How to Sort Email – (my) Pro Edition

I started using email in 1993 when I had my introductory computer science class at the university. Using email was a requirement for us to turn in homework and so we had to learn it. With only a handful of assignments throughout the term I must have written 50 mails at most and received about as many that year. Sweet! How little did I know what the world would look like in 2019.

Much e-ink has flowed since then about the advantages and disadvantages of email and what to do about it, and this post is my drops into that ocean. I will not proclaim myself an expert on the matter. I am just another user who needs to deal with the incoming flow of information as well as possible, so here is what works for me today in my particular professional context.

My context

I work as a technical project manager in an fairly large IT organization where I am usually involved in 2-4 different projects with project teams spread across locations. I received about 100 emails on a typical day and On a typical day I receive about 100 emails and write 20-30 myself. Microsoft Outlook is the email client of choice.

Mail treads range between the single announcement mails over 3-5 mail back/an/.forths to long exchanges with 10 or more people involved and 10s of mails in threads that may even branch out. Most threads live for one to at most two weeks.

Regarding Outlook

Microsoft Outlook is a powerful email client that can do much more than receive and send messages and put them into folders.

Key features that I depend on in my daily work is:

  • Categories: Email categorization is integral to both my reading and sorting workflows. More about it below.
  • Customized search, that allows me to search for a very specific terms by using keywords [link] – a search can be across folders
  • Rules, that automate sorting and assigning categories
  • Cross platform access: Apart from the desktop client my mailbox can also be accessed via a powerful web-client that has similar functions as the desktop version(at least as my usage goes). On Android there is a mobile emails client called Nine from 9folders that supports most of my favorite functions as well and well worth the price for an ambitious mail user (Microsoft’s own Outlook for Android, on the other hand, is reduced to almost only basic mail functionality).

According to various websites the maximum number of emails that a folder can hold is 100,000. In my experience (with my hardware and my emails) I have experienced degrading performance when the inbox folder contains more than 4-6,000 items, so I need to sort and archive regularly. Since I receive about 100 emails per (work-) day, this means that I can have about 2-3 months of mail in my inbox.

Reading workflow

My reading workflow focus on ensuring that no actions are left behind. Since many of my mails are not just simple Q&A exchanges but can be longer discussions where different people contribute and responses drag out because people are busy with other things than this particular thread, I need a system where I can track an active thread over time.

I rely largely on the a combination of the unread mail filter, subject sorting and category of assignment; with the category only being assigned when mail has been read and no further action is required.

Here is what I do:

  1. In chronological view, pick a unread and categorized email.
  2. Switch to subject sorted view, review thread and take actions as needed, mark items as categorized according to content (cf. the outline folder structure below).
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 as many times as time allows or until all email has been handled.
  4. When done, mark all categorized mail as read.

I use the category marker to indicate when a mail has been processed and then combine it with the unread mail

Folder/Archive structure

For many years I used to build detailed and deep folder structures for my emails and then spent ages archiving mails, followed by occasionally spending ages finding them again, because I couldn’t remember where I had put that particular mail on that day. The point to remember is that most emails can be sorted according to several different criteria, and those criteria may even change after arching. Imagine for example an emails about a release 2.2 of a product. Perhaps the scope of that release is later changed to release 2.3 because other scope is introduced in release 2.2 or perhaps the matter discussed in that particular mail is moved to another release. Regardless, the odds of finding that email again is small, not because you didn’t archive properly, but instead exactly because you archived it in a very specific place. To avoid this, avoid folder hierarchies and embrace the search functionality provided by Outlook.

Here is what I do:

  • Inbox: All mail resides here until archived
  • Project folders: Projects where I contribute actively for an extended period has a folder. IN addition I have a folder for projects I am not involved in and possible one for programs that my projects are part of. All these folders have a prefix ‘_P’ to ensure that they are easy to find on any client (note the underscore that ensure the folders go on top in alphabetic lists)
  • “Info” folders for non-project related mail, organized to reflect the organisational structure, with Info corporate and then breaking up once the team structure is relevant for me. So:
    Info: Organization
    Info: Department
    Info: Team
    Info: Miscellaneous
  • “Newsletters” for newsletters
  • “Admin” for various administrative messages that relate to simply being employed, such as travel expenses, time registration, appraisals, training
  • “People” for tasks related to people management, including hiring/firing, 1:1 follow-ups and appraisals
  • “Private” for emails and content that might as well have been handled in personal mail
  • “Miscellaneous” for everything else

The list above reflects my current needs and is not supposed to be the final, ultimate and exhaustive list. For example it could make sense to have a folder set up for activities like art corporate club memberships (art society, fitness activity) or social activities like organizing the next x-mas party.

I use the Outlook categories to categorize emails in the same way. That makes it easy to get a view on all email related to a single product and make the archiving incredibly smooth.

