This Is How We Do It: The "Optional" Folder


The Pledge

I've been playing around with an extraordinarily simple email organization method. I have one folder labeled "Optional" guessed it, everything that doesn't require an immediate response or any response at all.

The Turn

I want to preface this by saying that systems like email organization are very specific to the user so any criticisms are just from my own experience as a user. Having said that, I experimented with OtherInbox for several weeks and wasn't very happy with it. Jameson is a big fan and continues to use it. If you aren't familiar with it, OtherInbox integrates with your Gmail and does some remarkable things. The main purpose is to automatically organize your incoming mail into folders. It figures out which folders to put messages in based on their subject and sender. It creates folders like "Shopping" and "Social Networking" as well as about a dozen others. So on the one hand this is great because it breaks things down into very nice folders that you can review when you have the time. However, most of those folders are things that really don't matter, so why spend extra time on those items. If you have a few minutes to kill and you decide to clear out your inbox, are you going to choose the social networking folder or the shopping folder? Neither one contains anything actually important so there's already an issue there. We want you to spend less time on things that don't matter, not more.

I'm a big fan of Occam's Razor or the Law of Parsimony. It's true meaning is fairly complex but is popularized as, "The simplest explanation is more likely the correct one." So for the past month I've been using my new simplified system of the one "other" folder approach. I have UPS and FedEx tracking numbers, Amazon receipts, newsletters, social network updates, and pretty much everything else that just does not matter go into that folder. When I have downtime, or if I feel like multi-tasking on a phone call, I will go through that folder. There are usually 20 items per day that go into that folder, but if I'm traveling or don't get to look at that folder for a week, I am completely comfortable marking the entire folder read because I know that there is nothing there that I have to read. Are you seeing a pattern here? We all know that a fairly small percentage of emails are actually filled with useful or actionable information, and those are the ones that you should focus on. If I have the time to look at the optional folder, and I notice an UrbanDaddy newsletter about some new restaurant in my neighborhood, that's great. But if it simply got marked as read and I never saw it, WHO CARES? I do because I guarantee you that the time I saved was put to better use.

The Prestige

Sometimes we like to over complicate things when the basic method is the one that will work best. Consider what level of organization you need and don't go beyond that.