Managing Electronic Stuff

While efficiency is not as important as effectiveness, efficiency is still pretty important. And it’s something I’m always trying to improve on (I’ve written posts on task management and task management 2.0).

At its heart, efficiency is a matter of finding a system that works for you. There are no perfect systems because we’re all different. Systems are important, though; they’re simply structures, or ways of doing things (for example, Purpose Driven is a system; Five Practices is a system; Methodism began as a system, a method of discipleship).

My last post talked about our system for managing fluid schedules. Another area that I improved in the last few years is the system I use for my email, a system inspired by an article called The Inbox Makeover, which is based on the popular task management system, Getting Things Done (the book at

Using this system, I am usually able to keep my inbox empty. Emails that need a quick response, I act on immediately, if possible, or if not, move them to the Respond folder for action later when I have time to knock out some quick emails. Emails that require more time/work can go into the Action folder to handle later when I have more time. Things I need to read (like newsletters) go in the Read folder if I can’t read them right away. Emails that I need to hang onto for a while I place in the Hold folder (which I go clean up occasionally).

I delete most emails after I’ve read or acted on them (I have it set up so that they stay in my Trash for one year; I figure if I don’t need to find them in a year, I shouldn’t ever need them). Some emails I may decide to keep; I place those in a sub-folder in my Archive folder. (For more on working with email, see Inbox Zero.)

The latest area that’s needing some work, though, is the organizational filing system on my computer. An article at describes two different approaches: (1) the organizer’s strategy and (2) the searcher’s strategy.

Up to this point, I’ve practiced the organizer’s strategy using an elaborate filing system of folders and sub-folders. My documents folder had several folders and each of those had several subfolders, etc. Because it got to the point where I was having to remember which sub-folder of which folder I saved my files in, I’m currently experimenting with a radically different approach, the searcher’s strategy.

The searcher’s strategy relies less on folders and subfolders and more on searching for keywords in the filename and/or the file. On my Mac, that simply means using Spotlight (Cmd + Spacebar opens Spotlight). The key to this approach is using good keywords in the title (of course, it helps to remember words or phrases in the actual file, as well).

I think this system will work well for me. I love using the advanced searching tricks on Google, many of which I learned from a book I perused once at a local Barnes and Noble bookstore (some of them are listed here, here, and here). When I want to look up a phone number, I use Google (I can’t remember the last time I used a telephone book). When I want to do a calculation, I’m almost as likely to use Google as I am a calculator. If I need to do a measurement conversion (like how many feet are in a mile), I use Google.

I’m just starting on reorganizing my files, and so far, I’ve set up (only) four folders in my documents folder: Archive, Leadership (work), Life (personal), and Read (which may also include temporary stuff unless I create a Temporary folder, because like my inbox, I like to keep my desktop empty!). I’ve already renamed a number of my files, moved them, and have been able to get rid of a lot of folders and sub-folders.

Most of my files will probably end up being dumped in the Archive folder. That’s where the search feature will be most helpful. My current files will be in the three other folders, which should be very manageable (as long as I move stuff to the Archive folder periodically).

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes. What’s your filing system? Are you an organizer or a searcher?

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