Just about every productivity system recommends maintaining an empty, or nearly empty, email inbox. The very idea of moving emails out of the inbox terrifies some people. They fear they will never be able to find what they need, when they need it.
I am not going to go into the philosophy of Inbox Zero, as there are plenty of websites that can cover the concept in-depth.
To achieve an inbox of manageable size, I recommend the use of follow-up flags within Microsoft Outlook. These flags allow you to mark those emails that require some sort of action on your part. Let’s look at an example.
Consider an email that you receive that has some specific actions that you need to take. As shown in the video, Alice has two actions that need to be taken. She quickly scans the actions and determines that they cannot be done in under two minutes. As such, she decides to address these later.
To ensure she does not let these actions get buried, she uses the Follow Up feature on the Outlook Home ribbon. The defaults allow you to mark it for Today, Tomorrow, or some custom date. Since she needs to clarify what exactly the actions are, she selects Today. This does not mean that she is going to perform the actions today, but she is at least going to plan how she is going to complete these tasks.
Once she selects Today, a red flag appears on the email listing next to the Preview pane. She can now drag the email to her Archive folder, confident she will be able to find that email later today.
Exactly how does she find it later? She uses Search Folders. The New Search Folder dialog allows her to search all of the folders within her email account. When she clicks on that folder, any email that has been flagged for follow-up will appear in this search folder. (Don’t get me started on Tags vs Folders, though. That’s a discussion for another day.)
Creating Search Folders
- In the Navigation pane, right-click on Search Folders and choose New Search Folder…
- In the Select a Search Folder dialog, under Reading Mail, select Mail flagged for follow up.
- Click OK to close the dialog box.
- In the Navigation pane, expand Search Folders to display the For Follow Up search folder.
This is part of a series on productivity using Office 365.