Folders are a great way to organize email messages. But as with anything, you can have too much of a good thing.
Creating dozens upon dozens of folders below the Inbox can lead to folder paralysis. Not knowing which folder to place a message in or knowing which folder a message resides in can hamper your workflow.
Consider creating just a few action-based folders to store emails. Consider the following…
Read and Decide
After reading an email for the first time, I decide what to do with it.
If it is something I can answer or accomplish right away, like submitting a requested receipt to Accounting, I do it. Anything I can accomplish in a few minutes I will do to get the task done.
Once finished, I decide if the email message is something I may need to, such as for legal or tax purposes. If so, I will Archive the message. Otherwise, I will delete the message.
This will move the message to the Archive folder. If it turns out that I need to locate the message later, I can use the Search bar to quickly locate the archived message.
So, if the email can be dealt with immediately and quickly, answer the email then Archive or Delete.
Action Folders & Quick Steps
What about those emails that need time to complete, like a request to build a report?
This is where Action Folders come into play.
I create a folder below my Inbox named “Action Required”. You can create a folder by right-clicking the Inbox or any existing folder and selecting “New Folder…” Give the folder any name you see fit.
PRO TIP: If you want to start in the “Action Required” folder when Outlook starts, you can change the default startup folder. To do this, Click File -> Options -> Advanced -> Outlook Start and Exit. Change the “Start Outlook in this folder” to the “Action Required” folder.
When I encounter an email message I can neither answer right away nor delete, I use a Quick Step to automatically move the email message to the “Action Required” folder.
Quick Steps are single-click solutions that replicate complex, predictable routines.
To create a Quick Step, right-click the message and select Quick Steps -> New Quick Step.
From here you can select an action like “Move to Folder…” and select the folder of interest, like the “Action Required” folder.
When you encounter an email message that requires action at a later point, you can click the needed Quick Steps entry to perform the act.
Moving an email to an “Action Required” folder is just adding complexity to your workflow. To make this process effective, you should consider flagging the message for Follow Up with a set date and possibly a reminder.
If this is a task that requires time to perform, consider scheduling time on your calendar to accomplish the task. If you’re like most people, if it’s not on the schedule, it’s likely to not occur.
A quick way to schedule time for an email task is to drag the email message and drop it onto the Calendar icon (bottom-left).
This will open a new appointment window and allow you to decide on a date and timeframe which to accomplish the task.