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I am an IT professional. I get around 20-30 mails per day related to my work or general company updates/processes. I have always lacked in effectively managing my mails so I can quickly search a mail when required. I use Outlook. Please provide tips and help.

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There seem to be two general schools of thought for dealing with email. Broadly they are filing and searching.

Filing would see you have an appropriate directory structure, likely within your email client, to forward sort the messages into. If this can be suppored by automatic rules based on unambiguous subject lines, e.g. [HR Update], all the better. Each project would likely have its own folder, so the number of emails can be quite managable, and I can often jump to the right folder and then just skim down.

Searching has been popularized by GMail, among others. You might proactively tag an email, but fundamentally they are all stored in a big bucket, and you dip in using search and refinement in order to find what you are after. Outlook Advanced Find can support some reasonably complex searches, but subsequent refinement is not as clean as some other interfaces.

Personally I use a mostly filing-based scheme, as outlined in the GTD Outlook setup guide, so I tend to sort things into folders based on Projects. I do admit to having a catch-all folder, for HR updates and announcements that I would like to keep. That's pretty big, and only useable by searching, but the data there is already more random (e.g. when did Bob get his promotion to AVP).

(Note: comments are based on my own current use of Outlook 2010, without other plugins.)

Good Luck

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I make heavy use of Categories in Outlook 2010 to manage my email archive. I've also mapped "Quick Steps" to shortcut keys to speed operations. My daily work is managed in a GTD process, so I have those quick steps set up to create Task entries for my task lists, too.

I used to file email in folders by projects. I found that too often, an email might belong in more than one folder, or might not belong to any that I already have. And then finding what I wanted later required remembering how to navigate a hierarchy of folders correctly.

For the last several years, I've gone to having a single archive folder for the calendar year. Outlook's search capabilities are good enough for that to work, and if I really want to I can create a "search folder" over that archive to automatically pull archived email by project, or person, or whatever.

To make this work, I add categories to email as I read it. I have categories for each product release, component, developer, etc. and apply as many as apply to a particular message. I have a quick step defined to open the Categories selection dialog, and then move the message to the archive folder. The Categories selection dialog respects keystrokes, so typing the first couple characters of a category jumps to it. So reading my mail in the Inbox with message preview works like this:

  • select first message, read it
  • if it needs a reply that will take more than 2 minutes, CTRL-SHIFT-7 moves it to my @Reply folder and creates a Task
  • else if I need to save for reference, CTRL-SHIFT-9, some keys and the space bar to select one or more categories, and ENTER adds categories and moves it to my archive
  • else if there is work I need to do for this email, CTRL-SHIFT-8 creates a Task
  • else if I need more time to read it thoroughly, CTRL-SHIFT-6 moves it to @Read and creates a Task
  • else I delete it

At this point, the message is gone, the next message comes up, and start the processing loop again. I get the inbox to zero pretty much every day, and certainly at least a couple times a week. When I need a saved email, it is easy to use Outlook's search in my archive folder to find it, or to look in the @Read or @Reply folders if I'm not done with it yet.

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There are plugins that can help you. I have some friends who use the free Xobni plugin for Outlook to quickly search their inbox. They seem satisfied.

Generally you should look into using Rules to move bulk email into separate folders so that they don't clutter your inbox.

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Create Filters. If you are receiving emails from specific sources everyday, make filter for it. Bill Gates used this silly technique way before 2006, but it's well adorable even now..

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