I started using Entourage:Mac when I joined the MacBU in 2005. As my mail changed from a steady stream to a rushing river, I evolved some techniques in Entourage (and later in Outlook) to handle it. One of my techniques was the use of an extensive set of server-side rules to filter my mail. My goal was to have only mail that was sent directly to me in my main inbox. Anything that was sent to a list of people would go into a subfolder.
The other technique was to use colour-coded categories. My category list evolved over time. When I left Microsoft, I had one category for my user experience team, one for each application team, another one for general MacBU stuff, one for colleagues on the Office for Windows team, one for travel stuff, one for my personal contacts, and so on. I had about 20 categories. The categories were all colour-coded (for example, my PowerPoint category was orange and my Excel category was green). This allowed me to tell, at a glance, what’s in store for me. If I opened my inbox and saw a lot of yellow, I knew that there was something going on for Outlook. If I opened my calendar and saw a lot of magenta, I knew that I was going to be heads-down working on user experience stuff.
I’m still using Outlook:Mac (of course!), and I imported my contact list. But suddenly I don’t need all of those categories anymore. All of my old categories for my work at Microsoft don’t apply any more. I collapsed all of my old Microsoft contacts into a single category. I created a new category for my new user experience team, as well as a general VMware category for all of these people that I don’t know yet how they fit into everything. Now, my categories are: business, personal, services, SPLASH, travel, UE, and VMware.
I tried to go category-less when I started here to see what it was like, and that lasted for all of two weeks. Categories help me keep track of and easily find things. It was driving me crazy that I couldn’t glance at my inbox and tell the difference between mail from the people on my user experience team and mail from a developer on vCloud. I couldn’t filter my calendar to only look see my flights. I felt lost, and so the categories came back posthaste.
My category list will continue to evolve. As I meet more people and learn more about the applications that I’ll work on, the list will change to accommodate all of these new relationships. It might even be time to add a secondary category, “holiday”, to my list so that I don’t have to go through all of my contacts as I send my holiday cards this year. (Which reminds me: I love sending holiday cards, so ping me if you want to be added to that list. It’s somewhere between possible and likely that my holiday cards will be postcards from Sydney this year.)