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?

Effective Leadership Series, Leadership

Effective Leadership – Part III – Email

In the last post, Effective Leadership – Part II – 6 Steps to Manage Your Time Effectively, we discussed techniques to help you stay organized and get the most important things done.  In this post, we’ll talk about methods to help combat email!

It is estimated that the average person receives 140 and sends 45 emails per day!  Unfortunately for once, I’m above average!  How do you stack up against this average?  I know I receive a lot more than that!  I don’t think I send that many, but maybe it’s time I count!

Here’s a few of the techniques to help with email:

1) Rules, rules, and more rules!

My saying on this is “read what you want to read, when you want to read it, not what is sent to you”.  Many emails are regular reports that can be processed by an email rule to be saved to a predetermined file folder.  You can then go to the folder when it is most convenient for you or when you actually need the data.  Some emails can even go straight to your delete folder!

2) Use “Show as Conversations”

Too many people use email to carry on a conversation.  You should try and stop this if you see an email go back and forth more than 3 times.  However, sometimes you just can’t stop it in time or may not have the ability to do so.  Set-up your emails with the Show as conversations“show as conversations” feature which will consolidate an email thread together and show you the last email in the chain.  This helps avoid having to read through many emails as you can usually get all caught up by reading the last one received.  If you need more info, you can just read down in the last email to get what you need.  When you delete or move the emails you can do so in one step versus having to do so with each individual email.

3) Differentiate Senders with conditional formatting

Not all emails are of the same importance, so don’t treat them equally.  Use the “conditional formatting” feature to highlight and differentiate by changing the font of conditional formattingincoming emails from certain people.  You can bold them, increase the font size, or change the colour of their emails so they really stand out in your inbox.  I use bold red font to highlight emails incoming from my boss and other higher level leaders and bold blue for my team to differentiate these higher priority emails from all the others.

4) Avoid double handling

When I worked in renovation/construction projects years ago, a boss taught me to avoid having to move materials twice.  Plan ahead so you put them where you need them and so you don’t have to move them again.  I’ve adopted that with email.  Set-up email folders which your rules automatically process and move certain emails to, or you manually move them to after reading and/or taking action.  The point is if you are going to open an email, take care of it.  Don’t open and then say, “oh I’ll come back to it later”.  Typically, it is a quick response.  If it requires more than that, then file it appropriately using the “@5 Essential email folders” which will be the topic of the next post.

5) Set a goal to have an empty inbox before you leave for the day

If you relentlessly follow the above 4 steps, you should set a goal that when you leave for the day your inbox is empty.  Although not always achievable, it is a good goal to develop the discipline of setting up rules, filing appropriately, and avoiding double handling. It also reduces your stress of seeing that never ending inbox!  It is achievable!  I achieve this goal often and when I don’t I look to see what more can do to leverage technology to assist.

Leverage technology to assist you, don’t be a slave to it!”

6) The OOTO holding file

I admit although I do have one, I have difficulty with this as I’m always afraid I’ll miss something.  However, many leaders use this process successfully.  When you have been out of the office (OOTO) for an extended period of time and have not been able to keep up or maybe even check email, move any emails that are more than 2-3 days old to a “OOTO Holding” file.  Then review and process the last 1-2 days of emails.  If by chance you need one of the emails that are older than that, you can just pull them from the “OOTO Holding” file.  In most cases, if it’s that important someone will follow-up with you when you return or you will find reference to it in the more recent emails.  After a couple of weeks, you can delete the emails in the “OOTO Holding” file.

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

The next post will discuss the “@5 Essential Email Folders”, which I consider to be my secret weapon of email effectiveness!


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

Effective Leadership Series, Leadership

Effective Leadership – Part II – 6 Steps to Manage Your Time Effectively

In the last post Effective Leadership Skills – Personal Planning, we talked about the importance of personal planning for a leader.  I hope you found the post useful and picked up at least one thing to incorporate into your personal planning routine.  No doubt everyone has heard the analogy about sort the big rocks first not the sand.  However, if you are true to yourself, do you do it?  Many people, despite the best of intentions and knowing this methodology well, struggle to actually do it.  Why?  I suspect that it’s because they don’t plan that way.  I’m always amazed at how so many people let life and other people take them wherever they want to take them.

