Monday, January 26, 2009

How Organized Are You?

In trying to decide what nuggets of wisdom to share with Seekerville today, I started looking over my filing system and decided to give Seekerville readers some pointers on keeping records.

There are three basic filing systems: hard copy, email accounts, and files on your hard drive. Today I'm only going to talk about organizing your email account.

I keep practically everything, and my poor computer is chock full of files to prove it. It’s a good thing files don’t weigh anything, or my laptop would weigh about 1000 lbs!

Obviously, everyone’s system will be different, and I’m sure most of you already have some kind of method in place, but you DO need some kind of organization. After five, ten, or twenty years in this business, you’ll be glad you organized your files so that you can pull something up in a matter of minutes.

I used to print a lot of stuff off and file it, but unless I have to, I don’t do that now. Almost all of my writing-related files are on my laptop (and backed up at least weekly). Of course, certain files will need to be printed and filed, but not everything.

Let’s take a peek at the folders in my email account. I like simplicity. I like to close all the folders and only have a handful of top-level folders. When all my folders are closed, I have the following:

Sent Items
Deleted Items
Family Stuff

That’s it. Nice and neat and organized. Use only the top-level folders that work for you. You can always add or take away. Actually in reviewing my folders for this article, I moved something to Family Stuff, so it’s a good thing to close all your folders every once in a while and clean everything up a bit.

Starting at the top, I like my Inbox to be semi-cleaned out and since I receive anywhere from 300-800 emails a day, it’s important not to let the folder get too full. So, I have some sub folders in my Inbox:

Inbox Pending
Read Later

Inbox Pending is stuff I need to handle soon but is not urgent. Read Later is fun stuff that I would like to read, but will only do it when I have some down time. I could actually delete the entire folder and it wouldn’t affect the my career overmuch. But the emails are writing related and fun to read when I get the chance. For instance, I read several of these emails on a long road-trip just a few weeks ago. Some of the oldest, I deleted after reading. If something really stuck with me, I kept it to read again and again.

Now to the fun stuff. My Writing folder. As with the above folders, I have several sub-folders within this folder, and most of these folders have sub-folders within them. I’ll just list a few here:

Agent: Kelly: This folder is self-explanatory, I think. I needed it right out in the open and easy to get to. And the more we communicate, the more I need to be able to grab it fast. I don't want this folder hidden among many.

Books/CP’s/Brainstorm: This folder has 15-20 sub-folders with emails from critique partners, research on my manuscripts, collaborative efforts, and ideas I’m working on. Keep in mind that this is not where the actual manuscript, synopsis, and notes are stored. This is just preliminary research or brainstorming with friends, etc. Even with stories I’m not currently working on, it’s fun to see the comments and ideas when we brainstormed. I had to pull myself away from one such folder to get back over here and finish this up for you guys!

Publishing Houses: This folder has sub-folders of many of the CBA publishing houses who are actively acquiring. Almost every email that comes in my inbox that refers to a particular house or editor goes into the respective folder. When I’m about to submit to a particular house or someone has requested more of my work, I’ll read through the emails. Also, after meeting with an editor at a conference, I might type up a report on what we talked about and email it to myself. I'll include a clear subject line, and I have a good email to refresh my memory on what we talked about. Recently added emails is one where Kaye Dacus announced her 3-book contract to Harvest House. When Abingdon opened its doors, I added a folder and emails from some of the first contracted authors including Ronie Kendig and Seekerville’s own Myra Johnson. Same with Summerside. 253 emails in Steeple Hill’s folder alone.

Agents: Before I signed with my agent, I had a substantial file of agent info. just like the Publishing House folder above. All broken down into each agency, any information I knew about their clients, websites, etc. and communications from the agents themselves.

Research: If I seen any kind of post about a site that intrigues me, I stick the email into this folder. Now, by the time I actually get around to needing the info., the link might be inactive, but if not, I have a great resource. Since I write historical romance, a quick glance showed topics such as 1880’s slang, 1800’s costumes, historical houses, etc.

I even have a “SOLD – What Next?” and a Promotion folder. Topics on launch parties, marketing, royalty rates, and foreign rights? I don’t delete them even though I'm nowhere near a launch party…they go straight to these folders.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Shoot, it’s just my Outlook Express files! There’s the rest of my hard drive and any hard copies that I must print out. But the point is that a good filing system will go a long way toward making this career easy to navigate and if you have a system in place before you sell, you'll be ahead of the game in so many ways.

