Email overload – continuing the inbox diet: the case against folders

Thursday December 30th, 2010, 11:38 am

There are many who simply keep all their emails in their inbox.  It’s not uncommon to see inboxes with over 5000 emails some of which are over seven years old.  Philip Delves Broughton reminded us yesterday that personal organisation is the ‘weight loss of industry and business’.

Your inbox and how you manage it is very much a reflection of you.   Often those with unruly inboxes have desks with papers piled high. That is not too say that they are any better or worse than their colleagues with immaculate desks.  But information is a key asset for any business. 

Those who rarely use folders would say the main reason is that email housekeeping is a waste of time.  Surely the task should be automated by the software.  To some extent this is true for those with email archiving systems and a related retention policy.  They also say it takes longer to find items because they can’t remember where they are filed.  For some, believe it or not, it is simply that they just don’t know how to use their email software properly.  On every Smart Email Management workshop at least twenty percent say they need help both to create a good folder structure and use the associated  software tools.  How good is your level of Email IT Fitness?

What’s your opinion of the use of folders?  If you don’t use them, why?

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2 responses to “Email overload – continuing the inbox diet: the case against folders”

  1. Guy says:

    Interesting points, both in favour and against the use of folders.
    What we have observed is that a key factor in the use of folders is the interruption required to answer some key questions: “Do I need to keep this or not?” “If yes, where should I file it?” Answering these questions is a very disturbing flow breaker implying a context switch. The end result is an increase in irritation and stress and a drop in productivity.
    So we have built a tool to address this problem: Tagwolf, an email filing assistant that intelligently suggests the best folder for each email. A single click is sufficient to file a message. It works as an add-in for Microsoft Outlook.
    Our users report that Tagwolf allows them to file messages with hardly any effort, avoiding them needless reflections and interruptions.

  2. Hi Monica,

    I do use folders but a minimum dose of it! I use the usual GTD folders (@action, @deferred, @waiting for, Someday) and a “Reference Materials” folder for anything I need to keep after processed out of inbox and then rely on the Search features rather than complex filing structures.

    I’ve shared how I do this here: