this week in Sunday Life I trust my search function

Posted on November 27th, 2011

this week in Sunday Life I trust my search function

“It’s like we’re programmed to make life hard for ourselves.” The woman in front at the supermarket on Tuesday was apologizing for the complex plans she’d just made with her three boys to call when they got to the skate shop or text if they needed more time, but not at 4.45 when she was expecting a conference call, and not on her Blackberry number because it was flat. I was privy to the lot.

photo via lucky mag

“Whatever happened to ‘meet me outside the Post Office at five or I’m going without you’,” she said offloading her diet frozen meals and family-size bottles of multi-vitamins (no judgment!).

“I know,” I laughed. “I know.”

Overcomplicating life is what we do. And brilliantly so. Look what we’ve done to the simple act of eating – we follow more rules than ever. And yet we’re only getting pudgier. Me, I overcomplicate my weekends, my hand washing, my afternoon cup of tea. I’ll swirl a simple plan to meet a friend for a walk into a maelstrom of extra considerations and tasks.

I was chatting about this recently with a journalist. She pointed to our chaotic way of life and asked for my antidote. I was blunt. “Back the f*ck off,” I told her. Which was not a threat, but my uncomplicated answer. (Prefer a more palatable version? Do less. Get your grubby hands off it. Step back…)

This week I applied my BTFO thinking to an issue I reckon causes an overcomplicated amount of angst among us all: inbox organising. There’s only one thing more stressful than being bludgeoned with emails and that’s not having a system for filing and saving said emails. The fear we’ll need a record of a correspondence in the future sees our inboxes bulge and our heart rates rise.

Which is a fair fear. We are in fact expected to retrieve the commission rate agreed to in June 2009 and our Foxtel installation code from two apartments ago – and preferably in 30 seconds or less. Was it always like this? Can anyone remember how we disputed the price increase on the carpet cleaner’s invoice before the internet? Did it take weeks? Did we have immaculate filing? Did this kind of data retrieval fill us with dread?

I think it did. Which is why we’re now so paranoid about inbox organizing now. Folders is where the angst bottlenecks. David Allen has become one of the world’s best known productivity gurus off the back of his site Getting Things Done and his New York Times bestseller of the same name, both premised on attending to our fear of folder chaos. Ditto, the very popular business blog 43 Folders.

But working to my BTFO mantra, I’m here to proffer an easier way: don’t file, don’t save. Because technology is here to (finally) save us.

Yep, after years of adding rocket fuel to our overcomplicating tendencies, the web has evolved to back us. Literally. Windows 7 and Mac’s Spotlight now have such sophisticated search functions we can find anything that was ever typed on our computer without pain. Or folders.

Same with the internet. Have you noticed how Google can now guess what you’re looking for from just one or two key words? Or will find anything you’ve ever mentioned on Facebook or Twitter? No need to document who you dined with in August last financial year – it’s out there somewhere.

The upshot? You can – yes, deep breath – BTFO. Keep a bulging inbox. Or delete the lot. Be messy and disorganised. It’ll be OK.

Forget updating your address book, too. Instead, embrace the chaos of an unfoldered inbox as a searchable database. The bonus being you’ll always be digging up the most up-to-date details. Try it. I did this week and I felt an instant expansiveness.

You know, my favourite life-bettering theme is this idea of embracing chaos. Our efforts to order it fair, and exhaust us; far better to step into it and flow in the same direction. Also, technology is evolving to our chaos. It’s simply up to us, then, to let it back us more. Everything is already there, somewhere.

Which is a lot like life, really. And a lot like something a Zen philosopher would say. Do less. Get your grubby hands off it. Step back. (So long as you don’t forget to back up.)

You agree…we just need to BTFO?

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  • Paul

    I’m a big fan of the Inbox Zero concept, I just move every email out the way after reading – even if it’s into a ‘to do later’ folder. The inbox folder I keep only for ‘urgent, must do today or tomoz’ items.

    Works well for me though my daily email volumes are low (5 a day) down from over 100 a day some years ago.

    I’d highly recommend people look at Google Accounts ($50/ yr per user) – its like the business grade version of Gmail & Google Calendar & Google Docs.

    The search function in Gmail is just brilliant – as Sarah says it really doesn’t matter how you file stuff because you can find it faster with a quick search. The other benefit is redundancy – you don’t need to backup you mail, calendar or docs as its on Googles servers in the cloud.

    ps: Don’t forget to turn indexing on with Windows 7 – this search function can look inside files, not just find filenames (so if you PDFs are searchable – most often are – then a Win7 search can find text inside all your PDFs).


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    such great advice, Paul. ta


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    does word have something like the indexing?


    Paul Reply:

    The indexing is done by choosing a hard drive option – right click on your C drive in windows explorer (Win XP/Win 7) and select Properties, then on the General tab you’ll see a checkbox saying ‘Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed in addition to file properties’.

    Not sure what Mac equivalent is.

