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Resource: Setting up email to improve productivity (MS Outlook)

Prepared by Helen Palmer (March 2011)

Here are details about how I set up MS Outlook to better manage my flows of email. 

A. Category values to apply to email
B. Search folders to retreive categorised email
C. Other setup suggestions

Once you are setup see, Better management of email to improve productivity (MS Outlook)

These details are influenced by David Allen's 'Getting Things Done' (GTD) method, with some additional tricks of my own.  For more guidance David Allen sells a comprehensive guide on how to setup and use MS Outlook to 'Get Things Done'.

A. Category values to apply to email

These are the category values I have set up:




Action Now

Green ('Go')

Things that require action from me now.


Red ('Warning')

Things that are very time-sensitive and require attention above all else. Only 1 or 2 items get this value on very rare occasions.


Orange ('Pause')

Things where I am waiting on action from others (external).
May require followup action from me if time-sensitive.

Action Later  


Things that may benefit me with action in the future.
Things to consider at a future date or for a future time.



Things that I have delegated to others (internal personnel) and may require supplementary action, or followup from me. A special-kind of 'Waiting'.
NB: Things that I intend to delegate, but require some action from me first, are treated as 'Action Now'.

TIP: 'Action Now' and 'Waiting' are the values I most commonly assign to emails.

To setup Category values in MS Outlook 2007
1. Menu: Edit | Categorize | All Categories

2. 'New ...' (or Rename ...) to make your category values.

I have used the same values in other email applications: configured in Mozilla Thunderbird's 'Labels' and Lotus Notes' 'Tags'.

B. Search folders to retrieve categorised email

These are the Seach Folders I have set up:



Action Now+ Waiting+Urgent

Only the category values of Action Now, Waiting and Urgent.
Viewed once per day.

Act Later

Only the category value of Act Later.
Viewed fortnightly or at least 1-2 times per month.

Search Folders are a special kind of folder. When selected (simply by clicking on Search Folder), an automatic search is performed based on pre-selected criteria, and results of the search are presented in a single 'folder'.  This is a virtual view of emails, and does not mean that the email has been moved from the location where it is stored. Search Folders are typically located just below 'Sent Items'.

To set up Search Folders in MS Outlook 2007

1. Menu: File | New | Search Folder ...

2. Choose 'Categorised mail' under heading 'Organizing Mail'.
3. 'Choose ...' from the category list.

C. Other setup suggestions

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