I was looking through my files the other day to remind myself what I had written to a correspondent three years ago. I needed to write again on the same topic, but I obviously wanted to do so in light of the full exchange. I found the copy of my letter just where it should have been, in the corporate files. What I didn’t find was my correspondent’s response. round!
I was pretty sure I had received a reply, but it was not in the file. Then it hit me! The response was via email. So I did a quick search of emails I had received three years ago and Bingo! There it was. Just what I needed. Years of pack ratting vindicated. I did high-fives up and down the hallway. Well, OK, I just let out a bit of a hoot.
I have a worldwide reputation in the office for being a pack rat. You never know when you might need something, say I. These instincts served me well, for example, when it came time to coauthor our corporate history.
There are a number of reasons not to pack rat, of course. Clutter can actually reduce work efficiency. It can take a lot of space (and therefore money in files or shelves or rooms or warehouses) to save everything. If you don’t have an efficient filing system, finding items can be extremely time-consuming.
And over the years, I have been reluctantly compelled by the pressures of these forces to be less and less of a pack rat, as much as it grates against me. So when I can’t fit another piece of paper in my file drawer, I prune. Out goes everything more than a year or two old unless (a) it is an active project, file or document, or (b) it is a summary document.
When it comes to emails, however, I save them all. I see no reason not to. Emails take up no space. Attachments can take up lots of space, especially pictures and large manuscripts (many of which are sent my way), and so those may need to be pruned, but the email itself is electronically smaller than a freckle on a microbe. And if it is filed with any kind of semi-reasonable organization, it should be quite retrievable when needed. So save your emails, I say!
Alas, I am a prophet without honor in his own household. I cannot convince my wife of this practice. But perhaps I have persuaded you? If so, high-fives all a