Email Out of Control?

I was debating with myself whether I was qualified to offer suggestions on how to manage your email in-box given that I currently have over 1000 emails sitting in mine. Granted, they’ve all been read, and I am sure some are completely outdated and can just be deleted. However, I figured if I wasn’t making use of certain tips and tricks I’d be in even worse shape. So, here’s just a little bit of how I manage to keep the in-box from complete chaos.

Our IT administration recently switched from the Novell GroupWise email system to Microsoft Outlook 2010. After my initial panic that I would lose years of emails (yes, I actually still reference emails from several years ago) and all my contacts, I calmed down and realized many of the same organizational tools were available, some a little easier, some not, but still useful.

What helps me keep my email organized the most is the use of folders and sub-folders into which I drag and drop emails from my in-box. I have one for every client that our office collects for, employee folders, accounts payable/receivable for each client, and one for each of our vendors. Most of the folders are sub-divided even further so as to make searching later that much easier. I try to at least open and categorize each email right away and if I know that it doesn’t need an immediate response, I try to file it in the appropriate folder at that time. This doesn’t always happen, which is why I still have many emails in my inbox, most are there because I had the intent of taking care of it the day I received it. I also try to keep only the latest thread to each email as long as the history is still in the body; Conversation View is extremely helpful for this, it also helps to minimize the number of items I have sitting in my email.

I have found this classification useful for keeping track of employee email -- notifications that have gone out to my staff, timekeeping, and employee reviews. If I find certain protocols are not being followed or hear feedback such as “Nobody ever told me that”, I can easily find a dated, written confirmation to refute it. I track my staff’s time off requests in conjunction with my calendar. I often receive customer compliments about my employees that come from outside the organization. I keep those in each employee’s “folder”. This was most helpful when I was writing my staff’s annual reviews. Many of the items had come in several months prior but I was able to include them in the performance reviews verbatim since they were so readily available. Unfortunately, on occasion this holds true for negative criticisms, but again, the ease of access proved quite helpful in completing competency assessments.

The emails that do remain in my inbox are categorized further by the client they relate to. I use the color categorizing option that I have customized for each of our clients. This way, when I do have to scroll through my email history in the in-box, I can easily identify ones for the specific client I’m looking for. Since converting to Outlook, I seem to have a harder time finding emails that I had categorized as “Urgent”, meaning they must be dealt with before I can toss them in a folder. For this reason, I now use the Flag Status instead of the urgent categorization. It seems to stand out better and assists me in finding emails that still need attention. There is a cataloging option available with that functionality, I can flag them for follow up at a later date and they appear in a flag view in the lower right hand corner of my Outlook window.

Many companies and municipalities have pretty strict spam filtering capabilities, we are no exception. There are always those that slip through the cracks though. The first thing I do when opening my email is to quickly identify clear junk mail, flag them as such with the junk mail filter and immediately delete them. I think it probably helps me more psychologically than anything else. I get some kind of satisfaction out of instantly deleting 20-25 emails right off the bat; I guess I feel accomplished right away.

These are just a few, but the most important, ways I keep my email from overwhelming me. For more ideas and tips, see Microsoft’s site for suggestions here. Good luck and happy emailing.