Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
Last week I talked about how I use GMail to process my email at home. This week I will look at how I use Outlook at work to stay on top of everything.
My Work Workflow
Everything I get email about at work is going to fall into a few different categories that are easily recognizable. The majority of the email is related to my actual work, which is assigned a project number. This chain starts when I am assigned to a project (spawning an email with the project number in the subject), then assigned to work the item (spawning another email). From there the information gets entered into my personal wiki so that I can track what is being done.
Once a project is in my wiki, the emails will switch to discussion items coming from our project management system, again labeled by project number. Since most email is written within the system, there are very few project items that come through without the project number attached.
Rule To Copy Myself On All Emails
I have a rule set up to copy myself on all outgoing emails. It puts a copy of every outgoing email into my inbox. Why not just use sent mail, you might ask? Because if it is in my inbox, it will be dealt with, right away.
My emails fall into various situations: I need to enter the information into the Wiki, take some sort of action, wait for something, or file it. I have set up categories so that I can quickly classify these emails as I go through my email box in the morning. All of my categories have hot keys, so I never even have to lift my fingers off the keyboard. My rules is that if an email doesn’t get classified, it gets deleted.
Folders and Search Folders
Once all my email has been categorized, I dump it all into a single holding folder. Yes, you read that right, one big folder. But in order to quickly find what I need based on category, I have set up Search Folders. Each search folder corresponds to one of my actions and shows me email anywhere on the system with that label. That way, even if I accidentally put it somewhere else, I can find it.
Why Not Project Folders?
I do not leave my email indefinitely in my email store. The reason is we run a “vault” system which archives the email. The problem with the vault is that I can’t search vaulted emails, and the system is rather sporadic in its ability to restore the email to its original form.
For a long time I kept everything in regular Outlook folders, but without that ability to search the text, it became more headache, so I now store my project emails with my project notes in a Windows folder (done by dragging the emails from Outlook into the appropriate project folder).
My Personal Archive
For those emails that don’t pertain to a project, but where I need to keep the information, I have set up other Outlook files. These are outside the main email store, and don’t get “vaulted”. I keep these files in My Documents. In the archives, I have folders for each letter of the alphabet and information gets filed accordingly. Information for our review system is filed under R, for instance.
One of the hardest things in the way the work flies at me furiously is to not lose track of items once they have gone into the holding folder. In order to minimize this, anything that that requires action gets flagged for a follow up of today or tomorrow, and waiting for items get flagged appropriately (depending on the urgency of the situation). They then appear in my task list, and I can take care of them in an appropriate time.
My Email Processing Schedule
I do not keep tabs on email during the day. I check my email first thing, mainly to view the automated reports that come in every night. I categorize what is in my inbox and delete the non-categorized email. Then I look at my task list for what needs to be dealt with today, and then ignore my email until 11:30, when I check everything again.
My email processing allows me to find things very quickly. Need to know about why a decision was made on a project six months ago? The email will be with my project notes. Need to know what I am waiting on? One click will show me. Need to make sure I don’t lose track of something I requested? It will have been put in my inbox and is now classified as waiting for.
Do you have any tips and tricks for Outlook? I’d love to tweak this system further. Share below.
Photo by adria.richards