This post has no originality in it. Everything I’m going to write about can be attributed back to a guy called Graham Allcot from Think Productive. A year or so ago I read his book “The Productivity Ninja” about organising and making the most of your life. I picked up a lot of good things, but most of all it helped me to change the way I approach email.

The aim is to be in control of email, not let email control you.

Too many of us wake up in the morning and check email first thing. We don’t need to do this! Too many of us check email constantly throughout the day and let it distract us from more important activities. I’ve got another post coming up on this. Right now, I want to tell you how I organise my email when I do check it.

My email inbox consists of four folders: Action, Waiting, Read, Library.

You should read Graham’s book for a proper explanation, but this is my explanation:

1. All email lands in my main inbox.

When I open Outlook each day I quickly go through the list of emails. If I can reply to a message straight away with a “one touch” response that takes only a couple of sentences then I’ll deal with the message there and then.

2. Action

If the message requires a longer response or is part of a wider project then it goes into the Action folder. These are things that take a bit more thought, that can still be done relatively quickly, but I will need to come back to.

3. Waiting

If I’ve responded to someone and am waiting on a response, then I will put a copy of our email exchange here. That way, I don’t have to worry about remembering things myself; I can simply come back to this folder on a daily basis to check where I am with replies. If it’s taken longer than a week for someone to respond to me, then I can easily follow up with a reminder email or call.

4. Read

If the message is of an informative nature, such as a newsletter or a longer document that needs some attention then I put it in this folder. Then, later in the day or week I can come back to it and review in more detail. The key is not to start reading messages in depth and distract myself from my priorities. Messages should only stay in this folder for a week, no more than two. If I haven’t read them by then they are not that important. Or perhaps they need to be moved into a longer term reading folder off email.

5. Library

This is my folder for storing all incoming messages that I want to keep. Usually everything gets put in here except advertising emails. I don’t need to create lots of separate email folders for different projects because things get confusing and overwhelming. Today’s email clients have great search functionality. There’s nothing I can’t find in my Library if I know a key word. Want to find an email exchange with John Smith? Just enter his name and records of conversations will come up.
And that’s it. I try not to create any other folders as that adds to clutter and confusion.

When you organise your email like this it’s very easy to get to Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero is where you don’t have any messages in your incoming inbox. It often surprises people when they see my email folder and sometimes they assume I’m not very popular!
I was sceptical about this technique at first and I didn’t want to take the plunge by deleting all my meticulously organised email folders. But once I sorted them out and put everything into my Library folder I was surprised how easy it was to keep up. I’m guilty of joining in with the odd fad and I wasn’t sure this technique would stick, but around two years later I’m still using it and it makes a big difference to how I organise my work and home life.
I recommend trying it out. Check out Graham Allcot’s book, too, which is packed full of great productivity ideas.
How do you organise your email? Does it control your life? Or are you on top of it?