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Probably many of you receive hundreds/thousands of e-mail every week. This happens especially when you are part of wide distribution lists.

How do you find the relevant ones? Do you use any smart plugins (for Outlook)?

Until now I tried:

  1. Sorting them in folders but it failed because then I got into folder overload
  2. Making rules. Fails especially when doing text matching because is not taking into account the context.
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closed as off topic by MichaelT, Thomas Owens Apr 26 '13 at 17:27

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How, exactly is this related to programming? – Walter Oct 25 '10 at 12:13
I believe the question is assuming as a programmer who spends a significant portion of time on the computer, the programmer inherently receives a multitude of emails. Therefore, Victor is asking how do you manage the magnitude of email. – Chris Oct 25 '10 at 12:30
Does this have to apply to outlook? I cannot be the only one who does not use outlook for email and want to hear answers too! – Chris Oct 25 '10 at 12:31
No, is not about Outlook. I'm looking especially for solutions that can be applied to Outlook but any idea is good - maybe can be adapted to Outlook. – Victor Hurdugaci Oct 25 '10 at 14:40
Why is hundreds of emails a week a problem? Just be decisive when you go through your email. – David Thornley Oct 25 '10 at 19:51

6 Answers 6

I too used to have a load of folders and a bunch of email rules until I had too many rules and too many folders to manage and began to overlook important emails. I now use a triage system to manage my emails. It has four levels: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important and not important or urgent. I try to work through them in that order. I spend about 10 minutes each day organising my inbox to separate out the important and urgent emails to make sure they get actioned as a priority.

Any CC or BCC email usually goes straight into the "not important or urgent" folder.

There is a whole methodology dedicated to this called GTD (Getting Things Done) which is worth a read if you are being deluged by email.

I recommend listening this pod cast about GTD from Scott Hanselman for a "pros and cons" style introduction to GTD.

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I recommend just reading the short book by David Allen :-) – Thomas Stock Oct 25 '10 at 11:06
Nice pod cast. It gave me some ideas – Victor Hurdugaci Oct 25 '10 at 12:02
+1 for mentionning gtd – user2567 Nov 13 '10 at 19:47

Similar to BradB's triage system I'd use the categories Act, Read, File and Bin.

Act means this is something you have been asked to do and it's your responsibility to do it. Do this stuff first after categorising.

Read means it may contain useful information, but you don't know yet. This also takes those magazines and CPD activities. Pick up this stuff when you hit a mental block on the work you are "Acting" on or in the time you put aside for CPD.

File means it contains relevant information about a decision or work done that needs to be stored for future reference.

Bin is just as it says.

Start by moving all items in your inbox to one of these categories, as you act upon or read stuff move it to file or bin as necessary. Clear out the File stuff at the end of the day, and only check your inbox when your programming work hits a natural break and you are not "in the zone".

It doesn't address how to file stuff, but that is an individual thing anyway.

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I use the first two items that you use - don't abandon them. Rules will help most for items where the context truly does not matter. You can also have rules that flag items which may be of interest, but do not require you to respond right away (ie: most distribution list emails) - at the least they will be moved out of your inbox.

Something else to try: conversation view, along with flags. Have list items moved by default into appropriate folders. When there is a conversation that you want to follow, flag it, and then track it through the conversation view in Outlook.

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Of course we always receive unimportant emails from many people, and only a few are really needed to be checked. We just have to filter creating a folder and rules.

My personal trick is:

  1. Let those really important on Inbox, when they are getting old (about months), I move them to a folder when it is related to a project. In case its unneeded, I move them to Trash. If it is something to remember the next day, I put a flag on the email.

  2. For not so important emails, I create a rule and extra folders for each topic, them my email client software move all them automatically to these other folders, so I can check them when I get some time.

  3. Those unwanted marketing I mark them as junk.

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The trick is to set up an Opt-in system and set of triage rules that moves new mail there. Only opt-in to email that tends to be urgent and important.

We have outlook at work and I have rules that move email based on three groupings

  1. Items addressed to me, are from Sr. Team members or boss(es) or support people get flagged and moved to my real Inbox TODO
  2. Other team members and items not addressed directly to me get moved to Filter
  3. Everything else stays in the Inbox which I alias to "bulk-rate"

From my experience

  1. If you have more then three inboxes, the system will break down when email isn't were you expect it or don't know where it should go.
  2. If you don't have a way to separate urgent and important from just important, the system will break down as it will be hard to sort out things that must be done right now
  3. If you can not easily adjust the system, it will break down as it will slowly become the wrong system for you.

The most important part of this is to adjust the rules every week or so. I sometimes add subject key words to Filter when a project needs my attention.

  1. If I had a lot of mail boxes to filter too, it would be too much effort to adjust the rules.
  2. If I had more than to address list groups Important and Filtered, it would be too hard to manage who goes where.
  3. If I had more than a dozen rules, it would be too hard to adjust every week.

I only get three or four items a day in TODO and less than 20 in Filter. I get over 100 a day in bulk. I read TODO email as it comes in. I read Filter once or twice a day. I usually flip through bulk on my blackberry on the way home. I delete well over 99% of everything there after reading only the first screen full. Most of it is FYI stuff. Can take an hour to clean it out.

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Interesting. I like this idea! Looking for more answers but for the moment this is the top of the 'Try' list. – Victor Hurdugaci Oct 25 '10 at 14:42

You could consider gmail.

It does not require sorting to folders, but allow you to tag mails.

Searching for stuff is fast. Their web interface can be used without a mouse. Really nice.

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Sorry but GMail/webmails are out of discussion. I am talking about business e-mails. – Victor Hurdugaci Oct 25 '10 at 12:01
You can use GMail for business emails - see – Peter Boughton Oct 25 '10 at 12:15
Some companies allow the use of GMail for business purposes, but many don't. There's a lot of potential liability issues with products like GMail, including privacy, confidentiality, and retention. Businesses are often conservative when moving from something that works well enough to something with big potential downsides. – David Thornley Oct 25 '10 at 19:50

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