If anyone has tips for managing your email and what to file, and what to delete, we’d love to hear it!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Great post, Pam. I am an organizational freak. I have much less paper clutter after organizing my files in Gmail. They have labels which is the filing system. I love it.

Thanks for passing along your file techniques.


Cathy S. said...


This is very good info. and I wish I had something to add.

May I ask how you learned to do this and if there's a class you would suggest? I've pretty much got everything listed in documents and it's a nightmare.


Cathy S.

Tina M. Russo said...

I feel woefully unorganized compared to you.

However SEARCH is my friend.

Ann said...

Whoa ... organize ...? My inner artiste is aghast.

The rest of me is thinking I should try to learn something here.

Audra Harders said...

LOL, Pam! I can't believe how timely your post is! I'm so tired of looking at my desk, my office, my computer and not knowing where something is immediately. Oh, I find it eventually. . .

I think I have my files sort of set up like you do, but they're spread all over the place. I think I'll start with some main headings and work my way down.

Who knows, spring cleaning might come early this year. Hallelujah!!

Thanks, Pam!!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Pam, I love all the great ideas. I do the same thing and it helps sooooooo much, especially if you get behind in those emails. A full inbox can be so overwhelming you avoid it and then it just gets worse.

Thanks for the helpful hints. There were some things I haven't thought to save and will make a folder now.

Hey where's the snacks? Do you have any Southern cornbread handy? I was just thinking of some dribbled with honey. yummm. It would go good with my coffee. btw-I have a whole potful so help yourself folks.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Cathy S. I was shown how to do this in my one to one class at Apple Store. If you have Apple, take advantage of that service. Its a screaming deal. I've learned things I didn't even know I needed to learn.

Ann said...

No cornbread here -- DS1 put the meal in his toy tractors and wagons and hauled it all away. Kids.

How about some apple fritters? I've got some nice shiny Granny Smith apples and can fire up the deep fryer.

Back to the topic -- I blush to admit part of my problem was starting over with new software and bungling how I set up folders and files. So ... every file is in documents. They all have cute names that don't give a clue what they are about. Other than that, no worris.

Pam Hillman said...

G'morning everyone! Starbucks to the rescue. White Mocha Cappucino, Grande, please.

And, there's a fresh Hummingbird cake on the sideboard. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

Pam Hillman said...

Cathy, I've never taken classes, but I would attribute my filing system to my "vertical file" nature and 25 years of working in an office where I was allowed to figure out a filing system that worked for me.

Some people are vertical filers and some are horizontal filers. I'm very much a vertical filer!

I just did a search and saw that Carolyn Greene "The Plot Doctor" has a workshop called "Organizing for the Creative Person"

If she's still doing the workshop, maybe she'd be willing to stop by Seekerville one day.

Pam Hillman said...

I also found this on a lumberjack site of all places:

"For more information, she [Carolyn Greene} suggests reading ORGANIZING FOR THE CREATIVE PERSON by Lehmkuhl and Lamping."

You can find it on Amazon.

Mary Connealy said...

I'll never approach the master, Pam, but my favorite organizational tool is Yahoo Groups. I think Outlook has this same things, but I prefer Yahoo. I've formed a Yahoo Group with only myself as a member. Then I use it strictly as a calendar.
I email reminders to myself all the time, and a good thing because I am a DOLT about remembering. So, the second I make any committment, for a blog or a book is due or a trip or a birthday, anything... I put it in the Yahoo Group Calendar and can feel safe, knowing I'll get a reminder.

Pam Hillman said...

Oooh, Mary, that is a neat idea!

I use Microsoft Outlook at work for reminders all the time, but I have Outlook Express on my laptop and I haven't found a way to set up reminders/appts on OE.

lynnrush said...

Wow, 300-800 emails a day? I think my heart just did a back flip. I thought I got a lot at about 100 per day.


Great organizational ideas.

Erica Vetsch said...

Very good advice! I try to keep my inbox cleaned out each day which means lots of email files.

I try to stay organized, because my favorite way of procrastinating is to organize something instead of writing. Can't give in to that tyrant of procrastination!

Mary Connealy said...

Pam, I've abandoned Outlook Express for the simple reason that I can't pick up Outlook Express from a remote location and I work back and forth from home to work so much. So I use Hotmail (other's too, but I won't burden you with them all...I didn't PLAN to have seven email addresses, OKAY?????)

I need to fix that. I can drop two pretty easily....sorry, thinking out loud...well, outloud on the keyboard..............
forget it.

