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Are you paying the price of being too organised?

Less is more when it comes to your mailbox folder structure.

Most of us would love to be more organised. Yet, at Email Handyman we have learned that less is more when it comes to your mailbox folder structure.

The price of being organised

We like staying organised. It’s what keeps us sane in the daily hustle and bustle of business life. When it comes to productivity, Email might as well be known as the "serial killer application". It has become our single most important business tool, yet we pay little attention how to properly use, email in our day-to-day work. One area where many users unwittingly lose valuable time is in creating and maintaining their folder structure.

How did this happen?

Back in the day when Email rose to prominence as a business tool, most of us dived right in, using it as a virtual version of the shelves with folders in the office. And that made a lot of sense. After all, you wanted to be able to find correspondence back if you needed to. The ease of creating folders led to an explosion in folder structures. And that’s where problems began. With so many folders to choose from, we ended up spending more and more time on managing folder structures and filing. And when a message came in that would suit multiple folders, people would either put it in one folder and hope they’d remember it (potential future time loss), or make multiple copies to put in each relevant folder (definite time loss). Inadvertent mouse drags would occasionally cause messages to be dropped in the wrong folder - fancy going looking for those?

The game changer: Search

With Email traffic having grown exponentially in the last two decades and forecast to grow by 7% per year until 2017, working with an expansive folder structure has become a serious drag on productivity. The good news is, folders are no longer needed to stay on top of your emails. The search function in the major email platforms is so good these days that you will find any items much faster with the search function than by trawling through a folder structure. This may seem trivial, but did you know that the average email user looks up things in their mailbox around 40 times a day? Now it starts to become interesting!

Try this: It’s the little things we do every day that make a difference. For a week, try to use the search function every time you need anything from your mailbox. For Outlook, the shortcut for Search is [Ctrl-E].

Just four folders for everything

With Search as your magic wand for finding messages, all you need now is a way to stay on top of messages with Task Value and to store messages with Information Value. At Email Handyman we like working with four folders, inspired by David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done”. These are:

1-FILED ITEMS – messages that you put here only have Information Value. This is your archive.

2-DO THIS WEEK – this is your action folder. Put here messages that require action this week.

3- HOLD FOR LATER –put any messages here that require your action later than this week.

4-WAITING FOR OTHERS – here you’ll find messages that you cannot do anything about just yet.

Using these folders and reviewing them once a week means you will spend less time sorting and searching for messages and have the confidence that no action items slip through your fingers.