Keep top priorities on top in Outlook

If you attempt to prioritize your day based on hundreds of inbox items, you’re wasting valuable time assessing and reassessing your priorities. Try one or more of these methods to keep the focus on what’s important.

Clear the clutter

If you don’t intend to act on an email and you don’t need it filed to support a business transaction, delete it! If your deleted items aren’t deleted automatically, scan it once or twice a week and clear it. If you need to hang onto some messages for a week, create a “purgatory” folder. These are items that you’re pretty sure you don’t need to keep or even read.  The idea is to get them out of the inbox!

Any time you spend hitting Delete for unwanted subscription mail is wasted energy. As long as it is from a legitimate source (compliant with CAN-SPAM 2003), it will have an unsubscribe link. If the email is from a suspicious domain, a better idea would be to write a rule for it. Right-click the message and choose Rules>Create Rule. Check the From… box and Move it to folder box. Then choose the Deleted Items folder.

If you’re less sure, but reasonably confident that you won’t need to keep it, send it to a purgatory folder. Check the folder once a week, and if you haven’t gone into it for anything, delete the contents. To make it easier, create a Send to Folder Quick Step and associate it with a keyboard shortcut. That way you can send it to “almost deleted” without the pain of clicking, dragging or dropping!

Classify the important things

Color Categories

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Right-click on any email message and select Categorize and choose All Categories. Assign color categories by ­priority, project or importance. Like Quick Steps, you can assign a keyboard shortcut key to a Category. When you’ve processed your inbox, sort by Category and Choose View>Arrangement>Expand/Collapse>Collapse All Groups. Now you have your inbox prioritized. Expand the categories one at a time. As you complete an item, right-click on the category color box in the list. Choose Clear All Categories. It will clear the categories from that selected item.

Follow-up Flags

You’ll find little gray “ghost” flags to the right of each email message. Don’t just click them, right-click and assign the right timing. If a task has to be done before the end of the business day, assign it today. If it can wait (even if you get it done sooner), assign it to­­morrow, this week, next week or custom-date flag. If everything is due today, nothing is due today. Keep the today flag sacred. Similar to categories, sort by Flag Status, collapse all groups.

Find the important things

Right-click on the Search ­Folders icon in the Navigation pane and choose New Search Folder. Create a search folder for Unread Mail, Mail Flagged for Follow-up and/or Categorized Mail, if they’re not already created for you. For added convenience, right-click each new Search Folder and choose Show in Favorites. These will now appear at the top of your Navigation Pane. During the day, you’ll see the unread numbers go bold as new messages come in.


Contributor: Melissa P. Esquibel, Microsoft® ­Certified Trainer