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How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox

At a recent meet and greet at the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, I had the pleasure of meeting another entrepreneur who mentioned she had a 12 GB Outlook mail folder. After discussing her issue for a few minutes and providing suggestions, I realized how many times over the years this same issue has come up in conversation. Email can slowly take over our lives and we need to keep it in check.

The best solution to managing your email is to manage it from the beginning, but if you have been busy (which we all are) and your mail file has gotten ahead of you there are ways to get it back under control.

First take a deep breath. This may be a little overwhelming at first, but I promise you, by having a clean and organized inbox you will be more efficient handling your day to day mail moving forward.

Let’s start by taking some time and organizing your current Inbox. If Outlook is configured to fetch mail automatically, turn that off for the time being. You will be able to better focus at the task at hand without another email popping in. The location to turn this setting off or on is slightly different depending on your version of Outlook, but you should be able to find it by going to Tools then Options. From here it could be Advanced (Outlook 2010) or Mail Setup (Outlook 2003). If you are using a different version of Outlook, then search the Help (F1) for this information.

I like folders on my computer. I have folders to organize my pictures, music, documents and my mail. Usually I start with a folder called “Clients” and have a folder for each client in it. Then I will add folders for “Vendors”, “LinkedIn Groups”, and “Family” etc. See side picture.  Having this type of folder structure allows me to quickly locate an email based on sender or content. The larger your mail file is the longer it takes to search. If you can reduce the search to a folder your search will produce results faster.

If your Outlook folder is very large or a few years old you may want to start by archiving your email, see details a little further down. You will still be able to access these files as long as Outlook is configured to access the archive folder. I usually find Outlook users who have never used this feature a little worrisome. Immediately the question “can I still access my mail” is asked. Yes, you can still access your archived emails; this function cleans up your Inbox by archiving and deleting older items, based on your criteria. You will notice in the side picture the “Archives” list. I can still access these emails; the archiving feature cleans up my older emails and moves them out of my Inbox.

If you are uncomfortable just letting Outlook archive for you then it might be best to give yourself a few hours,(you may need a few hours even if you are using archiving) and start cleaning out your Inbox. You can filter your mail into groups of like items. To do this use the Filter option and select the criteria to Filter on. There are several filtering options, I like to filter on sender or email address. Other options for filtering include, size (a typical email only is 5k), attachments, dates etc. Select which filter will best meet your needs. This will allow you to select emails and move to appropriate folders that you have created above. Hopefully the filter methods you have selected will grouped similar emails together and allow you to bulk move the emails into the

appropriate folder that you have already created. Another method for moving bulk emails is to create “Rules” (see below) and then run the Rule. You can then sort through the folder, deleting email that is no longer needed.

Attachments should be saved to your Documents folder or any folder of your choosing. Again you may want to design your Documents folder to mimic the hierarchy in your Outlook folder structure.

You should be critical of your emails, if you don’t need it, delete it or at the very least put it into a folder for archiving later. Do not put anything in the Deleted Folder unless you are sure you want to delete it. It’s easy to keep items in your Deleted folder and never delete them. You need to empty your Deleted Items folder on a regular schedule or if you prefer you can configure Outlook to Empty the Deleted Items folder when Outlook is closed. Personally I prefer to empty the Deleted Items once every few weeks.

Once you have taken the time to sort through your Inbox, the Sent box will also require the same treatment minus the archiving and moving email into specific folders.

This process may take several hours; I would suggest you break it up over a few days, as it can be overwhelming. Just don’t forget to turn your automatic Send/Receive function back on when you have finished for that session.

Once you have your Inbox cleaned up you can use the Auto Archive Feature in Outlook to further clean up your mail. Auto Archive will group all your mail based on the criteria you have selected and put into an Archive folder. I usually use the default setting, but determine which archiving schedule best meets your needs.

Now that you have spent your time cleaning and organizing your Inbox I would suggest you create “Rules” for your incoming mail. Rules can help better organize your mail by managing your mail based on specific criteria you have configured. You could create a Rule which moves all client emails to the appropriate folder within you hierarchy from a specific sender. An example from my Inbox is email from sender John Smith will be moved to the client folder named John Smith Contracting. Once the Rule is created you could apply the Rule Now, which would then apply the Rule to all items in your Inbox. This could be used as the workaround instead of Filtering as mentioned above. There are several options to configure Rules. Outlook Rules will be another post, so check back.

I hope this helps you organize your Inbox. Letting our Inbox get out of control happens to all of us, but taking the time to organize and manage it, will save you time and frustration in the future.

Categories: Outlook, Small Business IT
  1. 02/16/2015 at 4:01 pm

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