Friday, April 04, 2014

Organizational Tip #12 - Using Outlook Folders to Organize Emails

No matter how careful you are about protecting your email address, it seems the number of emails in our Inbox grows exponentially each week.  This is true whether the email account is personal or work related, and is especially true the longer you have the same email address.  This occurs because the longer you have an email address, the higher the number of accounts you sign up for with that email address, the likelier you are to download software and sign up for updates, the greater the number of committees or group email lists you will be added to, and most commonly the more friends and colleagues will end up with that email address. 

There are two major things you can implement once you are receiving more emails than you care to that will help organize and manage all your incoming emails.  Finding a way to organize your emails will save you time reading as you can better focus when you read your emails, as well as saving you time locating information from existing emails.  The first thing you can do to organize your emails is to create folders within your Inbox to move emails into grouping them together.  The process of creating email folders is similar to creating folders to organize regular files as discussed in our Organizational Tip #3 - Organizing Files and Folders post.  The most important thing to do before creating email folders is to decide how you can best break out your emails into groups.  Choosing a method strategically will ensure you do not get stuck reorganizing again, leaving you with the chore of moving large amounts of emails from one folder to another.  Listed below are some examples of how emails could be grouped, but keep in mind, only you know the best way to group your emails:
  1. By Sender - use to create folders based on the people who sent them.  This method is useful when you receive the majority of your emails from specific people like a boss and staff you oversee, or perhaps your friends.  If you have a business that deals with many clients, you may want to create a folder for each client.
  2. By Subject - used to create folders based on the focus of the email rather than by the sender.  This method is handy when you often receive emails about the same subject from many different people.  For example, you might create an IT folder to organize emails from software companies and items from the IT department.  A teacher might create a folder for each class they teach.  Another example would be to create an Insurance folder to organize all emails discussing insurance as well as copies of insurance policies.  Other examples of subject folders are: Policies, Communications, Notes, Marketing, and Research.
  3. By Project - use to create folders based on topics rather than by sender or subject.  This method is effective when your work or personal life is project based.  For instance, if you were an artist, you could organize emails into folders related to works you were creating, a book being written, or notes for potential songs.  If you worked in a business office, you might create folders based on state reporting and regulations, federal reporting and regulations, payroll forms, employee forms, forms for new hires, required employee posted forms, and employer policies.
Whether these examples work for you or not, the idea is to think about what kinds of emails you receive and how they can best be organized into folder categories.  While everyone prefers to organize things differently, the important thing is to create a way that makes the most sense to you so you continue to use the folders to organize your emails. However you decide to organize your emails, creating folders in your Inbox will help you save time when looking for specific emails, as well as keeping your Inbox relatively clutter free.  

One last thing to keep in mind are a few folders that are invaluable no matter what naming convention you choose.  These folders are:
  1. Follow Up - Keep emails here that need to be followed up on so they do not sit in your Inbox as a distraction every time you look at your email while preventing them from getting lost in the mix of all the other things you need to do.  The key to this strategy is to check back in with your Follow Up folder at least once a week.
  2. Orders - Place all order and shipping confirmation emails into this folder to make it easy to follow up on when orders should arrive without cluttering up your Inbox.  Additionally, having all orders in one place makes it quicker to reorder items.
  3. MISC - No matter how many folders you create, it seems there are always a few emails that do not seem to belong to any of them.  Creating a MISC folder gives you a place to put these random emails rather than leaving them in your Inbox.  Also, putting these emails in the folder that is closest to being appropriate will only ensure you will waste too much time later trying to remember which folder made sense at the time.  
  4. Saved - This is the perfect folder for emails you never want to delete.  Some examples of these would be how-to emails you know you will need to access again, emails with multi-user software license keys, account setup email confirmations, notes for common job tasks, and answers to important questions from other departments to name a few.
Once you have decided which folders you want to create inside of your Inbox, you just need to create the folders and move emails into them.  Open Outlook 2013, then right-click on your Inbox and select "New Folder" from the pop-out menu. 

A box below the Inbox will appear with a blinking cursor.  Type out the name for the new folder, then press Enter.

The new folder will be listed below your Inbox.

To create a sub-folder within a created folder, follow the same process.  Click on the folder name listed below your Inbox that you want to create the folder in, then right-click the folder and select "New Folder" from the pop-out menu.  Type out a name for the new folder in the box that appears and press enter to create the new folder.  The sub-folder will be listed below the folder you right-clicked on.

Creating sub-folders is effective when you want to separate emails based on something specific yet they are still related and make sense to belong to the same parent folder.  Often it is useful to have a folder with the year as a sub-folder to differentiate emails.  This also protects parent folders from becoming so full of emails the process of finding a single email becomes too cumbersome to be helpful.  

The second way to help organize your Inbox in Outlook is to create email rules.  Our next blog post will cover the criteria for and creation of email rules.  This will include rules based on sender, subject type and more.  Rules can help reduce the time it takes moving emails into folders while still notifying you the email has been received.  Check back next week for an explanation of email rules and how to implement them.

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