Software optimize

How to regain control of your Outlook Inbox in 15 minutes or less

Inbox overrun to the point where you're losing important messages? Take 15 minutes and get your Inbox under control!

There's an old saying about the cobbler's children having no shoes. Well, I can dish out great advice for keeping your Inbox in good order, but I'm not so fast to take my own advice. This morning, after downloading 253 new emails, I had 2,383 messages in my Inbox.

Watches, flags, categories, and so on are all great management and organization tools, but even the best system requires a personal touch now and again to keep things under control. So, today was the day.

First, I added three new folders:

  • ActOn: These are the emails with watches, flags, and so on - emails that need my attention.
  • ReviewLater: These are emails that I need to read, but that don't need any kind of response from me.
  • DeleteMidJune: These are for those messages that I probably don't need at all, but that I'm reluctant to delete right now. If I do need something, it'll be there. Next month, they're toast! I won't even open the folder and review it one last time. I'll just delete the folder. (I like to live dangerously!)

I deleted everything else. I use the Deleted folder as a holding folder. Once a month, I delete whole blocks of emails. It seems obsessive, but I've found important information in there more than once. While moving and deleting, I didn't read or respond. I just moved emails! As I moved down the list, I deleted more and move less.

I also made good use of the two keyboard shortcuts for selecting blocks:

  • Hold down [Shift] and click to select contiguous blocks:
  • Hold down [Ctrl] and click to select non-contiguous blocks.

That way, I was able to move or delete several emails at one time. In addition, I thought of two new filtering rules.

I spent 15 minutes and I have only 14 emails remaining in my Inbox. I created two new filtering rules that should help in the future.

What housecleaning tricks do you have for keeping your Inbox manageable?

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

21 comments
HenryPB
HenryPB

I have created many e-mail rules. Now it appears that one or several of these rules is causing unintended actions. How can I find and edit or remove these problem rules? Thank you.

permadank
permadank

I've found a really effective way of managing my email, assuming you are running Outlook 2010... This is how its done. Create 4 folders: -Action Required -Action Personal -Follow Up/Waiting -Closed When a message hits your inbox, use a quick step to move it to one of the appropriate 4 folders. Do not file mail. Anything you would file, send to the Closed Folder. The Closed folder is indexed by Outlook 2010. If you learn how to search properly in outlook, it becomes second nature causing Filing with 300 subfolders to be obsolete. Work from your Action Required folder or Action Personal, and keep an eye on messages in the follow up/waiting folder for things you may be partially responsible for or are waiting on. Everytime you read an email, put it in one of the 4 folder or delete it. Add a few rules to automate things and you are set and email is no longer a burden. Its that simple.

lmassey
lmassey

I'm going to implement a couple of the "things" you suggested. Although calling them "thinks" might be appropriate too! :)

lmassey
lmassey

Thanks for a great article! I'm going to implement a couple of the thinks you suggested. I get a lot of e-mail, and the way I handle it is to keep numerous folders and sub-folders in my mailbox. When I'm through with an item in the inbox, I simply delete it, then every week or two I go through the "Deleted Items" folder and either file items in the appropriate folder or permanently delete them. I do the same with the "Sent Items" folder. What I don't like about this method is that I tend to use my Inbox as a To-Do list, and I think I'll implement the folders you suggested to cut down on the amount of clutter in there. Thanks!

Widmerpool
Widmerpool

Too often I've found that I'd deleted an old email that (a) contained useful information or (b) provided evidence that I really had been given the instruction that my manager was denying they'd given. It's made me reluctant to delete; so anything that might provide a paper-trail for the future, I put in a folder called "Save", and anything that contains useful information (and which may as well be stored here as elsewhere) goes into "Store".

