3 Email Folders That Can Quickly Help You Get To Inbox Zero


Get to Inbox Zero to get your life organised, and prepare space for new plans and ideas. These 3 folders will help.

Inbox Zero is where you should aspire to get to if you want to get your life organised, and prepare space for new plans and ideas. Whether you agree that getting to Inbox Zero is possible, or impossible, you’re right. But here are 3 folders you need to create in your inbox right away to start getting there.

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3 Email Folders for Inbox Zero

I got this idea from a David Allen post written about 5 year ago (I’ll link to his PDF below) and made some tweaks of my own to suit my business. You should do the same once you understand the basics of these 3 folders.

The Rule of Two

For every email in your inbox, you have two potential actions to take within two minutes. Either you:

  1. Take action on it and archive the email or
  2. File the email for a future action

Essentially what the rule says is that if you can’t take action on it within two minutes, you should file the email and plan for another time to act on that email. If you can, you should do it right away and archive the email.

The Reply Folder

This folder is where you file emails that are pending your reply. You can’t reply in two minutes because you need more information, or you just need more time to think about your reply. So file it here and come back to it at a later date (calendar yourself or create a task so you remember).

The Waiting Folder

After you’ve sent an email out, you don’t always need a reply from the recipient. If you do, then this folder is where you keep all those emails. If your email software allows you to set a reminder for sent emails, then you won’t have to use this folder. Otherwise, just move any emails that require a reply from your recipient here so it gets out of your Inbox, and you don’t forget to follow-up for a response.

The Reference Folder

Whenever you come across an email that interests you enough to pay attention, but do not have to act on that email, then you can move it to the Reference folder. Alternatively, you can also send it to a note-keeping app such as Evernote or Google Keep. If you want to follow the rules to the tee, then create this folder and keep it all in your email (but out of your Inbox).

Folder Naming Conventions

I learnt a trick some months ago to organise the folders on my laptop, and this trick helps when organising your email folders. The problem with most email clients is that they sort folders alphabetically, and that’s not what you always want. Especially with the GTD for Email system. Again, it’s a personal preference but for me I like to have it in the order of “Reply, Waiting, Reference”.

To get there, I simply put in an extra character in front of the folder name following the ASCII sort order chart below:

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ASCII Sort Order Chart

When you insert a “space” in front of your folder name, and insert a “!” in front of another folder with the same name, the first folder will be first in line when sorted alphabetically. See what I’ve done with my 3 folders:

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Without these prefixes, the folders would have been sorted as “Reference, Reply, Waiting” which isn’t what I want.

The best way to understand how this works is to try it out for yourself. Just create some folders on your laptop and sort alphabetically. Try with different characters, and see what happens.

Link To The Original PDF

Download the original PDF created by Dave Allen here. It’s a simple concept and you should certainly create your own variations when applying this rule to get to Inbox Zero. A simple variation I did was to create multiple Reference folders for different topics and then use Gmail rules to sort incoming emails automatically.

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Many of these folders are used for incoming job application emails, so I can use my email to review all the resumes without opening up another tab on my browser.

End of this Step Zero

I hope this tip helped you in some way to get your email organised. I cannot stress the importance of getting this done, especially when you want to start something new like a new business or project. That is actually the best time to get started with organising your inbox. The most difficult part is sticking to the plan. Good luck with this!