Ok, so maybe a little melodramatic, but one thing we all have in common, no matter who gollumwe are, how much money we have, how successful, or how high up the corporate ladder we are, is time.  We all have the same amount of time in any given day!  Time is finite.  So, we should treat it accordingly.  Do you protect your time like it is “my precious!” ?  If you don’t have complete control over your schedule, then take it back today!  Every minute you spend on something is a minute of your life you will never get back!  That’s the way you need to look at it.  This is one thing a leader needs to be very selfish about.  After all, it is your life!  You should spend time on the things that are important to you or are necessary for the role you play.  Otherwise, you need to seriously question each item in your schedule.

“Every minute you spend on something is a minute of your life you will never get back!”

Here’s a few things to consider for managing your schedule and calendar:

1.  Proactively schedule YOUR priorities first.

Ok, seems obvious…. but do you?  When you do your personal planning make sure you are planning time in your calendar to spend on those things that are most important to you.  These are the big rocks.  These are the things that will either permit you to be successful or fulfilled in what you do at work and in life in general.  Many people wonder why the week has gone by and they haven’t accomplished those things that they wanted to achieve that week, but yet, few if any were allocated specific time in their calendar.  Even if it is time for you to spend by yourself working on a project, a strategic plan, following-up, taking your daughter to a recital, put it in your calendar and schedule!  I schedule several hours a week months in advance for my top priorities.  I schedule them as placeholders and as I get closer to the actual date and I have a better idea of what my priority is at that time, I revise it to reflect that priority.  This way, I also have time for my priorities without someone else booking over it.  Well at least, most of the time.

“When something is scheduled, it is 92% likely to happen!”

2.  Schedule time for reflection & planning.

It’s also important to schedule time to stop, think, reflect and plan.  For this you need to be strategic as to when you schedule this time by doing so when you are most productive in this space.  There is no point scheduling planning time on a day or time in which you need to be tactical or will not be able to focus.  Or at a time of day when you know your brain resists focus on such subjects.  The point is to schedule it to increase the odds that it will happen.  It is very important for leaders to reflect, think, and plan, but it won’t happen on it’s own.  You need to schedule time for it.

3.  Block time for necessities.

We all have stuff that just needs to get done.  After you schedule your most important priorities, schedule blocks of time throughout the day or week for you to get the necessities done as well.  These might be signing documents, catching up on emails, following up, returning phone calls, etc.  Although these are not top priorities, they are necessary.  If you don’t get them done, certain of your responsibilities will slip through the cracks and may come back to bite you, typically requiring even more of your time than if you attended to them initially in the first place.  Or alternatively, you end of up doing these things after hours impacting your personal time and family priorities.

4.  Maintain control over your schedule.

Don’t let other people get control of your calendar.  If you do, you are basically giving over control of your life.  Be selfish and maintain control of your calendar at all times as if it were your life… oh wait, it is!  This doesn’t mean that you become unavailable to your team or neglect your responsibilities, but it does mean that you do not have to attend every meeting you are invited to, or cancel time that is a priority to you just because someone sends you a meeting invitation.  Nine times out of ten, you can request a re-schedule if you really need to attend at all, or can send a delegate.

If you have an assistant that manages your calendar for you, make sure you establish very clear guidelines with them as to how you want to administer your time and calendar.  Communicate frequently as to your priorities and how you expect them to schedule YOUR time.  Review your calendar with them to ensure everything is as you want it.  I’ve always found when you do this, they will help you tremendously!

“Sort the big rocks first, fit in the stones, and sift the sand!”

