organized inbox @ work

organized inbox @ work

Minor edits in Oct 2019

I wrote this a few months into my first “real job” back in 2012 because it seemed very relevant at the time. In fact, you’d be surprised how many people still have cluttered inboxes (1000s unread). WHY? Simple tricks to make your work/life more manageable.

As a new hire, you might already have noticed, emails land in your inbox very frequently and sometimes it may be distracting you from your current task. Before the work gets intense and you find yourself one year from now in the same situation, take some time to get organized. It will help you in the long run.

Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when dealing with Microsoft Outlook.

1. Create folders. This may be a bit difficult if this is your first/new job, since you do not really know which projects you are working on and which projects you will be working on in the future. But you should have a general idea of what you will be doing pretty soon.

Consider:  Admin, Application Requests, Required Training, Network Groups, News, Personal & HR

[Oct 2019] Note: as I have progressed in my career and installed Outlook onto my mobile phone, I realized that folders were not the best way.

  • Outlook 2010 version is much better at managing folders on mobile, but back in 2016, it was not available, so I opted for categories instead.
  • This allows me to search my entire inbox from the desktop or mobile app.
  • While you can click on ALL MAIL before searching for something, it’s a bit tricky on mobile.
  • Categories are closer to the Gmail Labels function and I prefer it.
  • I created “Search Folders” to find emails by category… but honestly, I rarely need to find old emails (who am I auditing anyway?)
  • Btw, I get at least 200 emails a day

2. Create rules to filter out emails.

Go to Tools -> Organize -> Rules and Alerts -> New Rule

There are many rules to work with such as:

  1. Marking an email as read
  2. Filtering for certain people/emails/lists
  3. Categorizing the email
  4. Highlighting the email
  5. Placing the email in a specific folder

Consider: marking emails from system-generated updates as read (ex: emails from your IT Support for system updates)

Consider: auto-sorting emails into folders (ex: emails from “Network groups” into that folder/category)

3. Flag emails  – marking an email [to yourself] that it’s important. The common problem is flagging everything and tasks lose its priority status. If you feel you are a flagger, remember to check on a daily basis the tasks at hand and remove items from the Flag List.

Consider: creating a Follow-Up category to remember which emails you sent require an answer from the recipient. It is especially helpful then to create a Search Folder (CTRL+SHIFT+F) and select tab “More Choices” -> Categories -> “PEND Follow Up” -> Browse -> File -> Save Search As Search Folder. You will now see it at the bottom of your Search Folders. I added this to my Favorite Folders, so it is always visible on top (under Inbox, Unread Mail [see #5], and above Sent Items). This is super helpful when you are waiting for other people to respond to your email, not necessarily something you need to complete.

4. Mark emails as read/unread – do not read an email and stop there. If it requires a follow-up, consider waiting to read it. If you read it, flag it and then do not follow up, then the cycle becomes vicious with each and every new email. Emails can be easily marked read (CTRL+Q) and unread (CTRL+U).

5. Create an “Unread Mail” pane:

  1. Right click “Search Folders”
  2. Click “New Search Folder”
  3. Click “Unread Mail”
  4. Press OK
  5. Drag it from the bottom to the top/favorites


I use all four strategies simultaneously.

  • I keep my Outlook on the “Unread Mail” pane.
  • Once I get a new email, I drag it into its appropriate folder (if it’s not sorted correctly) and deal with it later, unless it is urgent.
  • I flag emails I have questions on or need to work on.
  • I categorize emails from others pending a response a certain color (can be searched easily via #3).
  • I also drag my sent emails into its respective folder.

If you’re like me, a forever-will-be-Gmail person, then Outlook will never be what you want it to be. How much easier is it to view emails by LABELS instead of folders and categories? But all’s well. Use Outlook efficiently and you will not be overwhelmed 🙂

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