Rules and Actions in Outlook or How I stayed sane after coming back to 1000+ emails

One of the best things about the holidays is getting to take some time off and visit family and friends.

One of the worst things about the holidays is coming back to work and an inbox with more than 1200 emails. Granted, I was out of the office for 4 business days so it’s only about 300 emails per day, but still … it’s a lot1.

I have two strategies for dealing with the many emails I get:

  1. Outlook Rules (Rules)
  2. Outlook Custom Actions (Actions)

Rules

Rules allow you to apply actions automatically as they are received in your inbox. This is useful if you work (or manage) one or more tech support desks and you need to segregate the email received into folders to review later.

This is exactly the kind of thing that I do. I currently have more than 50 rules set up in Outlook and they help process about 50%-60% of the emails that I receive.

The other 40% – 50% can’t be ‘Rule’ drive.

For these types of emails I use Actions.

Actions

Actions are amazing because they can have keyboard shortcuts assigned to them.2

I have 3 Actions that I use consistently to help manage my email that isn’t automatically routed with Rules:

  1. Archive (Ctrl + Shift + 9)
  2. Review (Ctrl + Shift + 5)
  3. Review with Boss (Ctrl + Shift + 1)

I archive all internal emails I receive, and probably about 90% of the external emails I receive so that I can refer back to them when needed. I have to archive them into a .pst file because my IS department only allocates a finite (some might say small finite) amount of space.

Using the Keyboard Shortcut Ctrl + Shift + 9 will automatically move an email to the archive. This is really helpful for emails that were sent to me for informational purposes OR that have a long email chain and a resolution was reached without me.

The Review Action will mark the email with a Flag and move it to a @Review folder. I do this with emails that will take more than 2 minutes to process. This works well for longer emails, or emails that need me to make a decision and I am not ready to make that decision yet.

The Review with Boss action is the one action that is used the least of these three. It is useful when I receive an email and need guidance from my boss. If I just need to send her an email about it then I’ll usually mark it as Review and follow up with it during my review process or if it will take less than 2 minutes to write up an email I’ll take care of it right then and there.

Usually emails to her take loner than 2 minutes to compose because they need to be short3

In my next post I’ll go over my review process. This is where I go through the 25 – 100 emails that have been marked as Review and answer the emails that need attention.

  1. I used to get even more. When my company upgraded to Exchange Server 2016 we got the ability for Out of Office Notifications to appear in a message BEFORE a person sent it. This has cut down on the amount of email I receive when I’m out of the office by about 30% – 50%
  2. If you’re not using keyboard shortcuts, you’re really missing out on some power user productivity hacks that will help you out.
  3. This idea is cribbed from Blaise Pascal’s statement, “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte” … in English, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Hat tip to Quote Investigator

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