Take Control Of Your Email (and your life)!
The subject may seem a little bit melodramatic but the truth is that while email makes our lives immeasurably easier, it can also become a burden. The problem is in keeping it organized and making it work for you rather than you doing most of the work.
Some people choose to have a bazillion folders so that they have a place for everything and everything in its place. That can become cumbersome though and it generally doesn’t give you any idea of what you have answered, what you still need to answer and what you can just file away for later.
Another common method of organizing email is the humongous inbox method. It requires no folders and no filing but you have to scroll back through your mail each day and scan the message subjects looking for messages that you need to reply to.
I’ve tried both methods and regardless of which method I’ve used, I’ve always ended up overlooking emails that need to be replied to, spent forever trying to find emails and generally found the whole idea of email to be useful, but often very frustrating.
I’ve been using email since the early 90′s when we didn’t have any fancy graphics or filing systems. Back in those days email was mostly used by geeky types so we didn’t get much email and we didn’t get any spam – so it was easy to manage. With the volume of email we see nowadays and the proliferation of spam it is important to have a system that keeps an accurate track of your email communications.
I’ve developed my own system that uses just 4 folders and allows me to be in total control of my email. I don’t forget to reply or accidentally overlook emails any more and I even feel good at the end of the day because my inbox usually only has 4 or 5 emails left in it and I’ve replied to everything that needed a reply. Here are my folders:
Unified InBox – I actually have 6 different email mailboxes so I’ve set Outlook up to move all inbound email to a folder called ‘Unified Inbox’ and that folder is at the top of my ‘Favorites’ in the folder list.
Accounts – I get most of my bills via email, so I pay them as soon as they come in and then move the email into my ‘Accounts’ folder. That way I know that if it is in the inbox still, it needs to be paid.
Archive – As soon as I answer an email, the email that I replied to goes into the ‘Archive’ folder. This helps me keep my inbox down to a very manageable number of messages (usually 3 or 4 by the end of the day). I used to think I needed to keep the original message in my inbox for a few days (or weeks) – but most people quote the original message or my memory is good enough that I don’t need to refer back, so why let it clutter my inbox?
Followup – this is for stuff that I want to revisit but isn’t important. A supplier may have sent an email about some new products – so I’ll file it away in ‘Followup’ and then have a browse through that folder when I actually have time. This reduces the inbox clutter and also prevents me from getting distracted from doing more important things or answering important emails.
That’s really all there is to it. The key point is that I have somewhere to move the email as soon as it is actioned and I don’t need to have hundreds of folders to file things into.
I know what you’re thinking… OMG! the Archive and Accounts folder are going to end up being a big mess of messages – how on earth will you find anything?
The pièce de résistance in my system is an Outlook addin called Xobni. Xobni is free and it indexes all of your messages and provides information about the messages, links in the messages, people and companies. It is basically a message search on steroids. I can find any message in a matter of seconds by entering someone’s name or a keyword or phrase that is related to the message.
There is a ‘pro’ version which only costs $7.99/mth and adds the ability to search the text of your messages. A small price to pay for such a powerful addin. I’ve tried pretty much every message searching and indexing addin available and Xobni is what works best for me. It is stable and it doesn’t slow Outlook down like some of the others do.