I LOVE this article. In my opinion brilliant. And I’m sure when I get around to reading it, I will love this book as well. Tom Peters talked about the author, Mark Hurst, on his blog today.  Mark Hurst is the author of the book and founded the company Creative Good. The article deals primarily with how people manage (or don’t manage) their email. The book goes into greater detail on that topic, but primarily discusses how to survive below the “weight” of all the bits of data on your computer.

I’ve wondered in the past if a consulting business could be created to help people manage their emails, photos, and all other digital “stuff” on their computers. In the past, people had to find places to store photo albums, letters, and 8mm home movie films and the physical mess was often readily apparent and had to be dealt with. Today, people get away with a digital clutter that goes largely unobserved, but creates stress and work when something important needs to be located. And I think toward the future as well…when people pass away today, their heirs have to rummage through and make decisions about all the “stuff” sitting around. In the future, who’s going to want to pour through the legacy of terabytes of someone’s life and try to decide where it’s all to go?

I often shudder when I see other people’s email inboxes. And another favorite of mine is people’s computer desktops…every square inch (or pixel) littered with shortcuts to every program or spreadsheet imaginable. I think people make managing information stressful and difficult. Looking for the most important or “active” items becomes a chore, and has created a market for desktop search engines because people have no idea what they do with any of the information they have.

There’s a lot more to it, but the basic way I manage my own personal email is to leave only unresponded to or “active” emails in my inbox. And I never let the number of emails in my inbox grow larger than the pane their listed in (about 15 items). If I can respond to an item quickly, I do, and I do it right away and delete the item I just responded to. Google’s gmail with its conversational style accomplishes exactly what I set out to accomplish…always only have one copy of a chain of emails.

There’s probably a lot more I could say about email and file management, and I recently responded to someone’s post on Lean.org‘s web site, so rather than re-typing my ideas, I’ll just copy them here. The remainder of this post will show that.

The original posted question was this:

We are addressing file management and looking at ways of streamlining conventions & structure across the site. In general people file spreadsheets / data in a random fashion and others find it hard to locate relevant files because the path to them is not within a recognised structure.

I believe Toyota and probably some other companies have set standards and regularly audit both shared and dedicated areas including E mails.

Anyone using this approach ? Or can yu direct me to literature / videos etc which demonstrate the application.

My response, which got ridiculously long, was this:

This is a topic I am fairly passionate about, and that’s because I left the company I was working for to develop software because I didn’t think there were effective tools (nor could I find any) to help companies manage the information surrounding lean, improvement, and more generally shop floor data. I had found it difficult to quickly get good information about where my biggest wastes and opportunities were, what are we doing about those opportunities, and what kind of progress has been made over time. Why was it difficult? Exactly because of the situation you have described…there were spreadsheets, databases, and other data stored all over the network, and very little of it was providing any relevant, actionable information about what to take action on.

I believe there is a tremendous amount of waste involved in eliminating waste! Information is often collected (hour-by-hour data, abnormality data, time study data, audits, etc.) and stored in separate spreadsheets and databases. Consolidating and using this data effectively becomes a huge challenge, and creates a lot of behind-the-scenes office waste to try to reduce other wastes within the organization. You often have people who are not I.T. people spending significant time trying to perform the I.T. functions of creating technology tools (spreadsheets, databases, and reports) which takes away from their core (value-adding) competency of managing quality, improvement, safety, maintenance, or whatever other function they are responsible for. And no matter how well your network files and folders are arranged, you are not likely to get a complete, consolidated picture of where your biggest opportunities are (and will probably spend a lot of time getting the information, even if you can do it).

I also believe there are two issues that are brought up here. 1) A macro approach to managing information, i.e. how do we manage the disparate spreadsheets, databases, and other information out on our network and 2) A micro approach to managing individual information such as email.

So what are the solutions?

Issue #1 is what I have (hopefully) set out to begin solving. How do companies 1) quickly capture relevant data with the least amount of effort and 2) get useful information about their data so they can take action to improve their organization (after all, I assume the only reason to collect data would be to use it later to drive decisions). I love that the subject of this topic includes “5S application”, because I often refer to my solution as the 5S of information management. How do I get my tools (data/information) at the point of use, so that I have the least amount of waste in managing my responsibilities? My personal opinion (of course) is that ultimately this can’t be solved by better organization of network file folders and naming conventions (for the reasons stated above). My solution was to create a web-based application supported by a single database, but that still also creates meaningful relationships with other data that may exist independently on your network regarding equipment, parts, departments, etc. A big emphasis is on information use (reporting)…it’s one thing to have lots of data, it’s another to have it tell you something useful about your organization. And the system is also set up to support the PDCA cycle (e.g., with my reports I know where to start, but now I need to manage the process of improvement).

Issue #2 (micro) is challenging to address because it involves individual behavior (and preferences). I respectfully disagree with Carl on his approach, but that may be largely due to preference. I have “standard work” (albeit unwritten) for how I manage email and other information on my computer. I do it in such a way to keep a minimal amount of information on my computer, and essentially manage “1-piece flow” with my email. I don’t care how fast your desktop search is, ultimately your computer becomes laden with waste when you store everything (at some point, even when your search finds something within 2 seconds, if you have to look through 100 items to find the correct one because you keep everything, you have created a new waste). Basically, I (probably ridiculously) apply lean principles to how I manage personal information as well.