Take Control Of Your Email Inbox This Year By Using Only Five Folders

Take Control Of Your Email Inbox This Year By Using Only Five Folders

If one of your new year’s resolution is to finally tame your email inbox, here’s a five-folder system that can help you do that.

It seems that no matter how many emails you delete, your inbox will always fill up and get out of control again. When you work in an office environment, the emails never stop, especially when you’re in a large organisation.

People often create folders within their email accounts to sort out messages that come in. But soon, three folders end up becoming 15 as you try to stringently categories the emails that come in. Emails are easily lost in these folders and you’ll have to waste time hunting down the ones you need later down the track.

Over at Fast Company, marketing and sales expert Zach Hanlon shared his method of keeping his inbox under control. He only uses five folders and he sorts emails out in the following way:

  1. Inbox: The inbox is a holding pen. Emails shouldn’t stay here any longer than it takes for you to file them into another folder. The exception to this rule is when you respond immediately and are waiting for an immediate response.
  2. Today: Everything that requires a response today.
  3. This Week: Everything that requires a response before the end of the week.
  4. This Month/Quarter: Everything that needs a longer-term response.
  5. Depending on your role, you many need a monthly folder. Others can operate on a quarterly basis.

  6. FYI: Most items I receive are informational. If I think I may need to reference an email again, I’ll save it to this folder.

Okay, fess up. How many unread emails do you still have sitting in your inbox? Just give us a number in the comments.

See also: Practice ‘Email Bankruptcy’ To Manage Overflowing Work Inboxes

[Fast Company]


  • This is such a bad way to handle emails tbh as you’re missing out on so many basic Outlook features such as rule sorting and task reminders.

    What I find works for me is as follows:

    – In Outlook, click the View tab > to do bar > tick tasks (calendar is also a good option to enable)
    – Setup sub folders e.g. CCed, then setup a rule to put all CC’ed emails in here.
    – Same again, but setup any other sub folders which you may need and setup a rule. The main objective here is to sort emails which aren’t critical.
    – On emails that you need to action (either today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc)….right click and select Follow Up (choose date).

    Need to add a new task? right click on the task panel and add a new task.
    Need to defer a task? right click and change the follow up date.
    Need to set a high priority task so its constantly at the top? Create a new task without a followup date.
    Need to receive a reminder at a set time to action a task / Email? Right click on the task and select “Follow Up > Add Reminder”.

    Once you’ve completed a task, click the little red flag to mark it as complete.

    The main goal you want to work towards is only having emails in your Inbox that you actually need to do something with. Anything else (such as CC’ed) is just informational and requires no action.

    In regards to your question Spandas, I currently have 7 in my Inbox and 305 in my sub folders which I don’t care about 🙂

    • Some great suggestions there. Thanks for sharing!

      By the way, I have around 100 emails in my Inbox, which I will be sorting out today 🙂

    • This is such a bad way to handle emails tbh as you’re missing out on so many basic Outlook features such as rule sorting and task reminders.
      Not everyone uses Outlook though!

      But for those that do, I find a combination of Categories and Search Folders to be incredibly powerful. I’ll set up a Search Folder for mails from a particular person (or address) so any mail from them is instantly indexed and viewable under that Search Folder whatever the subject.
      Then I’ll have some Search Folders for particular customers or projects that search based on Categories I create (one per customer or project in my case). Then I have an “Uncategorised” Search Folder for anything I’ve not yet added a Category to. When a mail comes in, I assign it all the relevant Categories and it’s then automatically viewable under all the relevant Search Folders. This is useful if I get a mail relating to several customers/projects – I just assign the Categories knowing it will be easily findable in all the relevant Search Folders later (don’t have to make a decision on how to file it and whether I should file it as being “from” so-and-so or related to “Customer A” – or worse, make copies in different folders, urgh!).
      Add in some Rules to apply Categories to automated incoming mails, and my Inbox maintenance is minimal, yet I can quickly find anything I want.

      • +1 for categories, I find them so useful that I email myself with notes, conversation summaries etc so that I can keep everything together and searchable

  • Instead of moving your emails around manually like that, why not use the flags that come built into Outlook? Then add a Search Folder of everything flagged for follow up, and work out of the items that require a follow up today. Outlook will automatically keep track of things so that if you put a due date of next month, it’ll pop into “today” on that day. You’ll save a lot of time, instead of shuffling things around yourself!

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