Our company bought us a fancy training about organizing email by Mike Song, with a bonus section on file organization. I learned COTA, which is a way of organizing your files that uses four top-level folders: Clients, Output, Teams, and Admin. Here’s a review of the book, The Hamster Revolution, that outlines the system, if you want a bit more info on the system. If you are put off by taking productivity tips from a book that features a talking hamster, I recommend the white papers or the trainings, instead.
During most of the presentation, I was noticing that the guidelines for making something easy to find on my PC are the same as the guidelines making things easy for customers to find in a help system or on a site. Don’t bury it in too many clicks–don’t make the folder structure too deep, but don’t overwhelm with a vast surface array of folders or books. Have one place to go for your files/information. Organize by function. Have meaningful labels. Have a universal standard.
Is this not part of content strategy for a company? The company’s stuff should be easy for employees to find, and it should be efficient to create. One person creating it one time, everyone finding it in the same place, verifying that one has the right version without checking in eight other places. And, maybe this shouldn’t be each employee’s daily responsibility, this attention to info efficiency. Wouldn’t it save time if someone with training in this strategy showed them how to do it, management enforced the standards, and it became a habit? Like time-sheeting tasks or using file naming conventions. It takes an investment to make this happen, it seems to me. It takes personnel with training in information strategy.
At this training, I learned that email is probably the thing I’ll do most in my career, as far as sheer volume (except tweeting?), so I’ll probably want to master it. I’ve read and partly implemented Getting Things Done, so I was comparing Mike’s system to that, and he did outline some pitfalls of GTD without naming names. I have to say, I never did set aside the recommended two days to fully implement GTD, though I have still seen a ton of benefit, but implementing COTA with my existing files is going to take about two hours. I have two hours. I never seem to have two days.
Mike also led us (quickly, not tortuously) through a bunch of Outlook tips. This is a bigger deal than it maybe seems, because it’s the details that can keep me from sticking with an organizational trick. For example, of course a document that I receive as an email attachment shouldn’t live on my tasklist AND in an email folder AND in My Documents. But prior to this training, I thought I couldn’t drag-and-drop an email to my tasklist and retain the attachment. Low and behold, I can right-click and drag, and the options are available for retaining attachments. I know–yawn. But when I find these gems, I’m happy, because it’s the details that make or break a productivity trick for me.
“I already almost have my files that way, and I still can’t find things,” a co-worker told me. I think “almost” can be quite a big difference from all the way. Having some rules for overlap, versus making up a new rule each time you file something, for example.
It’s time consuming for each worker to be sitting at their desk carefully considering each thing they file, and often reaching different conclusions. Having put so much time and money into getting us this training, I hope we are going to implement some of these ideas on team servers, and not just use them alone in our padded cubicles.