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 The Business Realist

   A dose of reality for a saner workplace


Find an effective filing and working style that works for you that you will use all the time Handle email once so that it doesn't pile up. Read it and reply. Spend time to learn the organization features of your email program especially archiving, categories, and colors. 

Last set of tips to deal with email overload

Posted  on 5/23/09

Woman holding head by computerWork better by finding an organization and working style that suits you

Several years ago, I came across a doctoral thesis from Finland on how effective different filing styles are for working with email. The conclusion was that the filing system itself didn't matter, but sticking to it did. In other words, people like me who only half-way file things are being the least effective at finding stuff. While some emails are filed nicely where they should be, most remain scattered in my inbox making it more difficult to find things. In short, there are filers and there are searchers. Either strategy works, but a mix of the two does not.
After reading this, I tried several search software tools and settled on Google Search because it was free. Voila, I never had a problem finding emails or any other files again.  Now if only they made a search tool for my paper files. To get rid of the emails in my inbox, I simply archive them by date.

Here are some filing styles that are all equally effective as long as you use them religiously. This means read it and file it right away.
·         “Urgent”
·         “To do”
·         “Reference”
·         By date received
·         By subject of emails
Filing by subject seems to be the hardest system to stick to because many emails can have multiple subjects or new ones that don't fit your organization scheme.
Handle emails as few times as possible - Read it, act, reply.  Just like paper files, you should try to handle it only once. However, if it is something you need to think about, mulling it over in your subconscious mind for a day or two is more effective than trying to come up with an answer right away.

Learn how to use your email program

Most people never take the time to learn the features of their email software. Yet, using these features will actually save you time in the long run. Outlook has many organizational features that can help you sort, find, and handle email more easily. Here are some things you should really learn how to use:

  • "The “Organize” icon will allow you to choose folders, views, and colors for your email. Colors can help by highlighting mail from your direct superior or direct reports.
  • “Rules wizard” lets you set up rules to get automatically file or tag specific types of email. For instance, you can send all replies to meeting requests to one folder.
  • The “Archive” feature will move old emails to an archive folder on your c: drive. It allows you to set different archiving rules for different folders. This way you can remove old email from your inbox without deleting them.
  • Use the  “Assign Task” feature to send tasks directly to other colleagues through Outlook rather than using an email. The recipient of the task can then add it directly to his/her task list.


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Got Ideas?

Pile of light bulbsIf you have some ideas for articles, please drop me a note or leave a comment. If you have an article you'd like to contribute or link to,  I will be happy to publish your link and ensure that you get attributed.

Featured Neologisms

Undue diligence   –
the endless process of collecting more information in order to avoid making a decision
Team vynamics   -
Group behavior wherein individuals at a meeting vie for dominance