How To Get Started

So now you have all the tools you need to begin processing your email in a new way, a way that allows you to have an empty inbox on a daily basis. But how do you get started? This chapter is a step-by-step explanation on how to configure Outlook for optimal emailing. Also, we will look into what to do with your current folders, and how to handle an overloaded inbox post-leave, using what we call a ‘back from holiday crunch‘.

Turn off new email notifications

  1. In Outlook 2010*, go to the File tab
  2. Choose Options from the menu
  3. Click on Mail in the menu on the left
  4. Untick all options under the Message Arrival section

* For other email clients see the tips in the right column.

Add the action folders

  1. In Outlook, go to Mail and in the folder list right-click on the mailbox at the top of your list (this is not your inbox but the top level, which typically carries your own email address)
  2. In the menu, choose Add new folder
  3. Type 1 FILED ITEMS as the folder name and hit enter
  4. Repeat this to add the folders 2 DO THIS WEEK, 3 HOLDING FOR LATER and 4 WAITING FOR OTHERS

When completed, right-click the 2 DO THIS WEEK folder and choose Properties. Under the Description box tick the Show total number of items radio button to display all email (regardless whether they are read or unread) in your to-do mailbox.

Enter the Weekly Check into your Calendar

  1. In Outlook, go to Calendar and select a time slot to do your Weekly Check (for instance 09:00 AM to 10:00 AM on Friday morning)
  2. Enter Weekly Check as the subject of the appointment
  3. Click on Recurrence and hit enter (it will default to recur weekly)
  4. In the Notes field type (or copy and paste using Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V) the checklist below, and then save the appointment

Weekly Checklist:

  • Calendar, past week
  • Calendar, coming week
  • Do This Week 
  • Paper notes
  • Holding for Later
  • Waiting for Others

Retire your old folders

How you retire your old folders is dependent on your IT infrastructure, meaning that it is smart to check with your help desk on how to best archive old email. You might choose to move your old folders to existing Archive folders (sometimes called personal folders), but if you have a central archiving system you can leave your old folders in your Mailbox. If this is the case we suggest you move the folders to a separate folder, which we will call Zipped folders, to make the folders drop down out of sight.

  1. Create a folder called Zipped folders by right clicking on your mailbox (email address) and selecting Add new folder
  2. Move your existing folders to Zipped folders. You will have to drag your folders in one by one (subfolders will be moved as well). If you have many folders, start with the lowest folder, this will make the dragging and dropping quicker and easier.

Empty your inbox using the the Back from Holiday Crunch

The Back from Holiday Crunch is a quick way to process a large volume of emails in your inbox, and can be used to get your new emailing habits started as well as when you return from a period of leave. The Back from Holiday Crunch uses the same principles you’ve already learned, so emails are still decided on and sorted on a one-by-one basis. However, in the Back from Holiday Crunch two extra rules apply:

  • Forget the two-minute rule.
  • Apply the Law of getting bored twice.

What does this mean? Simply start at the top of your emails and start sorting. However, if an email can be done in two minutes, don’t start on it but move it to DO THIS WEEK instead. This way you will get into a flow of making quick decisions only. Gradually you will notice that the emails are becoming less relevant. We call this getting bored. As soon as you get bored for the first time, stop processing emails one by one and simply scroll down to spot important emails and move those to the applicable folder. Continue this until you get bored again. After the strike of boredom, select all remaining emails (Ctrl + A) and move them to your filed items (Ctrl + Shift + V, then 1, then Enter). Now that your inbox is empty, return to your  2 DO THIS WEEK to process all your two-minute actions.

Using the Back from Holiday Crunch has reduced the time we spend on processing email backlogs after an holiday leave from 2 days to 2 hours. You might miss one or two older action items, but at least you are back working on the important matters halfway through the same morning!


Previous chapter