Does managing your email drive you nuts? You may use a folders and rules system – but does that mean important mails sometimes get overlooked? If you regularly feel defeated by the volume of emails you receive, here’s a new way of working with Outlook that may help you see the wood for the trees.
Organising emails according to colour categories gives you an at-a-glance overview of your work. In Outlook 2007 you can use up to 25 unique flag colours and as many categories as you like (although if you need all the colours, you could probably do with some help in the office!).
As an example, say you have six projects, areas of responsibility, or people you regularly deal with. Create a new category with a colour for each one, and rename the categories accordingly.
Go through your inbox holding the ctrl key down, clicking on all the email that relates to your first category – let’s call it ‘Project A’. When they’re all selected, apply the Project A category using the category button (or you can define your own shortcut using the ctrl key).
Create an organise rule that colours the email the appropriate colour for the Project A category.
Repeat this for all six projects so that most of your emails are assigned to their particular category.
In the inbox view arrange your email by category using the Arrange By and Custom buttons.
You can then collapse all the categories, and only expand the one with which you want to work at the time.
The result of this is that you have an instant colour-coded view of your workload. New email goes into the 'none' category and you don’t need to expand this view until you’re ready to do so. Then it’s an easy job to categorise the new stuff and drag it into the right group. And a great feature of Outlook 2007 is that it automatically applies the category to the mail when you do this.
So what are the benefits of a categories way of thinking?
- You’re in control of your inbox and you can stay in control of what you’re working on. You’re not distracted by new emails.
- You’ll keep focused on one project at a time – especially if you get tempted to deal with ‘easy’ emails first!
- By staying focused, you’ll have better and more productive ideas about the project you’re working on.
- You can keep track more easily of the number of emails each project generates.
- You’ll be less worried about the volume of email because the other categories are collapsed.
- And duplication is easy to spot and weed out.
- If a lot of your work is generated and managed by email, this is a more flexible system than only checking emails at certain times of the day.
If you only file emails when they’re completed, your inbox is a record of outstanding issues and you know what needs doing at all times. And why not use the same colour-coded categories for your diary items? That way you have a consistent view of all your current responsibilities and can check how much time you’re spending on each project.
Try out the categories system for email management for yourself and see if you can throw new light on an old problem!
I hope this helps you get through the influx of emails after the holidays!