Keeping up with Your Inbox: A Few Tips

So I’ve developed a few processes to help me stay on top of my Inbox.  Hopefully, you’ll find at least one of them helpful.  First of all, if you don’t receive a lot of mail, this might not be the blog entry for you. If you receive dozens of email per hour, like I do, you might find these tips useful.

Unread Email Search Folder

I created a search folder named Today’s Unread Messages. This allows me to, several times a day, focus the unread messages I received today.  Because this is but a small portion of the ginormity that is my Outlook’s Inbox, it makes it easier for me to take care of these items.  Breaking down the day’s email into small, easy-to-digest chunks really makes a big difference.  For one thing, it’s easier to take care of a mail message folder when you’re looking at twenty items vs hundreds (or in my case thousands).  I delete, file, reply to, forward or print the items as necessary.  Before I return to my Inbox, however, my daily unread messages folder was empty.  I found that by doing this several times a day, I had a more manageable grasp on my Inbox.  Now, I just started employing this process last week, but, wow, what a difference it’s made so far!

Create Rules, but Run Them Manually

I’ve created a few rules to move items from my Inbox to the Deleted Items or other folders.  I don’t enable the rules, however, because if an email is directed to a folder other than my Inbox, the odds of me reading it in a timely fashion decrease significantly.  I still want to automate moving or deleting items to a degree though.  My solution was to create the rule and, periodically throughout the day, run it.  It makes it easier to keep my Inbox clear of clutter, while at the same time minimizing email items that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.  I came up with this process before the unread mail search folder, so there may not be a need to run the rules as often as I do now, which is to the tune of a few times a day.

Search Folder for Mail from My Boss

I created a search folder that will find email items from my boss sent within the last seven days. While most of my projects are long-term, quite a few of them have a short life cycle.  Even if they’re not short, per se, he’s usually emailed me about them within the past seven days.  This allows me to easily see what items still need action, on what I need to update him and ensure I haven’t forgotten anything pressing.  I realize I can flag messages, but, unfortunately, I misuse, to the point of abuse, the flag feature in Outlook.  I flag too many items, too few items and neglect to revisit flagged items to see what can be de-flagged or flagged as complete.  So the built-in For Follow-up search folder (with finds flagged items) isn’t always very helpful to me.  I may revisit this method and decide if I need to modify this search folder to include mail I’ve sent to him within the last seven days, too.

Printing Action Items

It seem silly and smack of the doings of a Luddite, but I’ve found if I print email messages I need to act on or refer to often and quickly, things get taken care of in a more timely and efficient manner.  Because there’s so much going on with my computer–incoming email, calendar reminders, follow-up reminders,, etc, I find I easily lose focus on important or time-sensitive items.  When I first conceived the idea of printing email items so they could get taken care of, I poo-pooed it.  I mean, why print them when all you have to do is open and, you know, read them?  Surprisingly, I found I really got more things done and in a more timely fashion when I did this.  Yes, it is a waste, but I’m sure you could repurpose the paper by flipping it over and using the back for scratch paper-whatever floats your boat.  I personally just toss them in my recycling box, as the goal is to get paper OFF my desk. 

What I do is I print the items that need to be taken care of and arrange them on my desk as if I were playing Solitaire. At a glance, I can get a rough idea of how much stuff I have to do.  If I get more information about a particular task or if I get an idea about a task, I write it right on the email I printed.  If the task can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time and without any other input from my colleagues, I do it.  If the task needs to be delegated, I farm it out.  Once it’s done, I recycle it.  The pack-rat in me is tempted to file it.  But, if it’s done, it’s done.  Why hold onto it?

This process has really helped me focus on short-term tasks and projects.  If there’s an item I printed towards the end of the day and time doesn’t permit me to complete it, I put it on my keyboard before I go home for the day.  That way, it’s the first thing I see in the morning and I know I have to take care of it before I even start taking on new tasks.

Again, this is a method I just started last week, so I’m not sure how it will work out for me.  For this method to work, however, you really have reclaim real estate on your desk, assuming your desk was a messy as mine.  Because your desk is now clean, it’s actually a little easier to toss items once you’ve completed them because you want to continue to keep your desk free of clutter.

Good luck and happy taking care of things from a random broad.

**Update-September 13, 2006** Here’s an interesting post from a blogger who shares his email and task management strategies.

Add to Google

Add to My Yahoo!

Explore posts in the same categories: Email, Folders, Inbox, Outlook, Random Thoughts, Rules, Time management

3 Comments on “Keeping up with Your Inbox: A Few Tips”

  1. deedee Says:

    nice tips here… :)

  2. GoGolfer Says:

    Hello Everyone,

    I am a golfer myself and I like to play whenever I get a chance.
    A short while ago, a very good friend of mine told me about a great golfing equipment and accessories website that has discounted prices on all their products, same day shipping in most cases and there is no state sales tax, they are paying that.
    So if any golfer here is ready to save some money on quality products at highly discounted prices, you might want to check out their site at;

  3. […] The Ersatz Life of a Random Broad […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: