A 5S System is method used to keep the workplace organized and clean. You can use the principles of a 5S System with your email to keep your inbox clear and your emails organized. With a good folder system and a 5S mentality towards your email you can quickly clear your inbox and find old emails when you need them.
One of the core concepts of a 5S System is “Everything has a place and everything in its place”. This is how you should approach your email. Your inbox is not a storage folder. Each day you should do the first three 5S System steps on your inbox and email filing system. Sort, straighten and shine.
A 5S System uses tags to identify items that need to be removed from the workplace. With email your tags are folders you use to remove email from your inbox. Before you start a 5S campaign on your email you need to prepare for it by creating your own personal filing system using folders. You should have at least three types of folders.
Folders – Follow-Up, Action, Sort
These three folders sit at the top of my folder tree. Think of them as sorting bins for your inbox. They allow you to quickly empty your inbox, but they are very much work in progress.
- Follow-Up – emails you need to follow-up on
- Action – emails that require an action from you that you can not do at this time
- Sort – emails you need to sort, but you are not sure where they need to go yet
Folder – Dated Archives
A date oriented archive is a catch-all system for retaining email. If your company has an email retention policy you can go back and delete entire folders once the retention period is over. For example FY-2010 is the main folder with monthly 01-10, 02-10, and so on sub-folders.
TIP: I keep this months and last months archive folders just under the above three folders so I can quickly archive email in them. With each new month I create a new folder at the top of the tree and move the oldest month to the year folder such as FY-2010 in the dated archives at the bottom of the folder tree.
TIP: I like to keep my dated archive folders sorted by sender and each sender collapsed. I usually search for email from a particular person and this makes it easy.
Folder – Topic Oriented
This is your filing system for email you want to keep. They have a main topic and usually sub-folders. For instance a vendors folder with sub-folders for each vendor. A projects folder with sub-folders for each project. I like to sort topic folders by date.
This is a very basic system of folders that so you can quickly sort and archive your email. Your system of folders will be tailored to your needs but don’t make it overly complicated.
Now that you have a folder system in place it is time to hit the inbox and your other default email folders.
When you check your email inbox each email should have one of four outcomes.
Read and delete – email you do not need to archive and does not need any further action from you.
Read and move to the Follow-Up, Action or Sort folders – move email that you need to come back to or your are not sure what to do with yet to one of the three folders. Come back to these folders often since they are work in progress.
Read and move to the date oriented folder – this is where you move email you need to keep, but does not belong in any other folder. I keep any email that is business related. I can not tell you how many times a saved email has saved me.
Read and move to a topic folder – move email you want to keep to a topic folder if it fits. This is the heart of your filing system. If you have projects move all emails related to that project to that folder. You will add and remove many folders to this area over time.
TIP: You can archive these folders as well. Create a Topic Archive for folders that are no longer needed but you do not want to delete them such as a project that is complete.
“Issue: What Do I Save?
That depends on your company policy and your needs. Many companies have an email retention policy where you are required to keep all important email for a specified period of time. Like I said, I like to keep all business related email regardless of how old they are. If in doubt put it in a date oriented archive.”
The shine step is for cleaning your email system by removing anything that is not needed. Once a week you should go through all of your folders looking for email that can be deleted, needs to be archived or is out-of-place.
Folder – Sent Items
This is actually one of the most important folders. Sent Items is a system folder stored on the mail server so it takes up valuable drive space and over time will slow your email program down if it is not cleaned up.
This is what YOU said so it is likely you will want to take all the email in sent items and place them in the dated archives. Highlight a date range and drag them to the proper month. Each Monday I highlight any email older than one week and move it from the Sent Items folder to the proper monthly archive. I still have fast access to last week and this week which is usually all I need.
Folder – Deleted Items
Review the headers of deleted email to be sure you did not accidently delete something you need to keep then empty the trash. This is another system folder stored on the mail server that must be cleaned on a regular basis.
Folders – Dated Archives and Topic Archives
Check these archives to see if you accidently moved an email to the wrong month or topic. For dated archives sort the folder by date and anything out-of-place will be noticeable.
The standardize step is about maintaining your email system using standard practices.
- You should sort and straighten your email as often as you can. You should do the shine step at least once a week.
- Eliminate email from ever getting to your inbox by unsubscribing to email lists. Ask to be removed from any internal company mailing lists you do not need.
- Only use Reply All and CC: when needed. Why clutter up someone else’s email if they do not really need to see it?
- Use email rules if you have them to have certain emails routed directly to a topic folder.
- You do not want to let you folders get so large that they slow down your email program. To avoid this you can export email from a folder such as an older dated archive year and then save it as a .PST file. You can always go back and open if needed.
- Use your out-of-office message to inform people of your status. If you are going to be in a meeting for 3 hours (God help you) setup an out-of-office message stating where you will be from 8-11 AM.
- Don’t use the priority flag unless it is necessary. It is like the boy who cried wolf. People will ignore you and defeat the purpose.
- Use add-on programs such as Xobni for Microsoft Outlook. Xobni allows me to quickly find email by searching by keywords. It also allows me to see all emails from a particular person showing all conversations and even file attachments.
The sustain step is having the self-discipline to follow the 5S System. As with any system or process if you do not stick to it then it will not work. Another principle concept of a 5S System is continuous improvement. Your email system is always a work in progress that can be improved on.
Using a 5S System for your email will help you keep your inbox clear and your email organized. You will be able to quickly find an email and browse emails on a particular topic.