Every email program has these folders: the Inbox and Sent Items. Interestingly, I find that my clients often use these two folders in ways that can be inefficient and increase record-keeping risk.
In this post, I’d like to re-introduce you to your Inbox and Sent Items and offer best practices in organizing and maintaining them.
- It is and always will be the first place that incoming, unread mail lands (barring any Rules you have set)
- It buries older emails underneath newer ones
- It is searchable and sortable, but can quickly get filled with so many emails that it is difficult to retrieve what you need
Best Practices in Inbox Maintenance:
- Drag emails you need to keep for records management purposes into an organized system of folders (or labels for Gmail). Avoid storing emails in your Inbox.
- Emails requiring action beyond a simple response should be removed from the Inbox, saved in an “Action Required” subfolder AND the action added to your To-Do list. Alternatively, email action items can be dragged to Outlook Tasks.
- Delete duplicates – if you replied to or forwarded an email, you will have an email in your Sent Items that duplicates what is in your inbox.
- Strive for “Inbox Zero.”
- It is the default location for all email you send to others: new messages, replies, and forwards
- Each time you send or reply to a calendar invitation, your response is automatically filed in Sent Items
- When ignored, it can become a repository for a HUGE volume of email that really should be filed into Outlook Folders.
Best Practices in Sent Items Maintenance:
- Schedule time on your calendar to go into your sent emails. Sort, delete, and file emails until your Sent Items folder is empty.
- Consider using a tool like SimplyFile to prompt you to file or delete emails immediately upon sending. It is always fastest to make the keep/delete decision immediately after sending.
- In Outlook, you can go into your Sent Items and sort by icon (the little button that looks like a dog-eared piece of paper). That will gather all your calendar items together for mass deleting.
All in all, the smaller the Inbox and Sent Items folders are the better. Emails you need to retain are best kept organized into folders/labels. Emails you don’t need to retain are best deleted.
Sign up for my monthly email newsletter and receive a guide to releasing yourself from a backlog of old email.
Dr. Melissa Gratias (pronounced "Gracious") is a work psychologist who helps overwhelmed and underappreciated businesspeople be more focused and effective. Since 2007, thousands of people have graduated with honors from her onsite sessions, distance coaching, productivity seminars, and corporate consulting projects. Based in Savannah, Georgia, Melissa is available for nationwide consulting and speaking engagements. Contact her via email at email@example.com or call 912-417-2505. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter or visit her website, melissagratias.com.