How I went from 3000 e-mails in my inbox to less than 200 catagorized ones

Easy.    I deleted 2800 of them.  Silly blogosphere.  What did you think I was going to say?

Want more detail?

I've blogged before about the stupidity of inbox limits, but most people face them so a lot of people are nearing the need to declare e-mail bankruptcy.   (That's what happens when you just delete your whole inbox and start over.)  I was almost one of those people, until I got serious about cleaning up my inbox over the holiday break.

A lot of people use Getting Things Done and I don't know if my little system corresponds to it at all, but this is what worked for me using Outlook.

  1. Download Google Desktop. Next to Firefox, his is probably my most indispensable desktop app and that goes above IM and a feedreader.  I never have to worry about accidentally deleting an e-mail or losing it, because its all indexed and cached. 
  2. Attachments.  Attachments are the devil.  Sort your inbox by size and pull them out of e-mails.  Put them in a place that gets indexed.  If you save them in your inbox because you feel like you need them at home, either save them to your desktop or use Foldershare to sync between home and work.
  3. Sort by person. This is the easiest way to delete large quantities of unwanted mail, including daily newsletters, evites, blog comment notifications, etc.   It was really easy to go through the list and pull out things I didn't need, like back and forth threads with our IT guy about the computer slowness I experienced back in April.  There were also threads with entrepreneurs on deals we had passed on that I got rid off...  I knew that if I really needed to get those back, they were all indexed with Google Desktop.
  4. Cover your butt stuff.  When you're done eliminating all of the obvious trash, take the obvious archive stuff and make a rule out of it.  For us, its portfolio companies and for your firm, it might be clients.  Create a rule that says that anytime e-mail comes from your contacts at a company, it gets copied to an offline folder with the name of that company or client.  Run that for all your previous mails and enable it for mail going forward.  This separates communication from storage.  So, if an entreprenuer sends me quarterly financials, I know I can grab the attachment and delete the e-mail, b/c there's always an archived copy offline tucked neatly in a folder labeled with that company name.  This is good in case you get sued.  :)
  5. Now we're onto categories.  I've created categories for my mail that is labeled with numbers that organizes the order that things appear in my inbox because that's the way I have my inbox sorted.  So, I have a category called "3 - Action Item" which appears above "2 - Deals to log" and that appears above "1 - Waiting to hear back".   Whatever you name your categories, design them in such a way that they are self deleting.  In other words, the "2- Deals to log" category contains e-mails that shouldn't really sit for more than 24 hours.  They need to be logged, the relevant info needs to be categorized in our database, and then they need to get deleted.   Here are my categories:
    • 3 - Action Items  - Stuff that needs to get done... its what I look to first when I come in and try to mentally organize my day.  This is also where I keep my personal to dos.  I created a rule that says if I e-mail myself, it gets categorized as an action item.
    • 2 - Waiting - Means I've e-mailed someone that I really want a response back from soon.
    • 2 - Deals - These deals need to be logged.
    • 1 - USV Conversation - See below
    • 0 - Networking - These are e-mails I'm keeping for one week just to hold onto them long enough to put them into my "keep in touch" process.  They are from people that I don't need to get back to, but probably want to stay in touch with in the future.  I'll turn them into calendar reminders depending on how often I want to ping them.  This can be done once a week.
    • 0 - Save - These are e-mails that have important info in them that need to be kept on our file server, not in my inbox. Since I set Google Desktop to  crawl our file server as well, I know I won't lose the info here, but regardless, its best filed somewhere else.  This includes new wire instructions from LPs (there's a file for that) IDs and Passwords  to data services (file for that, too), and important stuff from lawyers.

  6. Colleague conversations. Brad, Fred, and to some extent Kerri and I e-mail each other in Reply Alls all day.   This is almost more like a chat room than it is e-mail, and so it needs to be separated.  So, I created a rule that categorizes any e-mail from any one of them as "1 - USV Conversation".  This is mostly a staging area, because what goes on there is mostly either deals to log or things for me to do.

And that's it...     I think the main thing is thinking of every e-mail as an e-mail that requires me to do something or a kind of e-mail that should get automatically saved by the system somewhere else because its from a client, colleague, etc.  This is most of my mail and with Google Desktop, I can even afford to make a mistake.

That's working for me so far...     if anyone else has any good tips, let me know.  One problem I found is that I can't use categories on my Win Mobile 5 version of Outlook, so I can only sort and organize when I'm at the laptop.