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Managing Emails

You use outlook at office and there too many emails in your inbox. What to do? There are some well-known approaches within outlook to “organize” those emails that you might be drowning in (inbox “zero” is another term often used instead of “organizing”) – categorization, folders and search. You either mark, file or throw away mails to be searched later. Then, there are add on tools which can work for you. Finally, beyond a point organizing need not yield any efficiency/improvement, let’s see.

While several emails can be categorized together, categorization basically works on each mail. Assuming that one will not spend all his time on emails, this approach could become cumbersome very soon. Managing too many categories and sub categories is not easy either though there are tools that could help you manage such category lists. There is also a tool called taglocity (www.taglocity.com) which helps build virtual folders by using categories. The tool makes it easier to categorize/tag emails though it slows down outlook a bit and the primary issue of this becoming cumbersome beyond a point remains. This notwithstanding the fact that outlook and/or the tool can auto tag and have replies to a particular category be tagged similarly.

Instead of categorizing emails one can create folders in outlook and move emails to folders thus freeing up the inbox. Managing folders in outlook beyond a point is again an issue, like categorization. Also, one can say that an additional limitation is having to create multiple copies of emails if an email refers to multiple projects. Again, there is a well-known tool, clearcontext (www.clearcontext.com) which makes folderization of emails (both sent and received) a breeze. The tool also allows outlook appointments, meeting requests and tasks to be associated with a particular “project”/”folder” and presents a consolidated view of these along with contacts and attachments within outlook. There is a David Allen methodology called GTD (Get Things Done) that is applied to email management – basically, either defer, delegate or file emails, tasks etc. along with “contexts” such as @work, @personal, @computers etc. The tool allows one to work in this fashion if required and also presents a consolidated view of all attachments (with previews).

Finally, outlook allows one to search emails using various means such as content, subject line, sent by etc. which could be limiting in terms of the results produced. So, instead of filing (folders) or categorizing (tagging) one can just search for emails at the time of need. There is a tool called xobni (reverse of inbox, www.xobni.com) that also performs the search function though in context of contacts.

A combination of the above approaches to a limited extent (so that they are not self-defeating) seems to work best. So, I use clearcontext and xobni. For WIP or important emails (in terms of monitoring some important element) I categorize the mails as “monitor” and see these mails in an outlook “search” folder (saved searches) instead of creating tasks.  I also use the post function within outlook to make a note/comment about a mail. Another way could be to just create folders such as Do, Delegate, Defer and copy the necessary mails into these folders instead of converting emails to tasks. I retire/archive old emails to a database called Mail Store which is available free of cost (www.mailstore.com). This brings down the amount of email retained within outlook. Archived email within Mail Store can be reinstated within outlook. If add ons don’t work for you, an outlook email client called Neopro (www.caelo.com) could work instead. It is a catalogue of all outlook emails and folders and presents multiple views of emails such as time based, contact based, attachement based etc. Also allows one to write notes against emails and presents a conversation view like outlook.

Attachments within emails are another concern. If mails are to be deleted fine, but if they are to be retained while attachments within them not being required could be a potential scenario. In these cases a one click detach helps. Keeping the attachments for some time till they are needed is good but beyond that keeping them there for future reference can clog outlook. A tool can help with the detach as well as storing the attachment to chosen desktop folders. This is called Attachment Manager (www.assistmyteam.net) and can reattach attachments as well as leaves a link within the mail to reach the attachment. Once attachments are to be kept for reference only it can be accessed from within mailstore or one can opt for a DMS (Document Management System) such as M Files. The latter allows one to directly save the mail and/or attachment into the DMS and has multiple value added options in terms of organizing the documents. One can back up the DMS database and restore it easily. Finally, a desktop search tool like X1/dtsearch integrates all possible search functions across outlook, desktop and even the DMS, great to have.

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