Email sub-folders – how many do you have?

(Image: courtesy of Rex Roof via Flickr)

We are constantly trying to help people manage their emails. It’s a major part of your daily working life, and if you get it wrong, it can lead to anxiety. stress and general un-productivity!

If you’re in real trouble with your email, why not ask your boss if you can have one of our in-house email workshops – they won’t regret it as they’ll have a super-focused workforce!

If you want a quick example of how people do things wrong. take a quick glance at the your email system.

Image: Flickr by Ref Roof


Most of us will have an inbox (either for one or multiple accounts) where new messages land. Then there’s the trash, drafts, maybe an archive? How many other folders do you have? Have you created sub-folders yourself to help you find things?

At least half of the people we coach have far too many of these. Having too many folders is bad for productivity because it creates unnecessary thinking work just at the point where you’re trying to get your inbox back down to zero (i.e. having no messages in your inbox at all!).


We need to separate the unnecessary noise landing in our email inbox from the small number of items that have value, so when an an email arrives it will be processed.

We suggest spitting your email into three areas:

  • The processing folders – where ‘live’ work is kept;
  • The reference library – where old emails we’ve dealt with are kept in case we need them in future;
  • The main inbox space – where new emails land.

It is important to remove any friction to removing non-actionable items from the inbox, so getting them into trusted folders as quickly and effortlessly as possible is key. Notice I said “trusted” there, not intricate.


Most people do not trust their Outlook or other program to help them retrieve things and therefore set up lots of folders, each with very specific themes, to try to ensure they trust their folders. However, from within each folder, you can arrange the emails there by name, by subject, by date and actually in a whole host of other ways too.

If that’s something you’re not in the habit of doing, spend a few minutes viewing your folders and arranging the view under ‘From’, ‘Subject’ and ‘Date’. Doing this will help you to trust that your system probably has all the tools you need to help you find any email you chuck into a folder there. Alongside this, there is obviously the separate ability to run a search.

Your search can cover your whole inbox. Many people’s previous experience with using the search function is that it wasn’t very good. True, the 2003 Outlook and versions prior to it didn’t have the most powerful search function, but the more recent versions seem to have made this much more powerful. And of course, if you’re a Gmail user, you have the power of Google search behind this, too!


inbox zero

If you’re interested in finding out more ways to manage your email, you could try one of our in-house email workshops, or check our our public workshops which cover general productivity and email management.

Read more:

Reclaiming Clarity: decluttering tales of an email ninja

How to Deal with Email Circulars



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