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Email management techniques to achieve inbox zero in Outlook

An overflowing inbox and emails that need an urgent reply are part and parcel of every job in 2019. But when it distracts from your workflow and productivity as a business owner, or the pressure on you to respond on time becomes overwhelming, it could obstruct how smooth your workflow is – and how efficiently you run your company.

Inbox Zero was designed by Merlin Mann at Google to help professionals deal with a high volume of emails in a short period of time – thus reducing the demands on their time and attention.

It’s an important skill, as you only process valuable information that’s highly related to your work – and to your priorities that day. The risk of distraction is therefore minimised, and you get to finish with your emails in record time.

Why do I need Inbox Zero for Outlook?

Communicating effectively by email needs effective organising of your Outlook folders. A messy inbox stops you from communicating and collaborating effectively. You want your inbox to say you’re reachable and responsive, but not always available; rather than always available and open to emails, but not responsive – or that your response times are hard to predict. 

Here are all the steps you’ll need to organise your inbox, and start communicating effectively: on your terms.

Step 1: Your inbox is your in-tray

First, you need to change the way you see your inbox. Picture your Inbox as your real-life In-tray. It’s now easier to see why you should sort through all your incoming mail, every day.

Your inbox is therefore your collecting tray: it only captures your emails. It’s your job to sort them.

Step 2: Set your inbox up to maximises efficiency

The easiest way to start is to set up four folders in Outlook:

Folder 1 – Inbox: this is where your emails are received.

Folder 2 – To Do: actionable emails that have tasks or instructions are filed here.

Folder 3 – To Read: Non-actionable emails that contain content that I need to read

Folder 4 – Archive: This is where your emails go when you no longer need them to hand. We like to split them into projects and departments, for example:

            Current Projects

            Future Projects

            Marketing Department

            Tech Department

            And so on.

Step 3: Categorise the emails in your To-Do folder

In your To-Do folder, to make things extra clear, create categories like this:

Category 1 – Urgent: respond within 24 hours

Category 2 – One week: within a few days

Category 3: Awaiting reply: can only be actioned on when reply is received

Category 4:  Follow up: tasks or emails that you’re unsure how to act on, and may need to follow up with someone for advice.

Step 4: Automate repetitive tasks with Quick Steps

You can move emails to their correct folders one by one, but if your inbox suddenly has more folders than you can keep track of, you could waste precious minutes trying to find the right folder.

Creating Quick Steps buttons to do this is easy and will save you enormous amounts of time.

Step 5: Create Rules To Automatically File Emails

If you receive subscription or newsletter emails that you want to read in your spare, use Outlook’s Rules to filter them to your “To Read” folder. The rules will file your emails into the relevant folder so you don’t have to think about it.

Step 6: Adopt healthier Inbox Habits

Clearing your inbox to zero can’t be an everyday goal. In fact, we usually recommend trying to achieve Inbox Zero once a week.

After all, organising will only help you feel less overwhelmed by your emails if you practice “healthy” inbox habits. This means turning instant email notifications off, and checking your inbox at set times in a day. That means not checking it every time your phone pings. We usually recommend sorting through at around 10am and 3pm each day.

Finding you can’t stay away from your inbox? If your emails are getting in the way of your work, find out how EMMA’s virtual assistant services can take email responses off your hands, and get in touch for a chat.