The theme for this month has been email filing and clean inboxes. This week we look at the three common mistakes that result in lost emails and cluttered Inboxes.
Over the last 15 years we have helped thousands of Outlook users get their emails organized and their Inboxes clean.
In this time we have learnt that the main reasons that Outlook users fail to keep their emails organized can be traced to these 3 common mistakes.
1. Filing emails before they have been actioned (or why you shouldn’t use Rules)
Most emails that we get are either for our information or action. Many users in an effort to get organized move emails out of the Inbox to dedicated folders for clients or projects… before the required action is completed.
The problem with this is because of the volume of emails that we all receive on a daily basis, the emails are quickly forgotten and the actions never taken.
What can you do?
Only move an email out of the Inbox if It does not require any action from you (in which case you either delete it or move it out to an archive/client/project folder).
a. You have completed the required action on it (E.g. replied to the email with the information requested)
b. It requires action from you and you have added the action to some kind of action list e.g. your Calendar or Task List.
Tip: This is why we don’t recommend using Rules for filing emails. Rules move emails out of the Inbox before you’ve had a chance to read them.
Instead we recommend using QuickFile for Outlook (for folder based email filing) or Email Tags for Outlook (for tag based filing) which can file most of your emails out of your Inbox at the click of one button… after you have finished reading them.
2. Leaving emails that do not require action in the Inbox
Leaving too many emails in your Inbox can also be a problem, particularly if you use your Inbox to show you what you still need to work on. Too many emails will cause actual work emails to get drowned out… and quickly move off the list.
Ironically, the problem isn’t the emails that you know you have to work on.
The BIG problem is the emails that you think you may work on… when you get the time. These include things people have sent to you for your information, newsletters on things you used to be interested in etc.
Instead of moving them out of the Inbox, we tend to leave them there… for when (???) we have a bit of free time.
What can you do?
I would recommend one of the following:
a. Either flag all emails that actually need your actual action so that they stand out…
b. Or Move out emails that do not need your actual action into another folder called Maybe.
I personally prefer the option of moving emails out of the Inbox because I am less likely to be distracted by maybe tasks. This really helps me to stay focussed on what I need to work on.
Now when I have some free time, I go to my Maybe folder.
Confession: I very rarely go to the MayBe folder. It has thousands of emails in it… and my life is probably much better for not having read them.
3. Forgetting to file Sent Emails
Why do we even bother filing emails (as opposed to simply deleting them once we have read them and taken the appropriate action).
The main reason is that we may need to refer to them later for information. We also need to retain them for legal reasons in case there is some dispute about what was written at some point in time in the future.
… and we normally don’t need just the one email. We need all related emails… incoming and outgoing.
Irrespective of how you organize your emails, it is very useful to file related incoming and outgoing emails together. That way you can see the entire conversation in one place when you need to.
What can you do?
a. Setup a daily or weekly time at which you will file emails out of your Sent Items folder or…
Bonus Tip: Make sure that you file your emails in the way that works best for you
The ultimate purpose of any email filing system is to make it easy for you to find the emails again when you need them.
There are two main ways of filing emails… using folders and tags.
Which method works best for you will depend on several factors, including how your printed files (if you still use them) are organized.
I recommend that you read our earlier post Outlook Email Filing: Folders or Tags to ensure that you are using the best filing system for you… the one that makes your emails easier to find in the least time.