, they are inboxes. they are the first step to processing digital communication between my contacts and myself. if you've got in and out boxes on your desk at work, you know that it's better to have nothing in the inbox and lots in the outbox (in case the boss walks by). that's how i think email should work. when email comes in, you need to deal with it. read it, keep it if it's important, temporarily keep it for later if you need to think of a longer reply, and/or delete it when you're done with it. keep that inbox clean and clear!

i sat down to think about why i was keeping certain messages and not others. some, i'd realised, i was keeping because the sender wasn't in my address book and i wanted to add them. in that case, rather than keeping them in the inbox, i just added them to the address book, and deleted the mail.

in other cases, they were really good mails with questions i wanted some time to respond to. while i needed to keep them, after i'd answered them, i had no use for them anymore. so i either replied to them, or moved 'em to the flags folder. in other cases, messages were from pals with a new baby that i thought my wife would like to see. instead of holding onto them forever, i forwarded the messsages to her, and wiped them. sounds cruel, but i'd seen the baby in real life. while the pictures were HellaCute™, i didn't need them anymore. but my wife might.

in the end, i cleaned out all my mail messages and feel much better about it, but have some gripes about apple mail that i might not understand yet. maybe you can help:

a) i can't seem to make mail rules that, after i flag a message, move the message to the flagged folder automatically. what is the point of flagging them if i have to move them myself? that seems like just another step in the process.

b) i wish i colour-code or label email messages instead of flagging them. i would love to be able to colour code messages in the same way that i do with my note-taking. blue mails are from work, red are quick messages, etc. while i know i can apply rules that will do this. in some cases i can't apply rules because i don't know the kind of messages they are until after i read them. and once i've read them, i can't change the colours. maybe.

how do you organise your email? any comments or suggestions on how i can make my system work better? can you answer my questions? post away!

*belle and sebastian, the boy with the arab strap.

ps: i also want to clarify that i did wipe messages from my wife. most were either a year old, or "how is your day at work so far?" messages. hardly the stuff i need to keep around, even after they are answered. i'm posting that because there might be some upset about my lack of attachment to messages of sentimental nature.


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