Are folders gates to procrastination?

Following Sven’s advice

I just did what I should have done a long time ago: I followed Sven Fechner’s advise. His “Simplicity is Bliss” blog is a wonderful resource for common sense productivity tips and other great Mac inspired ideas.

But, back to my point. Mr. Fechner suggested that a simple folder structure in mailbox structures, using just an archive folder and working with very targetted tags is a good approach. Thinking this through, I agreed, and started to eliminate my folders on both my professional Lotus Notes mailbox and my home gmail account … and I started to notice something smelly.

Lift rock, see dirt and vermin

Eliminating the folders, and actually checking their content before I transferred everything to an archive mailbox, I felt how you feel when you lift a rock in your garden that has been there for ages, and I see the pale white insects crawling from under it. There was a lot of dirt and semi-dead insects under my folders.

What folders do

Folders remove information from your immediate field of view. If you don’t have any good tracking systems which take less time to use than it would take to just keep everything in an indeterminate pile of “stuff” (David Allen interpretation here), putting things in folders amounts to putting stuff on top of stuff and hoping you’ll somehow, magically, be reminded of what you needed to do.

At best, you will be touching that stuff multiple times before you decide what your next action is. At worst, there are a couple of ticking time bombs out there that can explode at any second. I can just imagine a muffled thump coming out of my computer, and some dust. That’s what it should be, I feel.

By removing “things” from your point of view, I feel I am encouraged to procrastinate. I do not need to deal with that now. And if I forget, I do not need to deal with that later either. Unless I have to because it has become too important to deal with.

Why did I ever use folders to begin with?

It gave me a sense of “control”. Reference filing became an excuse for putting things away in piles with flags on top of it. However, “stuff” remains stuff, even if you plant a flag on it and call it something. GTD again makes sense. Don’t try to touch it twice, identify and define next action, delegate, file for reference, file for later or destroy/shred. The moment you stop doing this or postpone it until later, you will get in trouble.

The dreaded to-file folder

My mouth literally dropped open when I found, hidden in the recesses of my personal gmail folder structure, a folder “to file” with more than 50 emails in it. This was quite confrontational, as I was sure I had all my GTD ducks in a row. Yet apparently, in a bout of desperation, I must have parked a number of actionable emails here for later treatment and had promptly forgotten about them. Suddenly, it made sense why certain friends had “forgotten” to get back to me. They had, it was me who had not gotten back to them. The shame!

What’s next

I ended up with a significant pile of email to deal with. The professional email was under control, lucky for me. I’m rather picky about correct GTD application in that part of my life. However, I went through the personal email literally one at a time, just as David Allen prescribes. I rebooted my personal GTD approach, and I had to.

I marked all those emails as unread and then only opened one email at a time, not looking at the list of remaining emails. I decided on concrete next actions or used MailTags as triggers for a tickler file entry. And I did this email, per email, per email …


Simplicity, and peace of mind, is also being able to look around you and not see boxes or closets in which a skeleton may hide. No more folders unless it’s reference filing, no more putting away stuff and never seeing it again. No more stuff.