5.  Schedule 20 and 50 minute meetings.

It took me way too long to figure this one out!  After many years of putting a call on hold and asking someone to “please cover me, brb” so that I could run to the restroom, or missing a quick but needed “approved” email response, I figured out that meetings are like goldfish.  They grow to the size of the fishbowl, meaning if you schedule 60 minutes, the meeting will take 60 minutes.  What is so special about 60 minute meetings other than it being the default in scheduling software?  So I implemented 2 meeting durations – 20 and 50 minutes.  The subject matter determines the duration.  The secret though is that most people schedule meetings to start on the hour or half hour.  This then gives you 10 minutes before your next meeting to visit the restroom, get a coffee, check for urgent emails/requests, etc.  What a difference this has made in my day!

6.  Use colours as information keys.

Establish a colour coding system within your calendar to help you key in on different aspects of your day.  This allows you to quickly glance at your calendar and you can focus in on the most important items, or spend more time to gather other key pieces of information.  For example here are my colour codes:

Dark Red – Very importantCalendar

Red – Attendance required

Yellow – Tentative, delegate attending or attend if possible

Orange – Indication that myself or a member of my team is out of the office, travel time.

Green – Information

Blue – Personal time for the necessities

This facilitates a lot of information that you can very quickly focus in on depending on what information you are looking for.  From the example above, I can very quickly see (orange) that two members of my team are out of the office on this day.  I am going to be visiting and working (green) out of a different and specific building, and that I’m going to have a very busy day of meetings (Red).  However, I also have some personal time (Blue) to catch up on a few things throughout the day.  I can also see that there is a tentative (yellow) meeting I could attend if the main priority meeting were to be cancelled and that there are some other meetings scheduled that day but are just there as information only.

Please let me know if you found this post helpful by clicking “Like”, otherwise I have no idea if I’m on the right track here!  Leave a comment to add your experience on this topic or to ask a question.

Next post, we’ll talk about the dreaded and time consuming…. email!


Effective Leadership Series, Leadership

Effective Leadership Skills – Personal Planning

The foundation of my leadership mental model is the Leader themself.  Why?  Well from my perspective, if the leader is not strong and solid, then the remaining two dimensions of Vision and People will be weak.

As a bare minimum, for a leader to be effective they must:

  1.   Be well organized

  2.   Lead by example

  3.   Have balance

Over the next few posts, we’ll discuss each of these aspects in some detail.

Lets start with “Be well organized” ,what that means and what it takes for a leader to be well organized.

The demands on a leader can be overwhelming.  If a leader is not well organized both professionally and personally, they cannot be effective.  Problems will start to occur as something will become neglected or overlooked.  Once that happens, things can spiral out of control very quickly.

A leader needs a personal planning routine.  I strongly believe that each leader needs to determine what works best for them and that one size does not fit all.  However, each personal planning routine should have some common key points.  These are as follows:

1. Have a regular routine in which you do your weekly planning.

For me it is every Sunday afternoon typically around 4 or 5pm.  It usually takes me between 20-30 min each time.  Consistency is important to develop the habit of planning.  On the occasion, when I miss my weekly planning time at my usual time, it feels very uncomfortable!

2. Review and plan both your professional and personal items and set all priorities for the week.

We are only one person, so why plan your professional items separate from your personal?  They overlap and at times create conflicts, so it is critical that they are planned simultaneously and in conjunction.  It also helps to set reasonable actions for the week.  For example, if you know you have an important presentation to prepare at work that will require extra time to complete, you may scale back some of the personal items for that week thereby setting the priorities appropriately for what is most important at that time.  This also reduces your stress levels as you have planned for this in your week.

3. Keep everything in one place!

Keep all your “to-do’s”, actions, follow-ups, errands, important milestones, etc in one place.  Don’t have a list at home, one at work, another in your phone, and yet another in OneNote on your computer.  This becomes confusing and unmanageable.  By all means, use technology to your advantage to remind you of important items such as sending yourself an email or reminder to add a new item to your to-do list.

Use a system that works best for you.  Experiment to determine what that is or change and revise as you go.  My system has been built over many years of trial and error.  You may want to do everything electronically or the old fashioned way with file folders.  Whatever works for you.