Sorting/Archiving workflow

As mentioned above, my personal experience is that the Outlook inbox performs less well when it contains more than 5000 mails, so with approximately 2000 emails received monthly I need to archive regularly and the easiest way for me to do that is to keep archive once per month and hold only mails for last and current month in the inbox.

What I do is simple:

  1. On the last day of the month click Outlooks inbuilt “received last month” filter to show just that in my mail box (if you missed the date, just write “received:june” (if in August) to get all emails from the almost last month).
  2. Filter on categories (note that filter only returns 250 items, so this may have to be repeated several times for each category)
  3. Move all mails of a given category to the corresponding folder (note that the move is not instantaneous but one can switch between categories and filter one while the other is still moving)
  4. When all “last month” mails have been sorted, apply the ‘Categorized mail’ filter to retrieve all categorized mails. Sort the search result and clear the category from all folders expect the inbox

Featured image

Last night’s sunset seen from the garden.

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

I just made my first game Steam purchase purchase in 2019. For mid-August that is quite unusual, because ever since joining Steam in 2012 (Skyrim was first), I have accumulated games at a steady pace, in particular during the various sales events up to a point close to the GAMBLE state (i.e., Games AMassed Beyond Life Expectancy). Now it seems that I have stopped buying. Partly, I am sure, because I realized that spending money on games I will never play is sort of silly, and whatever game I am interested in, it will always come on sale again, and buying one game that I play at full price is a better deal than buying 4 games at 50% of that I won’t play. However, to fair to myself, I have been aware of this fact for a while, but maybe I just couldn’t stop just kept collecting stuff, like all the Beamdog remakes of Infinity engine games (which I probably won’t play anyway, but I already own them on CD/DVD and played through them and AD&D 2nd Edition hasn’t aged that well, but I still bought them once more). But partly also – I believe – because now I am actually playing something specific, instead of thinking about all the games that I might play if only I had/took the time to do it. And that is great!

And there is always another Steam/GOG/Epic/Ubi/Origin/Humble Store sale coming…

And whatever I do, there will never be a complete collection of remastered infinity engine games, because the Icewind Dale II source code seems to be lost forever

Now, speaking of games, why not share my story of gaming?

My brief history of gaming #1 – It began with the C64

Well, it actually began with the few arcade machines that stood around the town where I grew up. One in the hallway of the sports center had games like Scramble, Bomb Jack and Buzzard; from the grillbar I remember Ladybug, Xevious, Xain’d Sleena, Silk Worm and Flying Shark. All very exiting and very expensive for a pre-teen (sadly, I never excelled in any of those games). After seeing a friend’s Commodore 64 I quickly calculated what an excellent return I would have on that investment and started saving up (Sunday newspapers..). In March 1986 I got the machine and Press[ed] Play on Tape for the first time. I had the C64 until 1990.

I learned BASIC (yes : ) programming on the C64 and briefly saw the desktop future in GEOS, but it was mostly playing games and sharing that excitement with friends that I did. It was a great time and it is fun to think back on the friends and the games we used to play and which, it turns out, formed me as a gamer.

The RPGs

  • Wasteland, many times over and over until I found Base Corchise and could finish what I started.
  • Ultima V, though a broken floppy disk stopped my progress. I handed the game back to the store and got the Gold Box Champions of Krynn instead. I eventually finished Ultima V on Amiga.
  • Bards Tale 3 (maps, maps and maps on checkered paper) and Dragon Wars (built-in discovable maps, pretty cool

The Shoot’m’ups

These games that originally drew me to home computers. Many enhanced the shooting gameplay with excellent music. Xevious was underwhelming, but several games I rememeber fondly:

Other games

Stuff I missed

I never played an Infocom text adventure game; I briefly tried one of the Magnetic Scrolls adventures (probably The Guild of Thieves), but I don’t think I had the necessary language skills or patience at the time to dive in.

Apart from listing games I didn’t play I might also do a section of computers I didn’t own or even try. Being older and wiser now, I would love having had both a ZX81 and a ZX Spectrum (whether I would have loved having them at the time is another matter). I am not so sure about the Amstrad CPC (which I thought would be my first computer for a while, before ending with the C64), whereas the Apple II would have been a natural first step, had I been older. And then there were all the other home computers of the day, many of which that are mostly forgotten now, like Microsoft’s MSX, the Enterprise etc… I’d love to see those in action or at least in a museum.

Afterthoughts

Those were great years of games and computer fun, and I often miss that old machine. Of course, the odds that it would still work after 30+ years are slim, with its datassette and 5¼ floppy drive. And judging how long time I linger whenever I load up a C64 emulator (not long), it is probably fine like that,

Featured image

Dark clouds and a newly harvested field close to home; picture taken on a recent afternoon walk.

New Look on the Blog

Here I go again. 

This blog has been a small but persistent frustration for a while, with me not getting as much written as I believe I should to keep the site fresh and alive.

Given that I have some use for a vCard site and none in particular for a blog, one of the points on my 19-for-2019 list (inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s 18-for-2018) was to close down this blog. It took all the time till now to get started on this point, while I tried out a TV series already and got my new jacket in time for the spring (etc).

