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    Email – Finder or Filer?

    October 20th, 2008

    I just read a great blog post here that speaks to a transition I recently made myself.

    I have been an Exchange/Outlook user since 1996, before Outlook was even a product.  During those years I developed systems of email folder heirarchies that I used to “file” my email.  These heirarchies changed year-to-year as I changed projects or jobs.  This filing helped me find relevant email on any number of topics when required.

    I also have a no-delete policy for email.  I don’t delete anything.  My theory is that storage will continue to get cheaper, and search functionality will continue to improve.  Once my mailbox size became large, I started creating an annual “PST” archive file so that my primary mailbox would stay manageable.  Over the past twelve years I’ve amassed many gigabytes of email.

    Last year I began using Google Mail’s web interface as my primary personal email client.  Around the same time I saw an “Inbox Zero” presentation by Merlin Mann which was very thought provoking.  After a short time my habits changed dramatically from being an email filer, to an email finder.  I highly recommend it to anyone who spends time moving emails from your inbox to other folders in an attempt to organize your email.

    When using Google Mail, I immediately archive any message that doesn’t require me to perform a follow-up action.  Those that require follow up stay in my inbox until I’ve completed the task.

    When using Outlook I flag messages requiring follow-up.  Messages from high-volume email distribution lists are automatically moved to Inbox subfolders via the Rules feature.  Others emails simply stay in my Inbox or their distribution list folder until Outlook AutoArchive moves them to a PST file.

    The advantage to “finding” is that you don’t spend time filing on a daily basis.  I don’t even label much as I can almost always think of keywords, senders, or recipients that narrow my search sufficiently.  The only filing and labeling I do is automated with filters.  Email from active distribution lists gets automatically tagged and/or filed appropriately.

    Are you a finder or a filer?


    Microsoft OneNote

    August 8th, 2007

    I like to avoid paper whenever I can. Why? Because it is heavy to carry around, it is time consuming to make backups, and most importantly I am always misplacing it. Certainly paper has its place (bills, financial records, mileage logs, etc) but Microsoft OneNote lets me put notes into electronic form.

    Microsoft OneNote is a very simple and straightforward application. It will remind you of a WordProcessor, except it doesn’t have all of the formatting features a WordProcessor provides. The function of OneNote is to capture and organize information — not to make it look its best.

    Typing is how I get most of my notes into OneNote. I type faster than I write so this works best for me. OneNote has easy to use outlining features and allows you to annotate basic shapes easily. You can also easily cut/paste from other applications. The only significant missing feature is the lack of a “Paste Unformatted Text” command. If you want to remove formatting from text, you have to paste first into something like notepad.exe and then cut/paste into OneNote.

    Other than organizing your notes, the most powerful feature is search. When you type text into the search box, OneNote instantly searches an index of all of your notes and highlights the pages and result instances. This is great for typing in little nuggets of information like names to recall their context.

    Perhaps one of the fanciest features is OneNote’s compatibility with Tablet PCs. I used HP’s TC4400 for about a year with OneNote. OneNote can recognize and convert handwritten notes into text, or simply do the text conversion in the background for search purposes. Frankly I didn’t use the handwriting features much since I write so slowly, but it was very useful to use the Tablet stylus to draw shapes and diagrams.

    During in-person meetings, paper is king for notes. Using a laptop/tablet for note taking tends to be distracting to other participants. I have discovered that taking notes on a legal pad, and then scanning them into OneNote works for me. The OCR features don’t work on scanned notes, but at least they stay in your virtual “notebook.”

    One other handy feature of OneNote is its built in screen clipping capability. A hotkey will activate the clipping feature where you can then draw a square on any portion of your screen. The image is then either added to a new “note” or simply put into your Windows clipboard for later pasting into an application.

    Microsoft OneNote is a part of the MS Office suite. It is also available seperately.