Putting your email into an elaborate filing system is one of the biggest wastes of your time.

This is a behaviour from the past that is outdated and unnecessary. All email applications these days support advanced search capabilities. If you can remember what an email was about or who sent it, you have enough information to find it quickly.

I do have some folders that I use for filing. Some of these are caused by technical shortcomings of the email system and the devices that I am using or by the way that I conditioned myself to work.

These will not be the same for you and I encourage you to start without any filing system and only start using folders if there is a real need based on your way of working. Never create a folder just because you want to organize mails based on topic, project, sender etc.

  • I collect all emails regarding personnel in a folder which I exempt from my regular deletion intervals (using this folder as my archive).
  • I also have a folder for emails that I want to turn into a calendar entry. I only use this when working on my iPhone or iPad as working with advanced calendar functions on these devices is not possible yet.
  • I have a Note and To-do folder which I use to send myself notes and to-dos items when I am out of the office. I have tried Note and Task Apps on my mobile devices but realized that I am most effective by just sending myself short reminders as emails (I have rules setup on my account that will move these automatically in the “Notes” and “To-do” folder, so I never see these in my Inbox).

The key is to use these folders only to make your life easier, not to waste time for artificial filing just because we always filed everything that crossed our desk.

I said before that based on the “Touch Once” rule you should basically: Open, read, act, delete!

Delete for me means, I put this into a folder called “Done”. To make this easy I have created a “QuickStep” in Microsoft Outlook which moves the email to the “Done” folder and marks it as read. The Done folder I keep for 13 month. Every year in January I delete anything that is older than the year before last (January 2013 I will delete everything from the “Done” folder that is older than December 2011).

As explained I use a folder for anything regarding Personnel, which I like to keep for an unlimited amount of time, everything else is basically in the “Done” folder and gets deleted.

To be clear on this, of course many times I directly delete emails. I only move emails to “Done” if I think they are worth keeping for a limited period of time. If I really need any of that information I can rest assured that “Search” will find it.

Do not keep any email longer than 12 month (or a shorter period of time if possible for you). You won’t need it! If anyone confronts you with the fact that he or she had written something in an email a couple of month ago, just assume that he or she is right. Checking by yourself, possibly proving the statement as “Right” or “Wrong” does not help your company or yourself.

You save a lot of time by just saying “You are right! You did write that 6 month ago. The question remains – what should we do now?” – this works every single time, saves you a lot of effort and actually creates positive action.