If you are like me, “system undeliverable” is a good way to describe your iffy process for managing e-mail.
My Inbox currently holds 5,400 e-mails, my Sent mail totals 620 and my Deleted e-mail count is 183. I’m hoarding about 40 unopened e-mails, including a dozen in my inbox and a couple dozen more in one of my few folders created to better organize how I process the mostly inbound information.
I know there’s a better way, and that’s what this blog hopes to detail. I’ll share tips I intend to use to keep my e-mail in order going forward (after the massive purge I need to complete).
Let’s start with a few readily available tools in Microsoft Outlook, as that’s the e-mail client I’m using along with many of you, since it’s the market leader (for computers, anyway). You will find variations of these tools with other e-mail client programs such as Gmail or the Apple iOS.
First, you can easily right click any unwanted e-mail and move it to your junk folder or nuke it entirely by blocking the sender. This might feel a little harsh at first, but if you are getting dozens of e-mails a day, it’s likely necessary.
Second, you can quickly sort e-mails by their subject line simply by changing your “view” to “conversations” from the default, “date.” If the scope and volume of your inbound mail is relatively limited, this makes sense. If, like me, you prefer a chronological setup, use this tool when you want to track down all e-mails on a topic to quickly view the entire conversation.
This same sorting tool allows you to delineate by other categories such as sender, file size or level of importance. A more visual form of sorting that won’t impact the chronological order of inbox e-mails is assigning color categories to e-mail messages. Pre-set a condition – e.g. assign the color orange to anything to do with the annual meeting – and then right click appropriate e-mails in your inbox and assign that color.
Another form of sorting uses Outlook’s “rules” to route incoming or outgoing e-mails. For instance, you can automatically forward e-mails from certain individuals to your boss, or e-mails with “marketing” in the subject line to someone in marketing. Using these rules helps organize your e-mail and automates mundane tasks such as forwarding messages.
The Outlook tool that’s pretty intuitive from an organizational standpoint (for Windows users) is the ability to create folders in which to group similar messages. For those of you who feel uncomfortable deleting messages that might one day be useful or important, create folders for important subject matter (e.g., “marketing,” “vendors,” etc.) in your line of business and drag relevant messages into those repositories (or create a rule automatically directing specific e-mails to those folders).
Similarly, create “Search Folders” to virtually house e-mails relevant to the subject matter you ask Outlook to search. Outlook provides default Search Folders – such as Unread Mail – but you can click through the Folder tab, New group and click New Search Folder to create your own. You might set one up for a certain project, a specific client or an upcoming conference. The folders don’t actually store the messages like those in the paragraph above, but show all messages that fit the characteristics (e.g., keywords in the content, who it was sent from, etc.) you defined in the criteria you assigned to the folder when setting it up.
Finally, on those days you feel too swamped to give the proper amount of attention to certain e-mails, use Outlook’s tool allowing you to flag e-mails for follow-up. Most of us have firsthand experience making an untimely discovery of an important e-mail that got buried under some not-so-important e-mails. Just click the red flag in the menu bar and pick when you want to be reminded to follow up, and in that pre-determined time the e-mail item will turn red in your inbox.
Of the options above, choose what works best for you. I will definitely block a few senders, create more folders, make a couple of New Search folders and use the flag for follow-up tool. I may even create a rule to route certain educational e-mail into a folder so I can read them on my schedule.
Aside from these Outlook tools, I’m going to follow a few other common sense tips to gain control over my inbox.
- Don’t spend too much time organizing when most e-mail platforms are searchable.
- Act on all e-mails on a daily basis, whether that means filing it, deleting it or responding to it (and then filing it or deleting it).
- Aim for a break-even day – whereby your inbox count remains flat – by filing or deleting new and old e-mails to counter the total inbounds for that day.
Utilizing a few of Outlook’s tools and applying some daily diligence takes little effort and will do wonders for your inbox. If that’s not enough, there are literally hundreds of e-mail add-on programs available to do some of the work for you.
Many of you might have experience with these programs, or have tactics you deploy to keep an organized e-mail system. Feel free to use the Comments section below to share your insights for better managing the e-mail process.