I use an Excel spreadsheet with multiple tabs for different topics that covers off professional and personal aspects of my life.  Professional files include projects, leader standardized work, follow-up and to-dos of various priority among others.  My personal files include but aren’t limited to my family, friends, relationship with my wife, hobbies, errands and household repairs.

Well organized

4. Determine your weekly priorities.

As you go through your various files, determine what the priorities are for the week.  What things must you accomplish or follow-up on?  What things would you like to get done.  Plan those personal items that are important to you that you want to ensure you achieve or don’t forget.  It’s ok to be aggressive and identify more items than you think you can achieve so that if the opportunity presents itself, you can get them done as well.  Often having a planned list, you can move through it faster than if you don’t have one at all as it acts as a motivator as well as focuses you on those things most important.

5.  Break projects or items down to the individual tasks.

I know this sounds crazy, but as you add an item and/or do your planning breakdown larger items to the task level and plan those.  Procrastination often comes from not knowing where to start.  So rather than focusing on the big task that is going to take many weeks to complete, just start for the next week and take it from there.

I’ll use a simple personal item of painting the front door to demonstrate what I mean.  Let’s say you want to paint the front door.  Maybe you don’t actually have time to paint it this week due to other priorities.  However, even if you got the chance you couldn’t because you don’t have paint or brushes.  By reviewing your complete list during your personal planning session, you identified that painting the front door is on your household to do list.  During the week you are going to Home Depot anyway for some other reason and can easily pick-up paint and brushes while you are there.  If you only had “paint the front door” on your list and not also “pick-up front door paint/brushes” on your “Errands” list you likely would have forgotten about it and had to make another trip to the store another week.

6. Consolidate your weekly priorities on one sheet.

Once you have identified your top priorities for the week, consolidate them on one personal planner sheet.  Remember, these would include both professional and personal items.

My personal planning sheet has evolved a lot over the years and contains a great deal of information that is important to me and helps me stay focused and organized.  Not all items are the same priority so I have a system of identifying the top priorities from the lower or maintenance type items.  I record all the prioritized items for the next week and print off my weekly personal planner.  As I complete items, I simply check them off.  As new items come up throughout the week I hand write them down on my sheet.  If they are completed by the end of the week, I don’t do anything more with them.  If they are not completed by the end of the week, I then add them to my planning files.  I also write down new items throughout the week that are not a priority for that week, but that I want to add them to my files during my next personal planning session.

These are some of the things I swear by when it comes to personal planning and being organized.  These have helped me stay on top of things at work and in my personal life.  It’s not to say things don’t slip through the cracks, but when they do, I know they did and I can quickly course correct or make better informed decisions on priorities and changing priorities.

Try it!  Experiment and try different things, but don’t give up!  It has taken me many years to get to the level of personal planning I now embrace.  It didn’t happen overnight.

In my next post, we’ll focus on managing your schedule and how that helps you be a more effective leader.

For the last post in this series, see What is Leadership?

Effective Leadership Series, Leadership

What is Leadership?

There are many different view points on what leadership is, but from my point of view to try to define leadership, you first have to define management. My definition of management is:

Management is the responsibility of a function, department, process or system. It is a position.

Many people think that because they have the positional title of “manager” that by default they are a leader. Not necessarily! My definition of Leadership is as follows:

Leadership is the ability to inspire and motivate people to want to be part of realizing a vision. It is purely about people, and not a process or product. It is character.

On the other hand, there are also people that think that because they don’t have the title of “manager” that they are not leaders. Wow, is that ever incorrect! There are many incredibly good leaders that are not managers. They can have unbelievable impact on other people by inspiring, motivating or coaching them.

A leadership model I have developed and use is shown below:

leadership model

The model is built on three important dimensions that make and define leadership. First is the Leader them self; second, a clear and articulate Vision; and third, of course People. If any one or more of these is missing or poor, so is the Leadership.

In future posts, I’ll speak to the key points of each of these 3 dimensions of leadership.