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Run Your Inbox Or It Will be the Ruin of You

There's nothing worse than having an inbox that drives you to distraction. Full of emails, many of which are irrelevant, it hangs over you like a dark thundercloud. However, don't despair, we've got seven foolproof ways in which you can take charge of Your inbox.

1. Action, File or Delete

Be ruthless with your emails, if you have the opportunity, then get the email out of your inbox. When you open your emails you need to think about:

  • Deleting it - this should happen to about half of your emails. Only save those you need to return to, delete as many as possible.
  • File it - where action is not required move it to the relevant folder.
  • Action now - Respond, reply, forward - do what the email asks you to. If an email is not urgent, then Flag it for follow-up or copy it to your Tasks by dragging it to the Tasks folder or the Task button so that.  Also, make sure you file the email in the relevant folder.  (NB: flagged messages might not appear in your To-Do list unless you copy the email to Tasks.  It depends on your version of Outlook and where you have filed the message).

2. A Folder For Every Email

If you don't Delete or File you will quickly encounter the problem of the sheer number of emails in your Inbox. Without attention you can easily end up with more than 1,000 emails stacked up one above the other.

The main reason for this is probably that you have not set up all the folders you need. Make sure that there is a folder for every email, and if not create a new one. Then, when you go back through your inbox, you'll immediately be able to sort through them and place them in appropriate folders.

3. Consistency of Categorisation

Once you've decided to set up folders for your email, then be consistent in the way you categorise them. For example, if you work with a number of clients, then use client names as folders and place relevant (to the client) emails into each folder. If you work across several department areas, then we'd also suggest creating folders for each department.

Avoid setting up folders for specific people as you can always use Outlook's Group by option to group your messages by From or by To.  This results in a neat subdivision of your folder.

4. Schedule Your Time to Manage Effectively

Don't be distracted by your emails every minute of the day. Shut your software down and only open it at certain times. It will make both your email processing and working time more productive. If someone needs to get hold of you urgently, then they should call you, not send an email.

Ideally have one or two times a day where you read and reply to your emails. Where a quick response is required do it immediately and file.

5. One Item at a Time Starting From the Top

Sort your inbox in the way you are most comfortable. Once you have done so, then start from the top and work methodically downwards. In this way you can be sure that you will complete a thorough sweep of your emails without missing or skipping any. Using this method, you can easily read and action 100 emails a day using as little as half an hour of your time.

6. Use Rules

We have already written a really helpful article on how to create rules in Outlook. These are a great way to manage your inbox, particularly if you get a load of internal email and subscribe to various mailing lists.

By automating the filing of non-essential items, you can make your inbox work better for you.

7. ** BONUS IDEA ** Back From Holiday?

When you've just returned from holiday, you often find that your inbox is overflowing with email.

However if you can find the time, the best way to tackle this is to sort by senders name (the 'From' field) rather than date. In this way your inbox will list all the emails from particular senders, in descending date order.

This gives you two major advantages. Firstly, it means you can read all the emails from one contact together, meaning that you can concentrate on the needs of that particular conversation. Secondly, by starting with the latest email, you'll often find that earlier emails have been superseded and don't need attention, just to be filed.

If you apply all these rules we're confident that you will run your inbox, and it won't be the ruin of you. What should be left in your inbox is actionable items and nothing else.

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