Julie Lessman said...

Gosh, Pam, did I need THIS today!! I HAVE to do something with e-mail and quick -- thanks for the tips!!


Missy Tippens said...

Pam, thanks for this really helpful post! I especially love how you organize your inbox! I have 2800 emails right now, a good many that could have gone if the "read later" box. It would be nice to empty that every now and then if it gets piled up.

I'm going to start doing this!! Thank you for sharing. It never occurred to me.


Missy Tippens said...

Sandra, there's nothing like buttered cornbread drizzled with honey!!

We actually take the middle of the cornbread out and crumble it over pinto beans. Then we butter the crust and put honey on it for dessert. Yum!!

Pam Hillman said...

Missy, 2800 emails in your inbox? That would drive me insane!

I keep my inbox to below 50. 25-35 is even better.

BUT, I might have a bunch in those pending folders.

Missy Tippens said...

Pam, you inspired me to go back and delete some junk from my mailbox. I have messages as far back as May 08!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I need aspirin. Quick. The organizational stress is killing me!!!

Pam, I'm so impressed with your as always amazing organization. Yowza, woman, you dazzle me with your footwork.

Dagnabbit, I thought learning how to operate Vista put me in the driver's seat, woman, but no way, no how can I approach what you've done. On top of that, I'd have to actually DO it...

Oh my stars, that's not going to happen in this millenium. And we just started it, for heaven's sake.


But I DID bring fresh cornbread and Obama Brownies.

What are Obama Brownies, you ask?

Well my little friends and I are watching how a new president sets up business. From that we edged into "playing Obamas"...

Now my little friends are Sasha, Malia and Fiona Obama. (So Fiona is a little Irish poetic license that if Michelle and Barack had another daughter they'd seek out their Celtic heritage for a name...)

So we pretended Hilary gave Daddy a hard time in the Oval Office and we designed brownies for him. They're white and dark, studded with nuts.

Some parabolic intent involved.


But they're to-die-for delicious and a good reflection of our current lesson on diversity and ethics.

Ethics for three-year-olds: If you're a meany-pants or a whiny-pants, no one gives you cookies.

Dig in, guys, let me know what you think.


Janet Dean said...

Great tips, Pam. I have way too many e-mail file folders! And no time to reorganize right now. But some day.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Pam! I'm always looking for ways to make my (writing) life easier.

And I wanted to tell you Seekers that I truly enjoy your blog. It's become one of my favorite writing websites.

Patty Hall

Missy Tippens said...

Ruthy, I love how you teach the kids with current events and food projects and such. If you'd move to GA, I might have more kids so I could put them in daycare with you! :)


Sandra Leesmith said...

Missy love the cornbread. I was hungry for it. And Pam I'm intrigued. What is Hummingbird sidecake?
Sounds yummy and I'm always up for trying new foods.

Ruthy, I'm passing on the brownies. I used to teach kindergarten and I know what all else besides the ingredients goes into dough--sticky fingers, drool, anything nearby off the table or floor.
I know I know stuffy me. But let the little ones enjoy.

Pam Hillman said...

I thought it was Hummingbird cake, but it was carrot cake. Still yummy.

Hummingbird cake is....super moist banana nut cake...sorta. I don't know WHERE it got the name hummingbird though.

Here is a recipe I found on the internet. I'm sure there are a gazillion variations.

Pam Hillman said...

Back to being organized.

Organize if it helps ease the stress.

Don't if it creates more.

That pretty much sums it up.

Patty Wysong said...

Super post! It helps to see that I'm on the right track--and how to set things up to work better. I also don't feel so crazy for emailing all kinds of stuff to myself to file for quick referencing. Thanks!

Melanie Dickerson said...

I'm not very organized. But perhaps, with this advice, I'll get better. I think I need more email files, for starters.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Pam,
Interesting info, which I need. My inbox is as full as Missy's. Maybe it's a Georgia thing. I'm always moving forward, reading the next important email and hate to stop and delete. Consequently, I run at about 90-95% space capactiy. When the warning bar turns red, I know I'm in trouble.

So, Pam, don't all those email folders take up storage room? Right now, I move the imp stuff to non-email folders and save them there on my hard drive. Sounds like your way would be better, except for my constant storage problem. Clue me in!

Pam Hillman said...

Now Debby, you might have answered the problem of why my computer goes nuts sometimes. Maybe my files are making it crazy!

Debby Giusti said...

Do you have mega storage space?