Wednesday, November 06, 2013

How to Find Correspondence You Send and Receive

We write letters and memos to others. We receive the same thing in the form of email attachments. Putting our hands on those pieces of correspondence later can be tough.
filing

With a good filing system on your computer, there is rarely a need to make a hard copy for yourself before sending correspondence to someone else. You will find exceptions, but as a general rule, keep your copy in digital form. I say this for several reasons:
  1. When you print a hard copy for yourself, you have yet another piece of paper to handle.
  2. When a paper document is misfiled, for all practical purposes, that document is lost.
  3. Digital files are easier to organize. Files automatically sort themselves alphabetically within a folder. You can easily resort the folder by date or subject.
  4. Digital files are easier to retrieve. A click of the mouse is quicker than thumbing through the file drawer. 
  5. Should you forget exactly where you filed something, using the “find” command provides the answer. Should you forget where you filed something in your metal filing cabinet, you have a problem. 
The first secret to quick retrieval is having a single place to file correspondence. Inside my Documents folder is a folder entitled “Memos & Letters.” When I write correspondence, I file the digital copy there. No matter the recipient, no matter the subject, no matter the date, there is only one place to look for that document. Likewise, when I receive a letter or memo in the form of an email attachment, that attachment goes in that same folder.

The second secret is having a consistent naming configuration. When I write a letter to someone, I name the file as follows: the last name of the person, a hyphen, and several words descriptive of the subject. For example, the letter to Joe Smith regarding a donation he made to the playground fund is going to be titled “Smith—Playground Donation.” When I want to see that document, I don’t have to wonder whether I named it “Donation for Playground,” “Playground Donation,” “Letter to Joe Smith,” etc. The question I ask myself is, “To whom did I write the letter?” Answering that question tells me how I named the file. The letter will be located in the "Memos & Letters" folder, and scrolling down the "S" part of the list will yield this letter, along with all of the other “Smith” letters.

The same process holds true for correspondence from others in the form of email attachments. I rename the document just as described in the previous paragraph and save it in the "Memos & Letters" folder.

The vast majority of correspondence you send or receive, you will never access again. In fact, a study conducted by Stanford University some years ago found that 87% of filed papers are never accessed again. I would imagine statistics on accessing correspondence saved digitally would not be far from that figure. For this reason, I want a system which makes filing extremely quick.

The system outlined here is one that I have used for well over a decade. I can literally put my hands on a letter written 10 years ago as easily as one written 10 days ago, and you can too. Establish one digital folder for all of the letters and memos you write. Include also the correspondence you receive in the form of email attachments. Use a standard naming configuration. That's it! It's easy enough, it actually works.


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