Harness the Power of Outlook: 6 Features of a Truly Effective Email Management System

This post is the first in a two-part series on optimizing Outlook to management your email. We will post the second part of the series next month.
You have to eat. You know you have to eat. If you don't eat, you'll die. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat less, but you still have to eat. 
You have to use email. You know you have to use email. If you don't use email, you'll probably lose your job. If you want to be better at your job, you have to use email less, but you still have to use it.
How can you take charge of your email? You’ve probably read a million different suggestions.
  • Check your email twice a day
  • Check your email ONCE a day
  • Use an assistant
  • Turn off notifications
  • Close your email when you need to focus
  • Use out-of-office messages
  • File messages into folders
None of these suggestions have ever worked for me. This is because most email is hogwash that doesn’t need to be opened or filed. There are generally four types of emails: 
  1. Important (a minor percentage of the whole)
  2. News (News organization updates, Chamber of Commerce, industry publications, etc.)
  3. Notices (LinkedIn updates, Go Daddy, American Express, etc.)
  4. Offers (Dell, Southwest Airlines, Fast Company, Verizon, etc.) 
Important messages are created specifically for you and provide you with vital information. The rest is “Noise” email that can be filtered and read (or not) at your convenience.
It was only after suffering from years of email overload that I finally took matters into my own hands and decided to fix the problem for myself by harnessing the power of Outlook to create an email management system that simply works. 
Microsoft Outlook is a technological powerhouse that most people have barely scratched the surface of, and I’m living proof that the mostly untouched features beneath the surface can change your life.
Here's a basic overview of the six Outlook features that make up my email management system. 


This is weapon #1 in the fight against email bloat. A Search Folder lets you tell Outlook exactly what you want it to find and put into a folder. Using the Search Folder feature, you can select all unread mail, mail from and to specific people, mail with attachments, mail with specific words, etc.
For example, I have several people I regularly send email to and receive email from. So, if I think to myself, "Self, did you send that email to Kathryn about the blog post you just wrote?" Instead of digging through the hundreds of emails I send every week, I have a Search Folder that is only email sent to and received from Kathryn, and I didn't even have to file one email because Outlook does all the work. 


Email Rules enable you to tell Outlook to do very specific things with sent or received messages. While similar to Search Folders in power, Rules are primarily actions that take place the moment an action happens, like when I get a notification from LinkedIn (and know I can ignore it).


You may have used Categories before. They’re those color tags you attach to an email, contact, or calendar item. Most people use them in their calendars to see what is business and personal at a quick glance. 
But, the real power of Categories comes out when you combine them with Rules. For example, I’ve created a Rule for “News” emails that come from a variety of sources and use Categories to label it News.


In Outlook, Favorites are at the top of the left pane in your email, and you can customize them to show only the things you access most. You can also drag those magical Search Folders into Favorites instead of letting them languish in the “Search Folders” grouping at the very depths of the left pane. 


Quick Steps really makes email management faster. Quick Steps enables you to package several actions together into one quick keystroke or click. You can create them to invoke a rule, move a message, forward a message, create an appointment, flag a message, create a task or do ALL of those things simultaneously with the click of the mouse or the push of a button.


“Folders” are not “Search Folders.” Folders have no magical powers. They just sit there and accept whatever you put into them. Delete a folder and what’s in it is scattered to the wind. For a truly effective email management system, you only need two Folders: Archive and Filtered.
Those are the six Outlook features you’ll need to build my email management machine. But, we’re just getting started here. Check back next month when I reveal, step-by-step, how you can achieve Zero Inbox.