Five steps towards taming your inbox

We all know the pain of arriving to work in the morning to find hundreds of new emails pouring into your inbox, and how annoying it is to leave in the afternoon with dozens still sitting there unopened. Your inbox is damaging your productivity.


To help stop the constant electronic clutter demoralising and exhausting you, LeadingCompany has got five easy, low-tech tips for Microsoft Outlook 2010, which will help you use your inbox better:

1. Unsubscribe

It seems simple, and yet it is the one piece of advice which is repeated again and again from tech pundits. The simplest way to cut down on the number of emails you get is to separate the wheat from the chaff and trim down your subscribed mail. This includes charities you gave 50 dollars to five years ago who still email you, and online newsletters you signed up to out of politeness but are now just deleting regularly.

If you can’t unsubscribe, set up a rule which automatically deletes the email when it comes into your inbox.

2. Colours

They might seem naff, however using Outlook’s email colouring options can save you a lot of time and avoid trouble by highlighting urgent emails. If you’re a regular user of Outlook you’ve probably already come across their “categories” options, where you can flag emails with colours according to their urgency or their content.

By using the “conditional formatting” feature under View Settings, you can make emails from particular people or groups come up in a different colour or font to immediately draw your eye to them. This way you won’t miss a message from your boss or an important client when combing through your customary morning deluge.

3. Rules

Rules are the meat of any inbox organisation plan. You can use the “rules” feature of Outlook to do almost anything. For example:

If you get a newsletter every day you wish to read but can’t always find the time, you can make a rule that will send all emails from that service to a folder you create. That way they avoid cluttering up your precious inbox space and you know where they are when you want to read them.

However, rules aren’t simply for redirecting emails to folders; you can also categorise them as they come in by sensitivity or importance, you can delete them automatically (as discussed above) or you can forward them to someone else if you don’t feel like dealing with them. When organising your inbox, “rules” are your best friend.

4. Conversations

Gmail users will be used to the “Conversations” feature by now, where all the responses to one particular email are grouped under the same entry in the inbox. This seriously cuts down on clutter and makes it easy to follow one particular stream of emails.

What you might not have known is that you can do the same thing in Outlook. All you have to do is go to View and select Show as Conversations. With one click you’ve made your Inbox smaller and much easier to understand.

5. Action

The simplest tip of all is to not procrastinate with your inbox. When you open an email you realise you don’t need, delete it. When a new client sends you their information, create a new Contact for them (by right clicking on their address and saving), and then delete the email.

Tidying up your inbox can be like tidying up your office. You keep those little bits of paper around in case you need them until you have piles of documents everywhere. Being decisive is the easiest step you can take to ensure that your inbox stays clean and you stay on top of your game.

In a post on his blog, 26-year-old entrepreneur Nat Turner, who sold his company to Google for $81 million, discusses some tips on managing his inbox. In it he says that the way you manage your inbox and respond to requests can tell clients a lot about you. He says: “How quickly you respond to an email or return a call reflects on your level of responsibility and productiveness.”

If you want more training in Outlook, Microsoft offers help at their website. And if they can’t solve your problem, just type it into Google and trawl through the endless tech blogs that have the answers to any email question you could possibly imagine.

This article first appeared on LeadingCompany.


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