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Managing email

This won’t make you enjoy email, but maybe you’ll hate it a little less.

Make your Subject: work for you

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 example from an old 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]. So, my subject line becomes:

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

Why? Search is why

You want to find that email related to the additional cabling. You either:

  • know off the top of your head that 72.02 is the number you need, because you’ve used it a lot, or
  • use your index to look up the Johnny.Decimal number for ‘structured cabling’ if you don’t remember it.

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 pinpoint 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?”.

“But I write useful Subject: lines!”

That might be the case. You do. But nobody else does.

With this system you can add your own tag to someone else’s email. And because it’s plain text in the subject line, it’ll follow the email around and return to you. In my experience, nobody notices it’s there.

Putting things in folders

Since we typically move a lot of emails in to folders, we want to minimise clicking.

Outlook window showing folder structure

In my email client, I don’t create a folder for each area and then a folder for each category within it. I create folders for my categories at the top level. Do whatever works for you.

Also, in case it isn’t obvious, you don’t need to create a folder for every Johnny.Decimal number just because. If you don’t get email related to that item, don’t create a folder.