Over Load

Not a day goes by when I don’t encounter examples of how this whole “information overload” thing is making Life difficult.  Whether its the Inbox at work or your digital photographs collection at home, just the task of organizing the information that’s relevant to you is becoming a task in itself!

Let’s face it.  Emails will keep coming.  Task lists will keep growing.  More music will need to be ripped and more digital photos will need to be stored in the years to come than you and I can imagine.  That’s why, I thought I should take the time to share with you some of the things that have helped me keep it manageable.

Inbox on a Diet

Most people I know use Microsoft Outlook at work.  And Microsoft, in all its wisdom, believes that one item can and should be archived only in one location – even if it’s just bits and bytes!  As a result, most folks create and maintain anywhere between 10 and 30 folders in their Outlook file, based on the assumption that finding it will be easier if its stored in the “right” folder.

This creates several problems : 1. You need time to figure out which is the right folder for every single mail at the time of receipt.  For a busy emailer like me, that includes over 100 emails I receive in a single day!  2. You also need to remember that same logic when you’re trying to retrieve that message, several weeks later.  3. You still believe that one message can only go in one right place!  So where is that important mail from the client on the Sales project you were working on – in Sales, Key Projects or the Client folder?

My solution : Just three folders – One each for Inbox, Saved, Archive.

“Inbox” is all your incoming mail and stuff you haven’t got to yet.  At any point in time, this one should have no more than a screenful of items (less than 25 in my case).  “Saved” is all the mail that you think you’ll need to refer to in the future.  This includes organizational announcements, policy changes, etc.  This is the stuff you don’t archive.  “Archive” is all the rest.  Really.  All the rest!

And, that sub-folder needs to actually be “archived” every single week, so that your Outlook mail store does not show 10,135 mails, slowing it down even more.  The archived folder – now in a separate file – can be accessed with just a few clicks, whenever you need to refer to it.  This is also where all the Sent mail goes, after the week is through.  The advantage?  No need to figure out what goes where, while storing or retrieving.  And, your Inbox stays clean and manageable, freeing you up to focus on the things that really need your attention.

Aim, Shoot and Store

A similar problem of data storage and retrieval exists on the home front with your burgeoning collection of digital photographs.  Hard disks and digital cameras have become dirt cheap.  As a result, shutter-happy enthusiasts find themselves at the wrong end of 3000-odd photographs in a short span of a year!  What’s the best way to manage them without spending too much time doing it?

I believe the solution lies in a simple folder-structure : Home, Away, Arty, Resized, Mobile, Inbox.

“Home” and “Away” signify where it was shot.  That means all vacation shots go into the Away folder, not in separate folders for each destination.  “Arty” is for all the experimental stuff you shoot, if you do!  “Resized” is any thing that you have reduced to a smaller size, to post on the Web or email to your family and friends.  “Mobile” is what you shoot from your mobile phone.  “Inbox” is what any body else sends you.  Make that, what “every” body else sends you!

Access any of the photos via the Thumbnail View on Windows XP or a later OS, or use nifty software like Picasa to view them, as needed.  If you really shoot a lot, create the same structure in parent folders for each year e.g. 2007_Pics.  Lastly, burn a CD of the parent folder every few weeks, as a backup.  That’s it.

Since moving to this structure, I have found that the time I spend on storing and retrieving my digital photos has come down by 90%.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend that time behind the camera!

I’ve tried to cover these two areas as I thought they would be most relevant to a large variety of readers.  If there’s any such thing that’s coming in the way of your work-life that you’d like to make more efficient, I’d love to hear about it.  May be, just may be, I will be able to offer some help…

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