Outlook is my one salvation from sheer chaos. As I’ve complained before several times before (here, and here), I’m pretty busy. Outlook is the shining light that keeps me sane. Having taken an internal course on time management a couple of years ago, Managing Action Using Outlook, I realized I wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by email at Microsoft. The beginning of the class was a confessional, people were asked “How many unread emails you have in your inbox?" I thought I was bad with 200 unread emails. One person in the class had 2,000+. I realized I wasn’t that bad off. The course taught me to two things - see if the email is actionable, if not, do you need to save it, if not, delete it. If it is actionable, can you reply immediately, if not, put a flag on it and describe the task that needs to be accomplished. The second lesson was to use my Outlook calendar religiously to schedule my time and to color code any events I had.. Here’s my calendar for April - May before TechEd:
- Red colors indicate high priority items that you would lose sleep over
- Dark Blue are regularly schedule meetings
- Light blue indicates travel
- Green is a personal event
- Orange is a customer event
- Brown is when I schedule time to work on projects
I also love Outlook 2003 Search Folders. I flag all mail that is urgent (red), I need to respond to but not immediately (yellow), will read later (green), special projects (orange blue), and mail I want to remember to follow up on (purple). The problem is that by flagging mail, I would get a rather large # of emails flagged for follow up. So I created a search folder with just red and yellow flags and any overdue items. I called it Hot Flags, meaning that if I even have five minutes in-between meetings, these are the flags I should work on. My goal is to keep this around 20. As you can see below I’m doing great with unread mail, but I clearly have a lot of actionable mail.
Now onto the confessional: How many unread emails do you have in your inbox? What tips (besides the delete key) would you recommend to stay on top of information overflow?