Do you feel in control of your e-mail, or do you feel your e-mail controls you?
This question was posed by the instructor in a session about Outlook that I attended at the 2009 AICPA Information Technology Conference. The large volume of e-mail that I have to process every day certainly makes it hard to control, but I learned a few good e-mail management strategies at the conference that have helped.
First, I am starting to use my inbox as a staging area rather than a storage container. I found that I was not the only one who had this problem. In the Outlook session, the instructor asked the attendees of the conference how many messages they had in their inboxes. The answers began low starting at ten, but grew quickly to 2,200! The inbox should be used much like how you use your mailbox at home where the post office delivers your mail. It would be silly for me to open my mailbox, read my letters, and then stuff them all back into my mailbox. So, why do I do this with my e-mail?
When I bring my mail in the house, I generally sort it before opening anything. The ads usually go straight to the trash, the bills accumulate on my desk until I’m ready to pay them all at once, and the magazines go on a table near the sofa. The same process of sorting and organizing should also be used for e-mail.
This process can be automated (to a certain extent) with what are called e-mail rules in Outlook. I have begun using rules to automatically move e-mail messages to specific folders based on criteria such as the sender’s name and subject. For example, I receive a large amount of e-mail from the AICPA like the CPA Insider newsletter and e-mails announcing what’s new for CPE. None of these are what I consider to be junk mail because I want to read them, but they are not time-sensitive and have less importance for getting my attention than say, an e-mail from a client. I established e-mail rules making anything from the AICPA automatically appear in a subfolder I created called “AICPA” rather than my e-mail inbox.
To create a rule in Outlook 2007, click on Mail in the navigation pane, then on the tools menu, click on Rules and Alerts. A box will appear similar to the one below. The box below shows my AICPA rule.
E-mail rules have especially helped me with my e-mail on my cell phone. My inbox on my cell phone syncs only with the inbox in Outlook and not the subfolders, so I am no longer interrupted by the new e-mail notification sound on my phone only to find that the AICPA is offering a new CPE course.
I am committing myself to having a clean e-mail inbox for 2010. How’s that for a new year’s resolution?