How to apply the 5S to improve your email management

What are the 5S’s and what are they for?

It consists of a total quality practice devised more than 40 years ago in Japan, referring to the "Integral Maintenance" of the company, not only for machinery, equipment and infrastructure, but also for the maintenance of the work environment by everyone.

The 5S’s methodology facilitates the adoption of new forms of working that integrate self-discipline, order, cleanliness and security. 

However, despite the great benefits it brings and its low cost of implementation, there are still many organizations that do not apply it systematically due to the lack of involvement of staff in improvement efforts as well as the resistance in changing working habits.​

The 5S - why and how
The 5S’s Methodology
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What does it mean? It is called the 5S’s methodology because it represents actions from principles expressed with five Japanese words, each one beginning with the letter “S”. Each word has an important meaning for creating a safe and worthy workplace: Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.

Why for email?
  • “Every email is a decision waiting to be made”

  • The average individual sends/receives 125 emails a day. That’s 600+ per week.

  • No wonder companies are concerned with overloaded and at-capacity servers.

  • Your email Inbox is one of the easiest places to have clutter in your office because only you and Mr. IT know what’s hiding there.

Read on for some top tips per 5S on how you can apply to your inbox:

1 - Sort
  • Use Outlook “rules” feature

  • Decide which emails can be pre sorted into folders so they don’t even end up in your Inbox

  • Think about non-time sensitive emails such as HR notices, Professional Association newsletters, notifications from social media, and announcements from vendors such as airlines, hotels and department stores

  • You’ll feel more in-control knowing that these items are no longer allowed to interrupt your focus with non-urgent business

  • If you’ve been gone a few days, or have LOTS of email to go through, sort the senders by name. Tackle your managers emails first, then other VIPs, then go down the list in order of importance to your current task load or priority projects.

Lean Coach
2 - Straighten
  • Set up a file folder structure that mirrors the project folders sitting on your desk

  • e.g. if you’re working on a project called Starlight Product create a project folder on your desk with that label and then create an email file folder to hold emails related to it

  • Finally, go one step further and create a file with the same name on your computer

  • Filing an email and retrieving it later will be much easier if you’ve carefully chosen the proper name of your folders. Avoid creating too many file folders which will only dissuade you in the future from using them and encourages you to leave emails in your Inbox

ebook 5S - efficiency
5 - Sustain
3 - Sweep
  • Once a week go through your Inbox and delete the emails that are no longer needed.  It is estimated that 50% of read email can be deleted once read

  • If an email represents a future action, create a task for it, removing it from your Inbox

  • If you use Outlook you can drag your email to your Tasks and create a separate task, keeping the email’s content with it

  • If it’s something related to a future appointment, insert the email or drag it to your calendar.

4 - Standardise
  • Use color-code emails coming into your Inbox.  You can color code emails sent only to you where no one else was cc’d or bcc’d on it.  Be careful not to go overboard with color coding

  • ​A few strategic colors can definitely guide your eye in recognizing email from key people

Maintenance doesn’t happen automatically

  1. Giving your Inbox attention must occur on a regular basis

  2. Allow yourself time each Friday afternoon to apply these 5S techniques to your Inbox

  3. It’s such a great feeling returning to your office on Monday (or Sunday for ME) morning, knowing your Inbox isn’t filled with unnecessary clutter.

As a Lean consultancy, we are passionate about simplicity and Lean is a mindset that we apply in all our areas of activity. Our Lean Office and Leadership-oriented communication training programs act as a catalyst to help you accelerating your professional skills and abilities to face the future of work.