    With this option on, any phrase inside a Word doc would appear in the search results so that would allow you to search inside all your word docs. Don’t know of any indexing in Word itself.

    The best ‘inside files’ search tool was the brilliant Google Desktop which I’ve been using for years but which sadly Google killed off very recently. I’ve found nothing free or paid which even comes close (though Windows indexing above is reasonably competent).

    Paul Reply:

    Mac search software (39 euros) >

  • le

    I think this can be applied to our consumer clutter too :) how many boxes of clothes do I need that no longer fit …. off to ebay they go :) le xox


  • eskimojo

    This is exactly how I manage my inbox.

    I’m not a tidy or ordered person. At all. A few years ago after reading some Tim Ferriss and Gala Darling on their organisational prowess, I became jealous and decided a tidy inbox with folders and categories was the way forward. I soon found I was forgetting where I’d filed things, thinking I’d filed them when they were still in my inbox etc etc.

    Eventually I realised it was just easier to leave everything in my inbox/sent items and use the search functionality that some kind developer had come up with. And it is, massively. Where colleagues sit thinking about what folder this or that is in, I pop it into my search and find what I need in seconds.

    The only problem is when my memory fails me as to what keyword to search by!


  • Tammy

    Cleaning out your inbox? Not the world’s most inspiring column today


  • Catherine

    A few years ago my electronic organiser died – just after I had moved countries for the second time in three years, with hundreds of e-mail addresses and phone numbers and dates and times in it. And guess what – nothing happened! I stayed in touch with my friends, who mostly got back in touch with me after a while, anything I didn’t remember (appointments etc) seemed to be non-essential, and I never missed having all that information. It was strangely liberating…


  • LizAshlee

    i luv your blog..just found it!! BTFO…going to live it…consciously today! :)


  • Mary

    Sarah from what I have observed of your writing of the last year I think you complicate your own life, constant over analysis of process in order to simplify. You may benefit from visting a 3rd world country. Not to be mean but I find the over analysis over bearing.


    Kelly Exeter Reply:

    Hey Mary

    Where you see over analysis I see simple ‘identifying’ of issues and then the devising of strategies to simplify. Different strokes hey? I really enjoy the fact that Sarah writes about the very things that I myself choose to over complicate and points out alternative ways to deal. Maybe I’d better make my own way to the nearest 3rd world country STAT!


    Li Reply:

    Mary, on only a small amount of analysis, and maybe even a little introspection, you might find that the use of the phrase “third world country” is considered to be derogatory or at least not really that cool anymore. The term now used in it’s place is ‘developing country”. And while I’m not a fan of political correctness, or rather, the over-sensitivity in this area, I do think it is worth noting how it can come across as condescending/’insulting to people from developing countries (for example: Brazil), to call their homeland ‘third world”.

    Just a thought that came to mind on reading your submission … hope you find it worth pondering on … not meant to be mean.


    Mary Reply:

    “and while I’m not a fan of political correctness” – well it appears you actually are, and incorrect. I’ve visited many developing and 3rd world countries, and the people I met were not offended by the term. Brazil is a “developing country”, Bolivia is “third world”, as such there is a difference.


  • Mia Bluegirl

    I love an empty Inbox. It makes me happy.

    If worse comes to worse, you can always search through your Deleted Items file for something. It’s never as bad as you think.


  • Jem

    Sarah, I was just reading thru your twitters and in a recent one you mentioned about having bad ‘helmet hair’. Does this mean you are wearing a helmet in NZ but refuse to wear one in Australia?

    Would love to understand why given we both have the same rules.


    levi Reply:

    Good question indeed!


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    As I’ve written here before – when I do off-road or long-distances on highways, I wear one.


  • Brett

    Hey Sarah,
    How is the book going?


    Karen Reply:

    Brett, Sarah has put her book on hold and gone mountain bike riding in NZ instead to get some rest. She wrote about it in a blog called ‘Sweet Surrender’ last week.


  • Paul L

    Love the BTFO – we all have a way of saying this, but too often do not take heed and put it into practice. Emails – soooo easy to let everyone know every little thing at all times of the day and night.
    We need to be contacted in emergencies and by family when needed BUT we do not need to be available all the time to everyone else. Just because the email comes does not mean it gets a reply or an immediate reply. Mind you as you would know if the reply does not come back in a reasonably short time frame, we get another email to check we got the first.
    Putting the ‘Out of Office’ message up even when in stops lots .
    Had a friend who did not have email at home – got it on and check personal email [not available at work] and had 385 waiting to be answered. She checked the last week or so, found nothing urgent and then deleted the rest – when asked by a couple of Gen Ys she replied – if it was something really important they would have called or seen me by now, so the rest can go in the bin – they were horrified!!!!!
    The trash is a good organiser for the in box :-)


  • Stephanie

    It’s so funny…I read an article about this a couple of years ago, in the context of organizing my information at work, and the line “trust the search” (rather than bothering to waste time on complicated filing and naming systems, etc. stayed with me. It’s true. It’s nice to be able to let some things go!