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Needle In A Haystack: Beating The Filing And Finding Trap

By Danielle Wróblewski

Date Published: Nov 2 , 2018

Do you know anyone who says “I have heaps of email folders but I still can’t find things”?

It is generally agreed that the less time we can spend filing, the better – as long as we can still find things. Given the capability of today’s technology, it makes sense to use FEWER FOLDERS rather than more.

Wait! Before you mentally defend your massive folder list, consider… the more folders you have:

  • The more places it can go.

  • The longer it takes to make a decision about where to put it.

  • The longer it takes to physically PUT it there (drag, drop, expand).

  • The more likely you are to accidentally drop it on the wrong folder… Be honest, you’ve done it, haven’t you?

  • The more likely you are to have a conflict; “it kind of belongs here, but it kind of belongs there, too”.

Then when you want to find it later…

Needle In A Haystack: Beating The Filing And Finding Trap

The more folders you have, the more places it can be.

Have you ever found yourself HUNTING? “It should be in this folder… hmm it’s not there… perhaps it’s in THIS one…

So let’s think differently.

Consider the internet. There’s more information there than in any of our Mailboxes, yet there are no folders.

We search for key words.

You can do the same thing with emails and files.

Is it really that simple?

Well, ok, not quite. For two small reasons:

  1. Sometimes people can’t spell (yes that includes you).

  2. Sometimes the word you would look for is not there.

How can we solve those two issues?

Internet searching works because those who build web pages WANT you to find their page – so they name them really well. Can you say the same about YOUR emails? What about your colleagues and customers?

So Step One is:

  1. Use good key words, preferably in the subject of all emails; and

  2. Slow down a little and take care with spelling. Use the spellcheck feature if required.

Step Two is that you need to Influence others to do the same.

Sure, they still may not always use the keywords you would think of, but if all else fails…

Be aware that you can edit received emails.

Seriously. It’s possible to open someone else’s email and just change whatever you like. Use your powers for good rather than evil though, as the repercussions may be an issue in your industry or role; use your judgement here.

For most of us though, there’s probably no harm in adding a good key word to the end of an existing subject to make it easier to find later.


  1. Open any message

  2. Click at the end of the existing subject

  3. Type a couple of useful keywords. (You can even edit the body: Actions, Edit Message).

Here is my challenge to you:

For the next two weeks, when you want to FIND an email, try searching first (before you go hunting). Make sure you tell Outlook to include all folders when it searches. In Microsoft Outlook, use the FROM button up the top to specify if you are typing someone’s name.

See how you go. By the end of the week, if you’re finding things quickly pretty much every time, you might say to yourself “hey, this works!”

Then you may ask yourself the BIG question: So why do I need all these folders…?

Priority Management is a worldwide training company with 55 offices in 15 countries. We have successfully trained more than two million graduates in Priority workshops. Our programs help companies and people be more effective and manage their workflow in and out of the office by providing tools, processes and discipline. Simply put - A Better Way To Work! Clients range from Fortune 500 companies, small-to-medium businesses and government/military employees.

Click Here to learn more about how Priority can help you and your team WorkSm@rt, develop essential management skills and the competencies to....make life and work better and happier!

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