Open Thread: Email – Are You a Filer or a Finder?

I believe that there are two types of email users in the world – Filers and Finders.

Sure, these categories can apply to us in a lot of areas but I see this polarization most frequently with how we use and store our email. Because we amass such a large amount of data in our email clients, being able to locate and retrieve it quickly is certainly important.

How we go about that certainly differs.

The Filer:

This first group has created an intricate and detailed web of folders that allows them to tuck away their important correspondence.   When needed, they deftly navigate through this system to retrieve their desired item. Most clients allow some sort of filing aspect whether it is through literal folders, tags or labels. Carefully constructed categories allow pin-point accuracy to describe where things go.

In my experience Outlook users tend to be filers. I am often amazed at the sheer number of folders that some of my clients have. Folders for people and departments and projects, nested multiple levels deep. Whether it is because they are used to the traditional file folder metaphor or that the inherent search capabilities of Outlook were so poor, I’m not sure. With Windows Search, Google Desktop, and tools like Xobni now available – we might start to see a shift here.

Outlook filers can get a bit of help with tools like Clear Context as well.

The Finder:

The Finder, on the other hand, doesn’t bother with any of that. The finder creates a big pile or bucket of “stuff”. Need to keep something? Put it in the pile…

Don’t worry that the the pile is large and appears unwieldy, with clever use of search operators the finder, as if by magic, is able to pull out what they need.

I think that those who use Gmail and other web clients tend to be finders. Given the obvious inherent search capabilities, this makes sense. Oddly though, I think Gmail is actually a much better tool for filers than Outlook as the labeling functionality allows for items to be cross-referenced. If it’s about marketing and it’s from Joe, it can be categorized with each and called up with either label. Cross filing in Outlook requires duplication of the item.


I’m a Gmail user and I’m a finder. I don’t label anything unless it is done as part of a filtering process that automatically moves items out of my inbox to be read or processed later. If I feel I need to save something, I archive it to all mail. If I need to find it later, I search for it.

My take on this is that the time I would spend fastidiously labeling or filing items would be considerably longer than the time I actually spend searching for things. Even if I file, I need to then scan through folders to find the exact item I might be looking for.

Learning the advanced operators is key for a finder. Just getting started- you can activate the advanced search and get a little help.

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I am particularly fond of the Quick Links Labs feature which lets me save a particular search to be reused later. I can take the time to craft it once and then keep the query readily available. This really handy item can be enabled in your Gmail settings under Labs.

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While I personally have come to accept my finder-ness, I realize that we all have different ways of working. What is important is to recognize how you work and then be sure to choose the tools that best fit that style. Learning how to maximize the functionality of that tool is also key, whether it means memorizing the previously mentioned search operators or using Outlook keyboard shortcuts to zip around effortlessly.

So how do you work with email?  Are you a filer or a finder?