Save Time With 7 Great Ways to Organize Your Outlook Inbox

Spending 10 minutes to locate a client email with an important attachment and another 15 looking for that new account setup email is something just about everyone can relate to at some time or another.

The average U.S. office worker spends 28% of their day in their email program, reading, answering, and searching for email messages. That ends up being more than a full week out of every month spent on nothing but email.

Would you like to reduce the time you spend on email and make messages easier to find? If you use Outlook, which is a part of the Microsoft 365 cloud service, we have several tips that can streamline your inbox and save you tons of time.

Improve Productivity, Get to “Email Zero,” and More!

Do you ever feel like no matter how many emails you answer, you’ll never get to that much sought-after state of “email zero?” Where your inbox is completely empty, and you can breathe a sigh of relief and feel just a little less overwhelmed?

Well, it may be easier than you think when you deploy some of the Outlook organizational tips below to help your inbox become more efficient.

Keep Emails in Separate Folders

Using a folder structure in Outlook can help you keep everything from collecting in your main inbox and getting buried.

Just right-click on your inbox in Outlook and choose “New Folder” to create a specific folder for email messages. You can use these for organizing things like “Receipts” and “Customer Questions.”

You can take two workflow approaches to organizing your inbox using folders:

  • Approach 1: Have everything come into your main inbox, then once read, move it into the appropriate mail folder; Or
  • Approach 2: Use automated rules (we’ll go over those next) to send mail directly to the appropriate mail folder, skipping your inbox altogether.

Use Rules to Automate Inbox Organization

You can deploy rules in Outlook that can automatically handle manual mail tasks for you, saving you time and keeping you organized.

For example, once you set up mail folders, you can set a rule to send emails from a particular email address into that folder automatically.

There are several things you can do with rules to help you reduce the time it takes to sort through email. A few of these include:

  • Moving messages based upon the sender or keywords in the subject line
  • Flagging messages from a specific sender for follow up
  • Sending an alert to your mobile device when receiving email from a certain sender
  • Deleting a message from a specific sender
  • Replying to a designated email sender automatically with a template

Use Sounds to So You Don’t Have to Continually Check Your Inbox

One of the biggest time wasters during the day is the time you take to continually check your email when you see new messages coming in. This breaks concentration from the task at hand, which tanks productivity. Studies show that it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back to the same level of concentration after an interruption.

Have your colleagues use a specific keyword in the subject line of an email to you (one that won’t be likely to be used by other senders) to indicate the message is urgent.

Then create a rule that will play a specific alert sound if a message is received with that keyword. This helps keep you on task while also allowing you to be responsive when needed.

Keep Your Email Color Coded with Categories

One easy way to immediately identify messages from your supervisor from everything else is to have them all highlighted in the same color.

Using categories in Outlook can help you do that. You create categories based upon any criteria that you choose and then can assign email messages (tasks, notes, etc.) a category, which will immediately highlight it with your chosen color.

Note: Categories cannot be used with IMAP accounts.

Make Emails into Tasks to Clear Your Inbox

Do you keep emails in your inbox as reminders of things you need to do? Then you end up having to sift through them all to find the information again later?

This entire process can be simplified by taking a second to drag your email to the task icon in Outlook. This instantly creates a task that allows you to set up a reminder that includes the text of the email. You don’t have to go searching for it later and you can clear that email out of your inbox, since its already saved in your task list.

Use OneNote to Save Project Related Emails

If you’re working on a project, you’ll often receive project related emails that have information in them. They may not necessarily need to be replied to, but you need to keep the information for reference.

Move these emails out of your inbox by saving them in a OneNote notebook related to the specific project. This keeps several emails related to the project organized and keeps them from clogging up your inbox.

To enable this feature, first make sure you have OneNote installed, and then in Outlook:

  • Go to File > Options > Advanced
  • Scroll to the bottom to the “Other” category
  • Check the box next to “Use Send to OneNote with OneNote for Windows 10 if available.”

Use the Cleanup Feature for Conversations

In the Home menu of Outlook you’ll see a Clean Up function, which allows you to get rid of redundant emails.

Often conversations will include the prior trail of emails within them, so you end up with multiple emails with similar text, and really only need the last one that has all the messages captured within.

Clicking the Clean Up function in Outlook can help you instantly reduce the size of your inbox.

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