I can’t tell you how many times I am asked to ‘pronounce’ on the ‘Best Outlook Inbox Folder Structure’ when we run training programmes. It’s a question I answer this way….Yes, those who know me are right …..You already have the answer and there’s about 60 seconds of work and 2 questions here to help you towards that answer. So, grab a pen and read on. Let’s start with a quick question :

What are the KRAs (Key Result Areas), KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of your role?

Scribble out a quick list of the key deliverables of your role. Answer this in the reality of your role – not just the ‘official’ version.

Go beyond the ‘Headline’ and get into the major silos of work that help you deliver that overall result. You are writing aren’t you?

So, for example, a senior sales person may have:
Headline: Generate £X million in sales in the next 12 months
Major silos supporting the key business results:

  • Key Account Management for top 3 clients
  • New business generation
  • Mentoring or managing others
  • Project team participation for new CRM purchase
  • Forecasting, Reporting and other ‘administration’ responsibilities.

Got your list written out? If so move on to step 2

2 Expand your Outlook inbox folder structure.

The idea is to see your folder structure in all its glory. So if you file your mails in any other Outlook folder / archive / .pst structure, expand that instead.

3 Now open up your ‘My Documents’ folder …

or any other place that you use to store the data that you choose to save in connection with your role. Resize this window so that you can see it beside your Outlook storage folder structure.

OK, now for the incisive question:

To what extent do the structures you created in your Outlook inbox folders and your ‘My Documents’ folders reflect the structure of the Key Result Areas of your role?

Truth is that most of the thousands of people I have trained over the years have created their Outlook folders and their ‘My Documents’ folders with best intentions and almost always in response to a tactical question such as ‘Where will I put this email so I might find it again?’

The result can be stand-alone labyrinths of folders and subfolders in each system that bear little relationship to each other or the key drivers of our roles.

And so to my answer. It does not matter if you are an email ‘Piler’ (relying on advanced use of ‘Search’ functionality) or ‘Filer’ with a wonderful folder system. All that matters is that your structure is as simple and elegant as it can be, that it is common across all your critical data storage areas and that it serves you, rather than you serving it.

So, over to you. What approach do you adopt? Are you a piler or a filer? Do you use big silo folders or granular subfolders? Your approach could help other readers, jot it down in the comments area below. Also, could I ask you to spread the word through the media buttons directly below this post. I have just added them here. Finally, do get in touch if you think our training, coaching or speaking services could help you, your team or your company. Thanks.