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All About Outlook: Managing More than Just Mail Part I

L iving in your inbox? We hear this complaint so often we thought we’d provide some more specific strategies on using Outlook to manage your mail. In this post we’re going to focus on clearing any backlog and setting the right systems in place to prevent any future pile-ups. The upcoming Easter break provides the perfect opportunity to show that inbox a bit of tough love. Up for the challenge? Read on:

1. Create an email sub-folder.

Daunted by the sheer number of emails in your inbox? Take heart: PEPworldwide:nz managing director Kathryn Anda remembers 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 “Archive to December 2016” and drag all your emails up to that date into that sub-folder. “This is a really important first step,” says Anda. “People have so many they can never get on top of them – so put them into a folder and start afresh. They’re there if you need them, but you’ll be astounded at how little you return to that folder – and eventually you will be able to delete it altogether.”

2. Use Outlook’s rule function to automatically filter email.

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 read them when you’re ready. Do the same for emails from specific clients or individuals: set up a rule which sends these straight to corresponding folders and when you’re ready to deal with the project or issue in question, the emails are waiting for you. Finally, if you receive emails you continually delete, unsubscribe from the mailing list.

3. Make a decision!

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 “Do It Now”: make a decision the first time you read your messages. If you can’t “do it now”, decide when you will do it and where you will file the email. If you’re not going to do anything with it, delete it.

Now: approach what’s left of your inbox backlog in the same way. “Start at the oldest email,” advises Anda. “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. Make a decision 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,” says Anda.

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, says Anda, 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.

One final piece of advice: chocolate eggs may help. Happy Easter!