Productivity tip for pros: the five weeks folder

Productivity tip for pros: the five weeks folder

Most productivity tips I give are nothing new – many books, blogs and other experts share them as well (with slight variations) over and over. Not surprising, since they make sense, they work – and nobody patents them…

But I have one tip that is entirely my own invention, and I’ve been teaching it for years at Intel – where I started my crusade against email overload two decades ago – and elsewhere. It isn’t patented either, and you’re welcome to use it and to disseminate it.

The pro productivity tip:

Create a folder named “Five Weeks”. You can set it to auto-delete any message older than 5 weeks. Or you can clean it up yourself every now and then – storage is cheap these days.

Now, when you go through your incoming mail, every time you hesitate for more than 2 seconds whether or not to delete a message, just move it to the “Five Weeks” folder…and forget it.

How does the five week folder help?

Simple: with scores of new messages a day, even a few seconds of hesitation over whether to delete a message will add up. We need to delete decisively; yet we all too often hesitate: what if I’ll need this later? What if the sender calls me about it tomorrow? What if I’ll regret having deleted it? All this thinking can get you stuck in a loop and waste much cumulative time!

With the five weeks folder method, there is no need to agonize – you can effectively delete the email instantly without fear: it’s still there if the sender calls next week, or some other need arises. And in five weeks, when it gets auto-purged, it will have outlived its usefulness for sure! No more hesitation, no more wasted time.

Why five weeks?

I got the idea for this useful trick from a story I heard years and years ago. There was this government official (I forget who) who had this habit, or so they said: every new letter or memo he received went into the top drawer under his desk. At the end of each week, he’d move the items in each drawer into the one below it – and the lowest drawer’s content went into the wastebasket. His notion was that “if it’s important they’ll call me”. And – assuming he had five drawers – this is analogous to my five week email method…

By the way, why five weeks, and not another number? Why, so you always have on hand the latest version of items that come in monthly!

Nathan Zeldes
Nathan Zeldes

Nathan Zeldes is a globally recognized thought leader in the search for improved knowledge worker productivity. After a 26 year career as a manager and principal engineer at Intel Corporation, he now helps organizations solve core problems at the intersection of information technology and human behavior.

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