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I’ve never been a particularly organized person. In fact, the state of my 8-by-8-foot cubicle has been the source of numerous jokes (and a few interventions) over the years. But never have I felt more like an organizational failure than when working on an article about controlling digital clutter—files, e-mail, snippets, and the like—for our soon-to-be-shipping March issue.

While brainstorming ideas with the writer (the fabulously organized Joe Kissell), I let it slip that I had more than 37,000 e-mails in my Entourage inbox. Yes, 37,000 messages . In my inbox.

Now, since we were conversing through e-mail, I couldn’t actually see Joe’s reaction to that news. But I like to imagine him falling out of his chair. You see, Joe keeps nothing in his inbox. Nada. Everything gets filed away immediately.

I did get treated to Joe’s response to my super-sized inbox: “Sounds like you could benefit from a story about organizing your data.”

Ha. Ha.

And maybe he’s right. But here’s the thing: my system (if not doing anything can be called a “system”) really works for me. I get several hundred legitimate messages a week—after discounting spam. By keeping everything in one place, I don’t waste any time trying to finding a home for every one of those messages. And I can find anything in my inbox with just a quick search.

But that’s not to say that I don’t put in any effort at all. To help me keep track of what type of e-mail is coming in, I color-code my contacts when adding them to Entourage’s address book. Anything from a e-mail address automatically shows up as green. Any contacts that I’ve categorized as an “author” shows up as purple. Friends and family members are pink. And so on. When I come back from a particularly long meeting, I know to answer my green and purple messages first, as they’re probably the most pressing.

Is it a perfect system? Probably not. But it’s mine and I’m sticking with it.

What strategies have you developed for dealing with clutter—e-mail or otherwise? Share your wisdom.

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