So, the site has been given a new look, a new home directory (since there is little point in calling it “blog” when it isn’t”and it now opens with a simple “Hi, I am Allan” page. I almost killed the blog as planned, but then I thought it over once more. There are a few posts in here that I refer to myself and a few might be of interest to others as well. It doesn’t cost my anything to have it and I do like the idea of owning my own content – at least the substantial pieces. 

So here I go again. The blog almost abandoned, then given a new lease on life. Until next time and the cycle shall repeat itself.

Featured image

A view of Copenhagen seen from the entrance of the National Gallery of Denmark (=Statens Museum for Kunst – SMK). One of these late summer afternoons where the sky is beautiful and exciting to look at, as long as you are not directly underneath the darkest clouds.

 

Berry Week, 2019 Edition

This year the berry week, where all berry bushes in the garden are ready for harvest, fell inconveniently between two vacation trips, so between unpacking, washing and repacking I went picking in the garden and spent a night cleaning berries. A portion of gooseberry was gifted away, everything else frozen (we still have gooseberry jam left from last year).

  • Redcurrant: 1287 g
  • Whitecurrant: 1200 g
  • Blackcurrant 634 g
  • Gooseberry: 9130 g

The currants will make for nice jellies and some marmalade, as will some of the gooseberry. I will also try out gooseberry juice and see how it works as drinks mixer.

Featured image

This featured image for this post shows some of the cleaned berries, ready to be frozen.

Related posts

Bæruge (2017)

Bæruge 2018

 

Kvæder og Chili, årets sidste syltning

2018 har været et flot frugtår. Temmelig overraskende, i hvert fald for mig, givet hvor tørt og varmt det har været. Men nu er det ved at være endegyldigt slut. Det er snart november og alt hvad der skal plukkes er plukket og det der skal tørres og syltes er tørret og syltet.

Chilitørring

Der bliver forsyninger til det kommende års madlavning og mere til. Jeg har allerede tørret alle Jamaican Hot (og “alle” er mange flere end jeg kan forestille mig at bruge, men så igen, I år mangler jeg Lemon Drop). Tilbage er nu Habanero og Cayenne Long Slim. De er renset og skåret op, og skal nu bare ligger til tørre oven på akvariet i et par uger.

Kvædemarmelade

Der er mange flotte frugter på træet i år og de udvalgte blev til marmelade.
Med udgangspunkt I 14 frugter på hver ca. 300g er ingredienserne som følger:

  • 1800g kvæder skrællet og kernehuset fjerne, skåret i tern på ca. 2 cm
  • 30 g revet ingefær
  • Revet citronskal fra to citroner
  • Saft af en citron
  • 1 kg syltesukker (og så bruger jeg ikke kernehusene til at give stivelse)
  • 1 habanero kogt med i 5 minutter

Kvæderne skåret i tern tilsat lidt vand, så kogt i en time sammen med ingefær, citronskal og citronsaft. Derefter rørte jeg gryden igennem med et piskeris for helt at findele kvædeternene. Sukkeret blev tilsat og massen kogt op. Habaneroen fik lov at koge med ca. 5 minutter (næste gang lader jeg den koge med i længere tid). Herefter blev det hele hældt på glad. Det blev ca. 2¼ L

Chilisyltning

Goathorn er en sort jeg ikke har prøvet i lang tid og den var ikke så stærk som jeg huskede den. Til madlavning holder jeg mig mere til Cayenne, så her er en plantefuld og flotte frugter der mangler et formål. Hvorfor så ikke sylte? (især når jeg ikke har Jalapeño).
Til opskriften hentede jeg inspiration hos rigeligtsmor.dk og her er mængderne:

  • Lage: 1 L eddike, 200g sukker kogt op
  • Chili: 600 g skåret i skiver og top fjernet

Klargjorte chili lægges i glas med et par laurbærblade, kogende lage hældes over og låget lukkes. Mængden ovenfor blev til 1½ L.

Goathorn chili klar til syltning. Sammen medlage hylder mængden her 1½ L.

Goathorn chili klar til syltning. Sammen medlage hylder mængden her 1½ L.

Jeg vil følge rådet fra rigeligtsmor.dk og nu lade de syltede chili trække I et par uger før jeg smager dem.

Måneden i haven

Tidligere på måneden fik vi plantet en ekstra syren og forsythia ud mod sidevejen vi bor ved. Ellers er det nu mest oprydning. Græsset skal nok slås en sidste gang og havegangen renses når havemøblerne stilles ind.

Indenfor kæmper jeg med diatomer i akvariet – det er frustrerende at se et smukt nyindrettet akvarium bliver til brunt snask, men så kan jeg vel nyde udfordringen med at få tanken på fode igen. Fiskene lader ikke til at være generet af det – for eksempel er der stabilt nye Severum æg ca. hver 3-4 uge