The Only Three Folders You Need in Your Email

The Only Three Folders You Need in Your Email

Taryn Williford
Nov 3, 2011

While you're busy trying to navigate your new redesigned Gmail inbox, allow us to make a handy suggestion that could improve your professional communication efficiency tenfold. Forget trying to keep up with a baker's dozen of mix-and-match email labels. You can effectively stash every message you get into three action folders. Here they are.

Obviously "Trash" is trash and "Spam" is spam. But what about the other 8,000 messages you seem to get every day? They need to go somewhere, right?

Achieve tech zen nirvana with Inbox Zero by filing away every. single. message. into one of these three folder labels:

What you put in it: Emails that require you complete a task you can't do at that moment. Quick 2-minutes-or-less message replies should be done ASAP, but emails with lengthy responses or messages asking you to complete an action can hang out in this folder until you're able to follow up later.
What you do with it: Remember, later means later; this whole system fails if you don't keep up with this folder. Whenever you have 20 minutes to spare throughout the day, check in with your "Later" label and follow up on the actions and replies you put off.

What you put in it: Messages and threads with a narrow window of usefulness. Threads from coworkers on ongoing projects can get tossed in here, as can emails with confirmation numbers or tracking codes.
What you do with it: You're stashing threads in here because you'll need easy access to them for at least a little while, so you can drop in here to find the info you need. But you need to clean this out on a regular basis—maybe once a week or so?—to keep everything fresh and uncluttered. Messages move from the "Hold" folder into either "Trash" or this next option...

What you put in it: This is your long-term email library. If an email contains something you know you'll need way later down the line—like your web forum login info or the final files from a long-completed project—pile it in here for later reference.
What you do with it: Leave it alone... until you need something. Then, use your email client's search function to pull messages from your archive libarary and get the info you need right away.

(Images: Design Milk, Inbox Zero: The Perfect Anti-Procastination Tool)

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