The Five Email Folder Rule

Forgive me – this is has nothing to do with beauty and everything to do with feeling overwhelmed and not being able to function, which is essentially where I have been since Christmas. As you can probably tell by the aforementioned lack of activity on here.

I read an article on Fast Company earlier this year and implemented it immediately, to astounding results, so much so that I wanted to share it with you.

I used to take great pride in my email inbox/filing systems. Work emails for example, were filed by client, then sub-headed by retailer within that client, then by person in the business and so forth. Now multiply that by multiple clients. Add in home, car, family, school, bills etc etc and I very soon got myself to over 100 mailboxes, not including sud-headings, for 1 email address alone.

I have 8 email addresses.  Do the math.

I only download 3 to my computer (the rest I access online), the main ones – but even across 3 email addresses there are over 1000 file categories on my computer. It took me months of repeating patterns and trying to get everything done, to realise I was getting nothing done. I had created my own hell. I was genuinely filing emails all day instead of actually actioning them. I receive anywhere from 100 – 200 emails per email address a day on an average day, more if there is something going on.

Hence I found myself here the last few months:

No more.

Welcome to email filing 2017-style. There are 4 folders – technically 5 including your main Inbox, but you’ll be working from four.

  • Inbox: Your Inbox is your arrivals lounge. Emails shouldn’t stay here any longer than it takes for you to file them into another folder/deal with them. The only exception to this rule is when you respond immediately. (Which you may find yourself doing more often now that you have the brain space)
  • Today: Everything that requires a response today. Be ruthless and be honest. This is for the things that you know you have to do today. Not the things that would be ‘nice’ to get done today. There is no folder for nice. Action or no action.
  • This Week: Everything that requires a response before the end of the week.
  • This Month: Everything that needs a longer-term response. Great for projects, although I try not to use this one much as it can build up, which misses the point. Quarterly may be better for you, depending on your job.
  • Holding: This is the game changer. Although I receive a lot of emails, I am not always required to action them. I am frequently on cc/bcc so that I can oversee things and just jump in when necessary. So I need to keep them for reference, but what I don’t need to do is spend all my working life filing them by demographic. Everything else outside of the ‘Today – This Week – This Month’ category now goes here. And this is now me:

Whether you are on a Mac or a PC, using company emails or outlook, search facilities on email inboxes are excellent. If I need to reference an email, I search for it. And so far, I have always, without fail, found it. If anything, I find things much quicker now than before.

If you work across a lot of projects, or for multiple people, you may want to use multiple versions of this. My advice is don’t. Resist the urge to make your life more difficult. Stick to the main four categories. I am adding the blog email to these headings this week and am now excited, rather than stressed.

I used to dread opening my computer and seeing the emails start flowing into it. Seeing the same emails in my Inbox day after day made me feel like a failure. And I was. In my attempts to be organised, I was getting nothing done and drowning. Horrible. If you feel the same, try this system. I cannot recommend it enough.

What else I did:

  • I also stopped replying to emails on my phone, unless they are extremely urgent, or I am traveling abroad and in a different time zone. Wherever possible, keep your emails to one device. It works wonders. Also: if it really is that urgent they’ll call.
  • I changed my phone settings so that ‘fetch new data’ is hourly, instead of ‘push’. I have removed any sound notifications. It means I don’t miss anything, but I am not always interrupted by the pinging of my phone.
  • When I’m having an office day, I try and deal with my Inbox no more than 3 times a day. In the morning when I get in, lunchtime and late afternoon. That’s it. As previously stated, if it’s that urgent, they’ll call. The rest of the time I work. How many times have you thought ‘I spent all day on emails and got nothing done’?

All of this means that when you are with people, you are present. Get your head out of your phone, and out of your ass. You’re not that important. When emails were first made available, they really helped in business. You could get answers much more quickly, you had constant direct contact with people, and we just got things done faster. Somewhere along the line I became an absolute slave to it.

Join me in the revolution my friends. Make email your

The original article is here: and the author is Zach Hanlon – Twitter here: @zshanlon – he’s just out there walking around in the cosmos completely unaware that he has totally changed my life.

Thanks Zach. I literally owe you my sanity.