An Organized, Empty Inbox

The more emails you have in your inbox the more stress you’ll feel. This number can get out of control quickly and although many dream of getting to an empty Inbox and only processing today’s emails, the reality of this happening is not high on our list. Organizing Microsoft Outlook can move faster with all the new features in Outlook 2010.

Go ahead and look at the number in your Inbox. Do you feel like you have a 100 pound weight sitting on your shoulders or are you smiling because you are one of the rare few who only has this week’s emails waiting for you to deal with? The number of emails sitting in your Inbox affects the speed of your Outlook searches and how much time you waste scrolling past the same email over and over.

The key to getting a handle on your emails, improving your response time and staying on top of critical actions and time-sensitive tasks is to develop an approach to process your emails both from your computer and on your mobile devices.

1. Syncronize all your devices so you only process an email once.

For small business who don’t have access to a company server, set up a Google Business Account and use Google apps to connect your Outlook, phone and iPad to access your email, calendar, contacts and tasks from all your devices. You can even access your Gmail account from anywhere and the sync will update your Outlook the next time you are at your computer. If you only want to sync your email to your phone and iPad, you can use the free Gmail account, (note that you won’t be able to access your calendar, contacts and tasks).

2. Use the Conversation Feature – in Microsoft 2010 when Conversations is turned on, messages in your Inbox and other email folders can be organized by Conversation and Date. This is handy when there are several emails in a conversation because you can delete all the previous emails and only keep the latest conversation.

To turn on or off Conversations – On the VIEW tab, in the CONVERSATIONS group, select or clear the SHOW AS CONVERSATION check box. Next, click ALL FOLDERS.

3. Set up your Action and Reference Folders
Action Folders – are for emails that require action
Reference folders – are for emails with no action required. You keep these emails to refer to them later, are permanent records or are for tax and legal requirements.

When you create your Action folders, type a period “.” in front of the action folder name. Adding the period changes the sort order a moves your Action folders to the top of the list and your “Reference” folder under your Action folders. You can also use numbers 01, 02, 03, 04 if you prefer to organize your Action folders in a certain order. Suggested Action folders:

..This Week (there are two periods here)
.Delegated – Deb
.Receipts to Print
.Waiting For/Pending

To create Reference folders, create a main folder called “Reference” and then second level folders using broad categories (example. Accounting > Budget 2012)

Separating your action and reference emails helps you gain control on what requires your attention. No more wasting time scrolling past emails that don’t require your attention.

Arrange your emails by Conversation, From – In Outlook 2010, on the VIEW tab, in the ARRANGEMENT group, click one of the arrangement options. One of the fastest ways to process your emails is to arrange by Conversations.

Organizing Microsoft Outlook emails is easy when you customize it the way you want to process your emails. Now that you have your new action and reference folders set up, you can use the next four steps to process your Inbox and get it to ground zero, or close to zero depending on your preference.

Use the F.A.S.T. Workflow Decision Making Process to quickly decide what the next action is. With the F.A.S.T. process, you have four choices:

  • File – file emails in your Reference folders that have no action. Drag and drop emails into the appropriate Reference folder. A word of caution, at some point you will need to clean out these folders or move them to your Archive folder.
  • Act – these are emails that require action by you. Drag emails that require action
  • Schedule – get your appointments into your calendar and save as an ALL DAY EVENT or at a SPECIFIC TIME. If you are keeping the email to refer to at the appointment, simply drag the email to your calendar and all the info will be saved in the appointment. Delete the email.
  • Toss – Read and delete whenever possible. Be ruthless with the delete key. You can set up your Deleted Folder to delete emails manually by you, monthly or whatever time frame you prefer.

Here’s a fast way to get your Inbox close to ground zero immediately if you still don’t think organizing Microsoft Outlook is possible. Create an Action folder “.OLD EMAILS.” This folder will hold all your email that wasn’t sent in the last 7 days. Make plans to deal with these emails. You’ll now be motivated to process the old email folder since your inbox is near empty!