Search, Not File: Why Filing Fails

Yesterday I wrote about never filing another EMail (or almost never). Use a single Saved Mail folder — I call mine History — and search it.

Filing is a losing effort. I know some people are inveterate filers; I think at one point a group I was working with determined that about 10% of people were “filers” and the rest were “pilers.” Filing used to matter, when it was the only way to find something.

With effective instant desktop and mail search, it no longer matters.

Every filing action takes time. Filers hope that time will be repaid when they have to look for something.

However, the vast majority of documents and mails are filed without ever being needed again. Of course, you don’t know in advance which ones you will need, and thus you save anything you think might be valuable. But if you need only 10% of your documents a second time, the energy you put into filing the other 90% of them is wasted.

Now that search makes retrieval so easy and fast, you’ll never recover that lost time.

So go ahead, give in to the filer instinct that demands a clean workspace. But do that by saving everything in an undifferentiated Saved Mail/History folder.

You’ll be glad you did.


In studying knowledge management systems a few years ago, I learned that most people instinctively understand the calculus of filing. They understand that the payback comes on retrieval, and that the cost of contributing — filing — generally outpaces the payback. It’s a flawed calculation when it comes to knowledge management, since it omits the value of other people using the information, or the value you derive when they contribute.

But for (unshared) EMail, be a piler, not a filer. It pays off.

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