LaurenAWhite
LaurenAWhite

A great idea from a super-organized veep here at work: add 00, 01, 02 in front of those action folders to keep them at the top of your mail folders list.

ghall
ghall

We often have checkouts which are company or division wide. Dozens of people are replying over several days. On these I open the most recent email and use the Find Related Messages option to grab all these emails and either delete or archive them at once. I also do this for long threads when I don't need to be involved personally.

bpietrzak
bpietrzak

Something that I heave learned and practice--Do it, Delete it or delegate it

kthomas
kthomas

I have created 12 folders to store emails with information that has an expiration date, such as an event or a special rate. If I don't keep up with them daily, at least weekly I will move them into the appropriate folder, then empty the folder at the beginning of the next month. If I haven't read it by then, too bad.

smhodge
smhodge

I try to create a rule for each address of email I want to keep or review later. Instead of reading down the list in the inbox, I do to the folder, use the reading pane to see if it is interesting, then delete or mark for references (such a techrepublic newletters, newsgroups discussions).

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I find it's handy to keep customer correspondence, so I keep emails in the inbox until any actions are completed, then move them to folders by customer name. Folders are auto-archived at 90 days. When a customer calls, I can click on their folder and have all of their recent correspondence available immediately. My Inbox stays almost empty, because I move emails to customer folders as soon as any reply is done. Only things requiring immediate attention are in the Inbox. And I agree with several others - only handle/touch the email once. Reply immediately if you can, and deal with it/take care of it. Glance at the other stuff and decide at once to read and delete or just delete it. It's a nice luxury to be able to deal with email only once a day. For me, that doesn't work. Customers are e-mailing all day, so I have to stay on top of things. Keeping the Inbox cleaned out makes the process easier.

wesley_peace
wesley_peace

I think we all have some form of what was mentioned. I like a neat Inbox when I'm in the office, but when traveling, I scan my Inbox as often as possible. Since I can not "act on every item" I sort and move messages to a series of folders for later disposition - Hold a generic folder to review those interesting emails - TCOT (Take Care of this) Items I need to process as soon as possible - EXP anything related to Expense reporting - Vacation to move items out when I'm on vacation

jbenton
jbenton

if you're really sure or you need to free up the space, press shift-delete - no wastebasket and not retrievable if you're only fairly sure just press delete

JJFitz
JJFitz

I keep Outlook open at work all day. After I have read a message, I decide if I have to act on it, if I should save it, or if I can delete it. If I have to act on it, I keep it in my inbox until it is done. If there is nothing to act upon but I think I should save it, I sent it to my "Read&SentMay2011" archive on the file share. If it is not worth saving (i.e. not business related), I delete it. I set the option to automatically delete items in the Deleted Items folder upon exiting Outlook. Anything I send gets put in the "ReadAndSentMay2011" archive at the end of the week. At the end of the month, I will create a "ReadAndSentJune2011" archive and close the May archive. I use X1 to index and search my archived emails. This keeps my inbox and deleted items folder clean and everything I acted upon in one monthly offline archived folder. I usually end up with no more than 10 emails in my inbox at the end of the day. I close Outlook at the end of each day so the deleted items folder empties automatically.

Jaipo
Jaipo

Only deal with email once a day, treat it like mail, free's up loads of time. Set a rule to delete everything older than 90 days.

santeewelding
santeewelding

That many, with all their demands for your attention, amount to a mighty testament of your importance: "See? Look how many!" Why otherwise would you keep them around other than to remind you? I remind myself that I matter little. I act, or not, and delete in both cases. Their importance and their retention are their problems.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What housecleaning tricks do you have for keeping your Inbox manageable?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Try reposting this in the 'Q&A' forum. Include your Outlook version. The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/questions/post?tag=mantle_skin;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer".

JJFitz
JJFitz

Outlook 2010 has a Quick Steps feature where you can "program" things you find yourself repeating so that executing them is takes one click - like creating an email addressed to a bunch of people, or sending selected emails to an archive, or permanently deleting selected emails. I use these Quick Steps all the time.

ghall
ghall

I only keep my Unread Mail folder open. I mark everything as Unread if I can't get to it right away. With space being so inexpensive these days I only archive once a month or two.