Living in your inbox? We hear this so often, we thought we’d provide a handful of specific strategies on using Outlook to manage your mail. In this article we’re going to focus on clearing any backlog and setting the right systems in place to prevent future pileups. Up for the challenge? Read on:
1. Make space in your inbox
Daunted by the sheer number of emails in your inbox? Take heart: We’ve met one executive who had – brace yourself – 45,000 in his. Now, you may not have that many (or you may have more): regardless of the number, you need to create a bit of space – both literally and figuratively.
Create an email sub-folder labelled, for instance “Archive to August 2022” and drag all your emails up to that date into that sub-folder. This is an important first step to start afresh. The old emails are still there if you need them, but you’ll be astounded at how little you return to that folder – and eventually you may be able to delete it altogether.
2. Clean up your backlog
Now approach what’s left of your inbox backlog. Start at the oldest email. Ask yourself why it’s still there, if you need to keep it and if you do need to keep it, where it should go. Decide on it and then move to the next email. Your goal is to have only unread messages in your inbox. If you’ve opened it, then you should already have done something with it.
3. Make a decision – now!
Hopefully you’ve set aside two or three times each day to read and respond to email, rather than allowing yourself to be distracted by every new arrival. So, when you do begin processing it, the key thing is to practice “Do It Now”: Make a decision the first time you read any new email. If you can’t do what’s needed to complete it right now, make it a task for later (use Quick Steps, see below), decide what to do and when, and file the email where it should be. If you’re not going to do anything with it, and do not need to keep it, then delete it.
4. Use Quick Steps
Outlook’s Quick Steps allows you to create and save standard actions you perform all the time as part of your role. For example, if you receive emails with tasks to do, you can create a Quick Step, so instead of having the email in your inbox, you simply click on your Quick Step and the email is automatically made into a task or eventually to your calendar. All you have to do before saving and closing is to decide when you are going to work with the task.
5. Make Rules to filter emails
Think carefully about what’s coming into your inbox. If you have regular reading material emailed to you, set up a rule that sends those emails straight to a specific reading folder. Then set of specific time once a week in your calendar to read them. If you receive emails with reading materials, that you continually end up deleting instead, unsubscribe from the mailing list.
You may take Rules a step further and use the Conditional Formatting function, which enables you to display emails matching certain criteria in a specified font or colour so you can instantly identify them in your inbox. For instance, cc-mails.
Remember the executive who had 45,000 emails? Following our advice, he moved a large number of them to a sub-folder and then began processing the rest, practising making decisions and moving things on. Two weeks later, he had not only sorted his inbox but had established a new, significantly more efficient way of working. And his words were: ‘It’s helped me become a super-achiever.’
Now if he can take up this challenge, so can you – just do it!
And please do share with us what you’ve achieved.