Email. Ugh

Email. It's horrible, but everyone seems to use it. Let's make it better.

This is outlook. It is horrible. perhaps i should be a tad less negative about email

This is outlook. It is horrible. perhaps i should be a tad less negative about email

You probably have folders in your email. They just don't make any sense because they're not organised properly.

Johnny.Decimal numbers are the same everywhere

You already have a bunch of Johnny.Decimal numbers, so why not use them to organise your email? The numbers are the same across your whole system. You don't have separate numbers for saving files and saving emails. A number is a number, wherever you use it.

This is nice. It ties things together.

Create sensible folders

The same rules apply. Nothing more than two levels deep (in other words, no folders inside a Johnny.Decimal folder). Use the structure, like the example on the left. No creating folders called ‘AAAA’ so they sort to the top, or ‘Stuff’ for, well, stuff. Stop it! You're not helping yourself.

Make your Subject: line useful again

There must be some sort of medical condition to describe the terrible dyslexia that overcomes people when they type email subjects. Here's a real-life example from my day job:

Subject: EXTERNAL: RE: PO410192251 -LUE-2016-04-28-MEL-Additional-Transformation-Cabling

Seriously. What the hell?

Put the Johnny.Decimal number in the subject line

This might sound mad, but it works. Just put the relevant number in the subject line, and here's the special sauce: put it in [square brackets]. I'll explain why in a second. So, my subject line becomes:

Subject: EXTERNAL: RE: PO410192251 -LUE-2016-04-28-MEL-Additional-Transformation-Cabling [72.02]

Why? Search is why

You know you want to find that email related to the additional cabling. You know that's 72.02 in your system (this is a real example from mine, and here's another).

If the email isn't already in your 72.02 folder, just search for [72.02].

The brackets around the numbers in the subject help your email's search function narrow down to exactly what you want. The text ‘72.02’ might appear in a spreadsheet, or in someone's phone number. The text ‘[72.02]’ almost certainly does not.

This has never failed me. People ask me about an email and when I find it five seconds later, they say to me: “Wow. How did you do that?”.

Hey wait a minute!

“I write proper subjects in my email!”, you're saying.

That might be the case. You do. Good on you, buddy. But nobody else does. With this system you can add your own tag to someone else's email and, because it's just plain text in the subject line, it'll follow the email around, it'll come back to you, and—experience tells me—nobody will ever notice it's there.

Don't create a folder if you don't need one

As we'll see, you have one central place where you keep all of your Johnny.Decimal numbers. But if you don't need an email folder for a particular number, don't create one. In our example, we don't have a folder for 12.02 Payroll calculation spreadsheet even though there's a folder in our file system for that.

Presumably we've never had to email anyone about it. That's fine—create folders when you need them. This saves you time and clutter.