How do you organize your work e-mail?

Given that emails take up next to no space on the disk, the few times over the years that I’ve needed it is well worth saving. My current Outlook folder is a little over a Gig, and goes back several years. If I took the time to compact it, it would probably be even smaller. So why not keep them all?

I get a 200-300 emails per day, so I have to be organized. I use a combination of colors and folders and filters.

  1. Anything requiring an action or response for me is kept in the inbox until I do what I have to do. Then I send my response and delete the request email. That way, I have a record of the request email as well as proof it was completed in my Sent Items folder. I don’t need to save anything else. Anything that needs to be saved but doesn’t require action on my part is moved immediately. Anything that can be deleted immediately is deleted immediately.

I try to make sure all that’s left in my inbox at the end of the day is stuff I cannot personally take care of right then. Even then I have about 2 dozen emails in there.

  1. I have about 8 filters that scan for keywords and color-code my messages in my inbox. I have color codes for emails I can delete without reading, for projects aimed specifically at me, for emails from my team’s members, and for emails from particular clients and big bosses.

  2. I have about two dozen folders and subfolders sorted by client, project type, project name, protocols, internal correspondence, correspondence across international offices, special instructions, documentation, etc. I throw something into all of them at least once a week, some several times an hour.

  3. I have filters that automatically delete stuff I don’t ever need to see, such as our spam filter’s automatically-generated messages that announce it has deleted 582 emails, or asks me to empty a mailbox I don’t have access to. :rolleyes:

Flags are pretty useless to me, since urgent projects and updates are pretty common, and it’s easier to look for a keyword than it is to go through a list of flagged emails. I also don’t archive my emails, since all my email is stuff I either always need to keep handy, or items I can forget ever existed. If I ever no longer need something, I just delete it.

My office uses Lotus Notes. In addition to folders, I use the following techniques:

  1. I’m very particular about subject lines. While I can’t do anything about other people’s choices, at least if they are writing a response to me I’ll get “Re: Translation of Feb. innovation column” instead of “Re: recent translation,” which tells me nothing as I may be dealing with a dozen translations at any give time.

  2. I don’t leave e-mail in my inbox just because I haven’t followed up yet, as long as I’ve properly registered a prompt somewhere else. For example, I have several types of reports I have to write on a continuing basis, and I have a spreadsheet for each type, where I list the topic and status of all reports. So, if someone e-mails me saying “the numbers Endah gave you for the latest activity update are out of date, don’t release that report yet” I can put the e-mail in a folder even before the numbers get checked (which could take days - my inbox would be a MESS if I left everything there until the topic was 100% resolved). Instead, I enter a note in my spreadsheet of activity updates that says “CL says check Endah’s numbers before releasing.”

Method 2 works because my job is extremely clearly defined, consisting of several specific tasks. So as long as I review each task spreadsheet regularly, I’m unlikely to forget something. I’m sure many jobs would not lend themselves to this method, however.

I guess this is a matter of what works for you. I used to try to use folders but email is so dynamic that I spent way too much time trying to keep all the folders organized, and putting everything in the right folder, etc., etc. Then when I needed to find something I had to do a search anyway, because even if I knew what folder it was in I still had to search for it. And it really isn’t all that often that I have to back and look for an old email.

So I do use some folders, but I don’t move *anything *manually. Here’s what I do, Outlook 2003:

First and foremost, take full advantage of Rules.

I set up a few folders for emails of the type that I don’t really need to read. I get around 100 emails a day. Many of those are because I am on distribution lists where I want to keep the email for reference but don’t really need to read it when it comes in. I set up a rule to send these to the appropriate folder.

Second, I still don’t need to read every email I get. But God help me if I miss an email from my management chain :smiley: So I use Tools, Organize to make every email from my boss and his boss to appear in red. I also use it to make every email with my name on the To line to appear in blue. That way I can quickly scan for anything that is intended specifically for me.

Third, I set up an auto-archive setting to move things out of my inbox after several months. I used it locally, but if you use Outlook on an Exchange server your organization will probably have a size limit of what you can leave on the server and you will have to have a shorter archive horizon.

I flag very few emails; instead, I drag the email to my Task List to create a to-do.

OTOH I am very anal retentive about organizing my hard drive, but I don’t add dozens of new files every day, so it’s manageable.

I often keep the outbound message in a folder and delete the originating because it’s recorded in the e-mail string. That way if I’ve made a decision on something and have disseminated it, I know exactly what I said and when in case there’s a misunderstanding. Plus, that way I can make sure that any instructions I give are in-line with my decisions. Sounds stupid, but it sometimes happens that I forgot what I told someone to do and it makes me a terrible manager if I give contradictory instructions to people, so I usually consult my e-mail before making a new large decision to avoid confusion. Depending upon its importance (or if I think it can bite me in the ass later), I might also save it on my hard drive.

Edited to add: I always keep my management’s decisions in an appropriately-marked folder, too, so I don’t make an ass out of myself.

Folders and rules.

I have rules that send mails form each cow-orker in my group to its own folder, and then by project that I’m working on. Since my projects tend to be long term it’s not really high maintenance to keep up with it. I then have a couple of misc folders (stuff from HR, policy decisions, etc.) for the stuff that doesn’t relate to the things I have to get done that day.