Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Organizing Outlook And Other E-Mail Programs — Do You Have A Method That Works?

Computers in my dreams. This photo by Aleksandra Banic of Croatia!Not long ago I bought several books on how to optimize Microsoft Outlook as a planning and organizing tool.  I bought them to give me ideas for a training segment on how to use technology more effectively–and thought I would surely be able to use some of the ideas myself. I have decided the Microsoft site is sufficient for the needs of most Outlook users, and other useful information can be found online. Unless you really, truly want a system, those resources will be enough. The one or possibly two or three ideas I got from any of the current crop of popular books, were not worth the money or time involved.

The material could be useful, I suppose, if one were attending a training session based solely on the system being touted by the various authors. However, without that in-depth study and classroom persuasion, I do not think the average person would adopt the system. Some required practically a new vocabulary! I would not have minded that so much, but some of the ideas seemed to be very complex for a very basic purpose. (A to-do list became a multi-colored, cross-indexed process that ultimately would be no more effective than my regular prioritized list.) More importantly, the authors apparently do not have the same experiences with email as I do, the same need to access it, or the same paranoid fear of not being able to document sent and received messages.

For example, one book suggests scheduling a time to read email–usually no more than two or three times a day–one author suggested trying only once a day. (If I am home, I think of email as like a business phone call and I respond quickly, and I expect that type of response from those I email for business.) One book suggests turning off the email icon and the sound that indicates mail has arrived. (I have the volume turned up on my monitor so the email sound could very well be confused with the Day of Judgment trumpet.) 

Almost all of the books were adamant that both incoming and sent messages must be immediately placed in folders or deleted permanently. (I have 870 messages in my delete folder right now, and will likely not permanently delete for another month or so.) That is not to say that my way is the most efficient and effective way–but it is my way and it works for my life and work. 

The helpful Microsoft Site: For the Microsoft site, click here. Browse through the various articles and you may find some helpful tips. One idea I found on the site several years ago, and still use, is to put a reminder flag on messages in my in-box that I want to be sure to follow-up about. You may have known about that feature, but I did not, now use it all the time and find it very beneficial. Another site that I found useful is a college site that has a monthly tech article. The one on Outlook is well-done. Check it out here.

I would be interested in knowing if some of you have learned or developed tips or techniques for most effectively using your specific email program, or if you have found a book or article particularly useful. You know how to contact me!

April 22nd, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Training, Technology, Blogs, A/V etc. | 5 comments


  1. Oh yes! The beauty of the reminder flag. I use this to the extreme, but it helps tremendously. I use all colors of the reminder flags for different categories. Great advice as always Tina

    Comment by Judith Thomas | April 22, 2008

  2. I attended one of the classes you’re talking about, and it came with the book. The teacher was so set on her rules that any time we would mention a personal tip she would show how it was bad for her system. Some people here still use parts of it and like the structure of it, but I agree that the basic Outlook information is all that is needed.

    I move everything from my In-Basket to a folder I have named, “Work In Progress”. I also use Reminders like an alarm to keep me working on the Work in Progress. I don’t go to meetings very often so I use it just for reminding me that I should be half done with something I’m working on. I have bells going off all the time!

    Our department does a lot of interoffice work with Outlook, so we have gotten more sophisticated with it than we used to be. You really can do a lot with it in groups if everyone is on board. That’s what we need a class for, but we aren’t getting that this year! P.

    Comment by P.A.H. | April 22, 2008

  3. We had two Outlook classes, one by Microsoft and one by a lady who was sure her method would help us set high goals and accomplish great things. All I want to do is get my email and keep a calendar.

    The Microsoft trainer did a good job of showing us what was possible and I could see how it would be good in some companies. I liked the lady with The Method but I think she just invented The Method to make money off having a Method. It was just like you described, so maybe the same thing. She said we needed to get out of the habit of checking email the minute we get to work or come back from lunch, so we can stick with our priorities. Needless to say she got an earful about that!

    My wife told me it was like when she first got her fancy sewing machine when she was young and sewing all the time. She needed to learn to use all the features but some of the classes told her more than she needed to know and sometimes the tips were more trouble than getting out a needle and thread. So, I guess Outlook can be the same way.

    When you are coming back to Wyoming?

    Comment by Wiseacre | April 22, 2008

  4. Oh yeah I meant to give you my Outlook tip. Sorry.
    You said you have a lot of messages in the Delete folder and so do I, because sometimes I think I won’t need something again then I do. But, there are a lot of things that are big deletes right away.

    I have folders under Deleted Items and sort my trash that way. I put all the trash from my boss..and there is a lot of that…in one folder and all the trash from you in another folder, etc. Seriously, I like sorting the trash items that way, because I know for sure I can delete the regular things every day and get them out of the way.

    One time I was asked about an email that was not even important, but someone wanted to know how to figure out when something else happened that happened on the same day as a message we all got, and it was in my trash box of mail about a specific topic. I was a hero and now everyone is making trash folders. It’s a crazy world!

    Comment by Wiseacre | April 22, 2008

  5. Thank you all for your comments and ideas. I’m making trash folders right now! 🙂 (I really am! I’m going to try that!)

    The analogy of the sewing machine is a great one–I wonder how many people have operated sewing machines? As for your question about coming back to Wyoming. One day, I’m sure!

    P.A.H: I like the Work In Progress and Reminders ideas!

    Judith: You are already the Queen of Completed Work! Maybe your reminder flags are why!

    Comment by Tina | April 22, 2008

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