Blue MailboxOn it’s most basic level, a tool is something that helps you complete or create something. The first tools two million years ago were made to make hunting and gathering easier. Tools today are much more complicated, just walk down power tool aisle at the Home Depot with my husband and you’ll learn just how complicated tools can be.

Technology is a tool that doesn’t have to be complicated. I want to help you revamp your Microsoft Outlook inbox for supreme productivity. This is just a few very simple things that will increase your productivity, help you manage incoming emails, monitor those follow up items, and help you bring your to-do list back down to a more manageable level.

What is your current email inbox workflow? Author composes and sends you an email. Email is received in your outlook inbox. Either you: You read it now and respond now… it’s done, everyone is happy; this is generally when the big Disney musical scene happens. Lots of singing and rejoicing for the happy ending. Respond later….chances are the message is left in your inbox to rot until the end of time and this scene plays out more like a Tim Burton film.

You must learn to see your inbox as an almost sacred place. The worst sin you can commit is leaving messages in your inbox to rot. You’ve got to manage the flow of information so that a) it’s possible to get through all of your email in fifteen minutes or less, and b) it’s easy to find next week, next month and next year.

There are two common reasons why people leave messages in their inbox. You don’t want to throw it away and there’s nowhere else for you to put it. There’s still something you need to do with it.

In either case, keeping those two things together in the same place is like a turtle swimming in peanut butter. It’s a bad idea and it’s wasting hours of your life. So let’s solve those two problems by creating some folders. Like most people, you are probably tempted to keep everything in your inbox, or in one folder.

But honey, let’s be honest. Life does not fit into one folder.

You should have at least types of folders to organize and store your emails: First, you should have Follow Up Folders– For emails that are unresolved, an action or follow-up is still pending. I have one “Active Follow-Up” folder that contains all of my active emails–things I need to respond to, or things I’m waiting on. Second, you should have Storage Folders– For emails where no more action is required, but it’s important to keep. I have several storage folders accordinging to topics such as “Legal Affairs,” “Manuscripts,” and “Grant Proposals.”

Storing emails in the inbox is bad. We usually keep things because there is a task pending or no good place to store it. This creates “email apathy” and things become unorganized and cluttered. Additional folders are good and cleans our inbox. If there is further action needed, send the message to your follow-up folder and clear the message out of your inbox. If you’re storing the message, send to a folder and clear the message out of your inbox.

However you decide to organize your emails, remember to keep it simple and keep it effortless. You should automatically know where an email belongs without thinking. If you make too many folders without fully knowing their purpose, we are right back to where we started.

How do you organize your inbox folders?