Are you constantly joking about spending hours going through your email, especially after being out of the office? Do you always check email while on vacation so you won't fall behind? Does your inbox contain hundreds of emails you should be sorting instead of reading this article?
If so, this page is for you. The email organization method described here will save you many hours of pain and suffering.
Step one: Folder structure
Your Inbox will be organized into four main folders: Actionable, Waiting For, Reference, and Archive. Your mailbox should look like this:
- Waiting For
- Sent Items
- Deleted Items
- Junk E-mail
- Search Folders (examples)
- From management
- From my team
- Colleague related
- HR information
Create the four folders under your Inbox now. Optionally, you may wish to include two extra folders under your Inbox: Automated and Projects. We will talk about the Search Folders in a minute.
Step two: The rules
It's time to clean out your Inbox! Sort all of your emails according the rules below. Stick to these rules and it will stay clean.
- Don't open an email unless you're going to read the whole thing! Otherwise you'll waste time coming back to it later.
- Once you have opened and read a new email in your Inbox folder, do one of the following without delay:
- If it can be done in two minutes or less, do it now.
- If it cannot be done in two minutes or less, move it to Actionable and move to the next Inbox message.
- If you are waiting on someone else to do something, move it to Waiting For.
- If you want to keep the email for future reference but it does not require action or a response, move it to Reference. Some examples of reference emails might be HR benefit announcements, coffee shop hours, or new policy announcements.
If you opted to add Automated and Projects folders:
- Create a folder under Projects for each of your current projects only.
- Place emails into the appropriate project folder after completing number 1, 2, or 3 above.
- When you finish a project, move its folder to Archive.
- Create Outlook Rules for messages that come from automated senders such as newsletters, advertisements (that aren't spam), or periodic alerts that move these emails into the Automated folder for later review.
Now you have time to get some work done. Where to start?
- Choose a folder: Actionable or Waiting For.
- Move through emails in the folder, taking appropriate action or checking to see if what you were waiting for was completed.
- When you are done with one email, move it to Waiting For, Archive, Reference, or a Project folder as appropriate given the rules above.
- Move to the next email.
Step three: Search folders
Create and use Search Folders for specific types of emails that you search for constantly, such as those from your boss, certain coworkers, or related to a certain subject. Outlook will automatically keep these search results handy with a single click any time you need them.
Get creative! Adapt this method to better fit your needs. Just be careful that you don't fall back into creating a hundred folders into which you have to manually sort emails!
For more tips and ideas, read Managing Email Effectively: Strategies for Taming Your Inbox, by MindTools.com.