This is the first in a series about Getting Things Done with Outlook.

I spend a lot less time in my Inbox these days, but while dealing with mail, the Inbox is generally the focus of my attention. There are several inbox time savers described in a previous post. In addition to those changes, I’ve turned off the preview pane, I find that it is too much of a temptation to pick and choose messages when the preview pane is on. I also sort my Inbox messages by receipt time in ascending order. When I process email, I go to the most recent message and open it up in its own window. Once I’ve done what I need to do (read and reply/forward etc.), 8 out of 10 times, I delete the message. Given the amount of email I delete, I set my email options so that when I delete an open message, it opens the previous item. This pops up the next message without me having to open it. I’ve found that this setup allows me to fly through email.

A key component of my mail setup that really prevents things from falling through the cracks is the @Waiting folder. When I send, forward or reply to a message that I expect a response on, I simply include myself in the BCC field. When the message comes back to my inbox, the waiting rule moves it to the @Waiting folder. When I do my weekly review, I go through these messages, forwarding anything that I have not seen a reply on to the original recipient (BCCing myself again of course). Many of these emails represent fairly low priority things, but things that should not be forgotten nonetheless. This might seem a tad irritating, but a couple of people have actually told me they appreciate the reminders. They could be simply humoring me, but I choose to believe otherwise.

Admittedly, my archive configuration could use a little work. At the top level it is quite basic. I have two PST files: Personal Folders and Archive. Both reside on my laptop. The Personal Folders file is where I file everything away for longer term storage. I have Outlook’s Auto-archive feature set up to automatically move older items from Personal Folders to the Archive. Old sent items, calendar entries and tasks are also auto-archived to the Archive file. There are two things that can be improved with my archive configuration: I’ve got way too many subfolders in my Personal Folders and I really think I might be able to do away with the Archive file altogether. I would recommend making one’s folder structure as flat as possible. Things like Google Desktop Search and Lookout make searching much faster and easier than filing into a load of folders.

If you take anything away from this post, it should be the inbox management bits. These are the things that will make you most effective in dealing with email. The @Waiting and Archive folders may or may not be all that important to you, it really depends on your environment. If you are not going to pay attention to any of this mail management stuff, at least learn some shortcut keys, your mouse could use the break.

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