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Outlook tips for Inbox Zero

by Mel Starrs on May 15, 2009

in Outlook, Wordpress and Other Tips

This is one of those posts which blogs were originally invented for – a record of something I did to my computer which I can refer to in the future, so I know how I did it.

Every company I have ever worked for has used Outlook. As a tool, it has it’s limits in it’s “out of the box” configuration. Below are the three main tweaks I use to keep my inbox to zero. Note – I use folders extensively to keep project related email in. When projects reach a milestone (out to tender or report issued etc) or a conversation reaches a conclusion, I archive to the central repository. This is not my ideal way of working, but given the constraints I’m working with, it’s the best solution I’ve found so far.

The first tweak is to keep all my incoming and outgoing live emails in one inbox. The sent items get automatically filed in my inbox (although not from the crackberry) and deleted from the sent items. Instructions for setting this up are here complete with screen shots. As a summary:

Rules and Alerts > New Rule > Check messages after sending > Next > Specified folder (Inbox)

To delete outgoing mail from sent items (and only have in your inbox):

Tools > Options > Email options > untick save copies of messages

The next part of the equation is to set up a key shortcut to move emails into folders. Depending on your work flow you may also want to set up a copy shortcut. Personally, I try to keep only one copy of an item at any one time (hence deleting the sent items).

Full instructions are here (third tip down the page). Basically, you end up with an Alt+1 shortcut in a new toolbar which will give you the ability to move emails to a folder without using the mouse.

The final tweak is to make Outlook look a little more like Gmail. I use this inside my project folders to help me decide if a conversation is finished and can be archived. Click on any of the fields at the top of the inbox. Choose field chooser and add the extra field ‘conversation’. Drag onto the toolbar. Remove the Subject field. Right mouse click and arrange by conversation. You should end up with a nested view of conversations, and as all your sent items are in there too, you can keep track of who said what, when. You will have to do this for each folder you are using this method on. I don’t use it in my inbox – my inbox should really only have outstanding non-project related emails and incoming unread emails.

A few more useful keyboard shortcuts for Outlook:

Alt + w Forward

Ctrl + u Mark as Unread

  • http://twitter.com/Thirlwall_Assoc Claire Thirlwall

    My other handy hints are
    – to use categories as a low tech version of tags – that way you can mark one email under two categories if it won’t fit a folder.  Mine just go in “complete” and I use tags to find later.
    – drag emails onto “tasks” or “calendar” straight away rather than leave them lurking in the inbox undealt with.  Then add the details and a deadline or reminder.  It also means you get the relevant email in the details of an event, in case you forget who invited you!