Prepared by Helen Palmer (March 2011)
Here are details about how I use MS Outlook to better manage my flows of email.
These details are influenced by David
method, with some additional tricks of my own. To see
details about how I setup MS Outlook, visit Setting up email to improve
productivity (MS Outlook). For other guidance, David
- Process and organise all emails in 'Inbox' as well as 'Sent Items'.
- Process means asking a) what is it? and b) what do I want to do with it?
- Organise the work based on the answers, as outlined in the table below.
- Process and organise emails in batches; I process at the end of
the day and at
the beginning of the day.
Perform an action (DO)
If I can do the action in
less than 2 minutes (aka '2-minute rule'):
1. Assign the category 'Action Now'.
Include travel time and preparation and post-meeting processing time
when scheduling meetings and appointments with other people.
Wait for someone else's action
1. Assign the category 'Waiting'.
2. Move the email to appropriate folder: 'TempKeep' for
short-life storage; specific folder for long-life storage.
Delete the email.
When action is needed by me
prior to delegation (i.e.
thinking or preparation):
1. Forward the email to the Delegatee, if necessary with
supplementary instructions and resources.
2. Assign the category 'Delegated' to forwarded email in Sent
3. Move forwarded email
to appropriate folder: 'TempKeep' for short-life
storage; specific folder for long-life storage. (I often delete
rather than keep/file the original
1. Assign the category 'Action Later'.
2. If appropriate, book time in calendar (weeks or months
reevaluate or do the specific action.
1. Move the email to appropriate folder for long-life storage.
TIP: 'Action Now', 'Waiting' and 'Action Later' are the values I most commonly assign to emails.
I don't have a single physical or electronic 'Action list'. I have three places where my next actions are recorded to guide my day and track my progress:
- Appointment entries in my calendar - time booked with myself and time booked with others.
- Client or Project specific action lists on special ACTION pages in my electronic Notebooks. I use MS OneNote and have a Notebook per project.
- "Sticky Notes" (electronic post-it notes) on my computer desktop for things that need my priority attention. Keeps these actions more 'in sight' and visible every time I turn on my computer.
I don't use MS Outlook's Task function for tracking Actions.
Reviewing is an important step to overcome fear of lost
information - when you think 'out of sight' could mean 'out of mind'
forever. Reviewing brings the important work to the foreground
when you are ready to attend to it.
- Daily - Review the search folder 'Action Now+Waiting'
- Remove the category value of any emails where work or matter is completed or resolved.
- Update Action Lists with any new or additional next-actions, including adjustments to calendar entries.
- Fortnightly or Monthly - Review the seach folder 'Action Later'
- Remove the category value of any emails where matter is resolved or no longer relevant.
- Update Action Lists with any new or additional next-actions.
B-2. Reviewing Draft emails
Part of my daily review,
- I used the 2-minute rule when processing to start a New or Reply draft email with a few words in
it, that needs
to be completed.
- I wrote the email in the heat of the moment, and the tone or content might need to be altered when I have a cooler head.
- I wrote the email outside business hours, and I don't want to send it outside business hours as this is impolite and could suggest to the recipient that I am willing to receive and respond to emails outside business hours (which I am not).
- I don't have all the information I need to send the email, e.g. I
am waiting on attachments or facts to complete the email.
- Schedule Processing-and-Organising (P&O) time, and
Reviewing time in the calendar as work in it's own right. Use
P&O time to empty email Collect point (aka Inbox and Sent
Items) as well as other Collection points, i.e. physical In-Tray.
- When in email application composing a new email as part of an current task (i.e. it's work time, not P&O time), resist the tempation to do unscheduled P&O or Review activies. My aim is to stay focused on my current task.
- Extract usefuls parts of text (or attachments) from emails and store them in a electronic notebook like MS OneNote, where they can be annotated and items within the email text can be tagged according to relevance and use. Then delete the emails - don't treat email system as a knowledge management system. (MS Outlook has an Add-in which makes moving an email from Outlook to OneNote, very easy!)
- Once a month, delete (in a batch) all emails in 'TempKeep' folder that are older than 3 months. There is no need to look at any individual email before deleting, because emails are put in this folder specifically designated for deletion after 3 months.