Effective Leadership Series, Leadership

Effective Leadership – Part IIIb – @5 Essential Email Folders

The last post in the What is Leadership? series focused on Effective Leadership – Part III – Email where I alluded to my secret weapon of email effectiveness being the @5 Essential Email Folders. To be effective with your email and to achieve the target of having no emails in your inbox at the end of the day, set-up and fully utilize these file folders as follows:


This folder is used to place emails with either content or attachments that you need to read in detail or with high attention or focus. The urgency is not immediate and you can read these at your first opportunity.


Place emails in this folder in which you have to take some kind of action. These actions will typically take you some time to complete and are not quick responses. The quick response type actions are not kept here as those type of emails need to be done as you read them and from your inbox.


Emails placed in this folder require some type of future filing that you currently don’t have access to. This may occur when working off-line or on your phone where you may not be able access your archived folders.


Ever have the problem where you debate if you should save an email or not but you really don’t need to save it long term? Never fails if you delete it, you’ll be searching for it in your delete folder. If you keep it… it just stacks up at the bottom of your inbox with all the other emails you’ll never look at again. In cases like this where you think you may need to refer to it in the near future but don’t need to keep it indefinitely, move the email to this folder. Periodically review the folder and discard those no longer needed.

@Follow-up – the mother of the @5 Essential Email Folders

I stated in previous posts that as a leader, relentless follow-up is not only essential, it is respectful. If you are going to ask someone to do something, not only should you expect them to do it, but they should expect that you will follow-up on it. With the advancement of email replacing paper in the workplace, many seem to have forgotten how to follow-up effectively.

Create a folder called “@Follow-up”. Within that folder create 12 sub-folders, 1 for each

essential folders.JPG

month of the year. Prefix each month with the corresponding sequential number representation for the month. For example create a folder for March as “03 Mar” and similar for the other months of the year. Then whatever month you are currently in, go into that months sub-folder. Now create numbered sub-folders within that month from 01 through 31. Now move any numbered sub-folder previous to the day of the current month to the next months folder.

When you are processing your emails you file the email to the appropriate month and day in which you want to follow-up on. As an example, if you sent an email to someone on your team asking them to provide a report to you by the 24 August, place a copy or move the email from your sent folder to the “24” sub-folder within the month folder “08 Aug”.

Although you can create numbered folders for each month, that’s a lot of unnecessary work. After you have processed all of the follow-up emails on the current day, that numbered folder should be empty. Now you can just move that folder to the next month. If you want to follow-up on something that is say, 3 months from now you just place it in the main month folder until that month arrives. Then you can decide what specific day that month you want to follow-up on it on.

Other points for the @5 Essential Email Folders

  • The “@” symbol placed at the beginning of the folder names forces these folders to the very top of your list of folders.
  • When you place an email into any of the @5 Essential Email Folders, change it to “unread” to act as a visual aid or andon to indicate you have an email in that folder. It will then tell you how many emails you have in each folder. For example, by looking at the 23 August follow-up folder, I know right away there are 5 emails in there that I need to follow-up on.
  • Create the @5 folders as sub-folders within your Inbox. This way you will have access to them from your phone.
  • I refer to these as the @5 Essential folders, however, you can always add more depending on what your needs are. I travel and work from my phone a great deal so I’ve added a 6th folder called “@Printing” where I place emails or emails with attachments that I want to print out when I get back to the office.

Hope you found this useful. As always, let me know by clicking “Like” or contribute to the post by leaving a comment.


If you’ve missed the beginning of this series of posts on Leadership, check out the first post What is Leadership?

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