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TechRepublic Tutorial: Folders keep the Outlook inbox clutter-free

How to use inbox folders in Outlook to manage e-mail clutter

It’s frustrating to rummage through a cluttered Inbox full of useless e-mail messages when you’re looking for specific information; and new users can pile up a mess of messages in no time. Without help from a good instructor, they’ll be getting the dreaded system administrator’s message, “Clean out your mailbox!”

There are two basic strategies to keeping your Inbox clean, and TechRepublic member JKreie sounded off about both of them:

“One of the most important things for my users [is to] be able to manage what they do with new messages. Some tend to just let them pile up in the Inbox and that gets to be a mess and a nightmare.”

She suggested that after users read a message, they either delete it or move it. Leave it in your Inbox only if it needs action. She also encourages her users to create subfolders for either topics or users.

JKreie has hit the nail on the head. The two best ways to keep a clean Inbox are:
  1. Do something with every message you receive as soon as you read it.
  2. Create folders and subfolders to file messages you’ll need.
This article is the second in a series featuring tricks and tips for teaching Microsoft Outlook. For an overview on teaching beginners, read the first in the series, “Joys and pitfalls: Teaching beginning Outlook.” Stay tuned for next week’s article, “Outlook Training: Address book management.”
Good habits begin with basic skills
It’s really difficult to motivate users to handle each message when it arrives—it’s also something that you just can’t teach. It’s like telling users they need to run defrag software on their machines every week. They’ll either do it or they won’t.

However, you can promote good e-mail management habits by teaching basic skills that will make handling messages easy. If you give your newbies these valuable lessons, they’ll stay organized and get more bang for their Outlook buck.

There are several ways to create a personal folder, but before jumping into that task, you may want to get a handle on your students’ knowledge level.

If you are lucky, they will be well versed in their operating system and familiar with the concept of a hierarchical filing system. If not, you may want to take a few minutes to explain how a hierarchical system works. Secondly, you may want to make clear that Outlook folders can only hold what they’re meant to hold. For example, a folder to hold contacts can’t store tasks. Finally, you’ll want the students to have a few messages in their Inbox to move into their new folders. Once you’ve done the setup, it’s time to try creating the folders.

Lesson 1: How to create a folder
  1. On the File menu, point to New, and then click Folder.
  2. In the Name box, enter a name for the folder.
  3. In the Folder Contains box, click the type of items you want the folder to contain. In this case, Mail Items.
  4. In the Select Where To Place The Folder list, click the location for the folder. Since you’re working with messages, the logical place for the new folder is under the Inbox.
  5. Outlook will then ask if you’d like to add a shortcut for this folder to your Outlook bar. Your students may choose yes or no, remembering that folders can always be accessed by clicking the plus sign that appears to the left of the Inbox icon in the folder list. Shortcuts on the Outlook bar can be easily deleted by right-clicking on them and choosing Remove from Outlook Bar.





Once students have mastered this first method, you can then show them how to create a folder using the right-click technique.

Lesson 2: Right-click to create a folder
  1. Click on the Inbox button to show the folder list and click the pushpin icon at the top of the list to keep it open.
  2. Right-click on the Inbox icon and choose New Folder
  3. Follow steps 2 through 5 from Lesson 1.



Making all the right moves
It’s best to have your students create at least four folders—two as a class and two on their own. Once the folders have been created, students can practice moving messages in and out of them with the typical methods for moving files.

Lesson 3: How to move a message
  1. Click and drag the message on top of the new folder in the folder list (or the shortcut on the Outlook Bar).
  2. When the folder turns dark, release the mouse button.

Lesson 4: Right-click to move a message
  1. Right-click and drag the message on top of the new folder in the folder list (or the shortcut on the Outlook Bar.
  2. Release the mouse button.
  3. Choose Move from the shortcut menu that appears.

It may also be helpful to show students that holding the [Ctrl] key while clicking and dragging a message on top of another folder will create a copy. You’ll also want to demonstrate that holding down the [Shift] key will allow them to select consecutive messages, and that holding down the [Ctrl] key allows them to select nonconsecutive messages.

Once multiple messages are selected, students can follow the steps above to move the messages into the proper folder. This will come in especially handy if the users have already managed to build up a backlog of messages in their Inbox.

If the Inbox if already full, what now?
If their Inbox is already cluttered, students will appreciate a lesson in using the View menu. This menu provides several options for viewing messages, which may make it easier for the user to divide them into folders.



Students may choose to view by Conversation Topic or by Sender—both are great ways to arrange messages to be moved into folders. Students may choose to simply restack their messages in a different order by clicking on the field heading: From, Subject, Received, etc. The triangle that appears next to the word indicates whether the messages are in ascending or descending order.

Spam, anyone?
Creating rules is another way to keep your Inbox free of clutter, and I’ll address that in a future article. But in the mean time, TechRepublic’s Kyle Harmon offers great advice if you’d like to “Teach end users how to keep spam out of the Inbox.”

By planting the seed of good organization, you can grow a well-trained Outlook user with a structured folder list, and a close-to-empty Inbox. Now, if only you could get yourself in that habit, right?
What has your experience teaching Outlook been like? What tips and tricks do you offer for other trainers or for your students? What area causes you the most grief when you’re teaching Outlook? Write and let us know or post your comments below.
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