I have mentioned it a few times that when my desk is cluttered then I feel cluttered. I like to put everything in its place so I will find it easily. Is it any wonder if my Outlook is messy and cluttered that I feel the same way?
I was at a recent IAAP Chapter meeting and we were discussing best practices for organizing our Inboxes and there were a lot of good ideas. The bottom line is to keep it simple. I've been meaning to tackle my Inbox so decided I would try that theory and is it ever nice. My Inbox is empty and it feels wonderful! Similar to when I have a nice and tidy desk.
The first step is take control of your emails and don't let them take control of you
One of the things I have found helpful is to turn my email notification off. I don't miss anything as I check my Inbox regularly and the good thing is if I am in the middle of something, I don't get distracted by that little message in the corner that tells me I have new mail. My only exception is for emails from my boss. I opened a new folder for him under my Inbox and set a Rule for all his emails to go there and set a special ring so I know it's him and can then check the folder. It works well.
The next step is to do something with the email right away
The key is to get it out of your Inbox as soon as possible even if it means just dragging it to a To-Do folder to deal with later. I know, I know, that seems scarey but I've tried it and it works. I named the folder _TO DO so it files right under my Inbox and therefore is very noticeable. Sometimes the email is such that you can just answer it with a simple yes or no and that takes care of that email. You need to determine what is best to do with it but you need to do something.
Finally, have four or five key folders that work for you
Other than my TO DO folder and the special folder for my boss, I opened folders specific to my job such as BOARD OF DIRECTORS and another one for SENIOR LEADERSHIP TEAM. Anything that is for action goes in my _TO DO folder and once I have handled it I can either delete it or put it in one of the other folders that it relates to for easy reference.
I also have a folder for READING, where I put anything that is for information that I can read later and one for PERSONAL, where I drag all emails that are not work related. Now my Outlook is very organized and easy to use.
Making use of Rules can also be a time saver. Under my Sent folder I have sub folders for emails that I send my boss, the Board of Directors and Senior Leadership Team. When I send anything to these groups it automatically moves it into the appropriate folder. I find that this helps me to find the emails quickly and narrows my search down. Instead of searching through all my Sent items, I can quickly do a search in a specific folder and that eliminates finding other things with similar subjects. By setting the Rule I now don't even have to drag it to a folder as it just goes there automatically.
When we were talking at the table what interested me was that people were using their email folders for filing and that was never its intent. I save any important emails on my Server just like any other correspondence, because that is what it is. We use email more and more as our first choice of business correspondence so it should be filed the same way. I am not saying you shouldn't store some emails as it is helpful to have them there when you need to go back and check what someone said but they shouldn't be kept indefinitely. I usually clean out my folders every six months to free up space. If I haven't used it in six months and I've saved anything that is important, then I can be fairly certain I can delete it.