Perhaps the worst part of returning to work after an extended time away from the office is sorting through the hundreds of emails that arrived during your absence. Even if you are checking your email while on the road, chances are only a select few met their fate immediately while the rest wait to be handled later.
Even if you haven’t been away from your desk, email, like junk mail, tends to pile up. Sorting mail into folders provides some organization – or at the very least, it takes the bulk of the clutter out of the inbox.
The best way to approach organizing your inbox is to think of it in the same way as you would organize that pile of junk mail or other papers, says Bob Herman, of the Tropolis Group, which develops mobile apps and provides IT solutions services. “First ask yourself: do I really need to keep this email, or can I throw it away/delete it?,” he says. “Next ask yourself: does it require action or am I keeping it only for historical or future reference purposes? If keeping only for future reference, immediately move or file the email into a sub-folder.”
It sounds so simple, but if you use the Hosted Exchange client, organizing your inbox really can be a breeze. It just takes a combination of auto-routing, categorization, archiving and using reminders.
One helpful tip is to separate emails that are informational from those that are action-based by using auto-routing filters to route non-priority emails into subfolders.
Scott Miller with ITque, a company that provides managed Office 365 services, explained his organizational tips. “Emails can be auto-routed, by using rules with dozens of different options, such as senders, subjects, domains, priority or date,” he says. “Then a user can quickly scan through the higher priority emails in the inbox and start to go through each folder to view emails related to a particular subject or sender. For example, a user might want to route all emails from their manager or client to a certain folder to avoid missing something and to be able to easily find any past emails from them.”
Office 2010 provides some new features that make it easier to clean up your mailbox. One such feature allows a user to filter by date and then by conversation, making it easier to follow a particular thread.
Miller also suggested using color-coding and categories in addition to auto-routing. This makes it possible to quickly scan emails based on their color code; for example, emails from an important client might be coded in green and from an important partner in blue or from the lawyer in red, and so on.
The auto-filter in Outlook allows the user to filter keywords or domains to eliminate unwanted mail that always seems to slip through the spam filters.
Another useful organization tool is “virtual search folders” that don’t actually store emails, but rather can be used to locate groups of emails based on custom defined attributes. “You can create a virtual ‘Search Folders’ to find both incoming and outgoing emails for a particular employee, client or partner,” Miller said.
If you don’t like to delete email because you may need it someday, Outlook allows you to archive messages. “Outlook will take messages by default that are older than 3 months and archive them locally to your computer into a .PST file,” SecureState IT network administrator, Chris Makley, said. “You can change how far back you want to archive you mail but this will clear out old messages in your inbox.”
For some, organizing the inbox isn’t just about the mail flow but about the overall look. A mailbox can feel cluttered if it looks cluttered. “Remove the columns for flags, categories, and size,” social media strategist Jonathan Rick advised. “Nobody uses the first two, and the third is increasingly irrelevant.”
Finally, keep work and personal separate, Rick added. Your email will automatically become less cluttered if you eliminate the forwarded jokes from your uncle and the shopping list from your spouse.
The general idea is to keep you inbox as free from superfluous emails as possible, Miller stated, so you want to make sure you have your important email readily available and easy to find. The trick is learning how to use your email client, so you can control your inbox in a way that best fits your style.