Efficient email management is not only about technology. But it is certainly also not only about knowing what workflow to adopt! Too many time-management trainings teach participants the right workflow but fail to effectively implement these with the available tools. Besides this it is widely recognized that with the outdated Outlook model of “Inbox – Sent items – Folder system” it is very hard to efficiently implement the right principles.
This article describes shortly the theoretical communication and workflow principles to efficiently manage daily email communication and how these can be effectively implemented using NEO Pro.
Following these guidelines will implement a theoretically sound workflow combined with getting the most out of NEO’s automatic organizational features. This will result in significant time savings per day, more control over daily email communication and minimized manual actions needed to manage the incoming emails.
Please read and understand carefully the principles and steps as
below before trying to implement them. Always first export your current
settings by going to View | Layout | Export Layout… and note
current workflow settings before making changes. If you have any
like further clarification you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Communication and workflow principles to effectively manage daily emails
Although users do not have control over the number of incoming emails they do have full control over the number of outgoing emails.
Studies clearly show a correlation between number of send items and number of received items. The important conclusion: to receive less we have to send less. Being far more critical in the number of emails send out will result consequently in fewer emails in the inbox.
Taking this seriously when trying to control email overload is starting at the very source of email overload: the number of incoming emails.
NOTE: this article is not dealing with controlling spam – there are enough 3rd party spam solutions to deal with this while most companies deploy spam filters on a global base.
Reducing the number of outgoing emails is all about strict discipline and to adhere to a few simple guidelines. These guidelines are not exhaustive but form a good starting point. Interested readers can find much more on this topic in time management literature dealing with email overload or in the various trainings on this topic.
for effective outgoing email communications:
1) Choose regularly and where possible other communication channels – use telephone and personal contact.
2) Avoid discussions or emotions to be communicated through emails. Email is not suited for this type of communication.
3) Limit yourself only to necessary and relevant emails – avoid giving your unsolicited opinion when not absolutely necessary.
4) Use formal language – save the small talk for personal contact.
5) Do not send an email – ask yourself again whether an email is really needed.
DO NOT become part of the problem – every email send out will contribute to someone’s email overload!
Implementing sound workflow principles is essential to reduce email inefficiencies and is an important factor in dealing effectively with the daily incoming emails.
Email clients or email efficiency tools themselves can only help in fighting inefficiencies but when not supported by the right workflow will never be as effective as potentially possible. This equally applies to NEO Pro.
Optimal workflow principles to deal effectively with a certain amount of work are well known from a wide range of time-management publications. A short summary is given here as can be applied to dealing with daily incoming emails.
this five distinct email related activities can be recognized as
1) Flow: Deal with the flow of incoming messages.
2) Triage: Deal with emails accumulated since last time looked at the inbox.
3) Tasks management: Deal with what needs to be done.
4) Archive: Store emails so they can be retrieved later.
5) Retrieve: A method to retrieve older communication after archiving.
The recommended workflow for each of these is as follows. The next section will discuss how to implement this workflow using NEO Pro.
Email and its impact on our daily activities have largely to do with the continuous attention email seem to ask (and get). To have email take its proper place again use the inbox only as a temporary staging area for new emails before they can be dealt with. Deal with the inbox at a few specific moments during the day (e.g. in the morning, after lunch and before leaving the office). Do not work out of the inbox as new incoming emails will demand immediate attention while most likely there are more urgent things to address.
Reducing email overload starts with redirecting less relevant (subscription) email out of the inbox automatically. This can already reduce the number of emails in the inbox by up to 40%.
When dealing with (relevant) emails in the inbox always decide on an immediate action for every email:
a) When an email can be dealt with immediately (within 2 minutes) DO it and archive the email out of the inbox – this will apply to the majority of emails in the inbox!
b) When an email requires further action move this email out of the inbox to a To Do staging area – it is good practice to already indicate a certain priority.
c) When an email is finished but requires follow-up from an external party move this email out of the inbox to a Follow-Up staging area.
Dealing with emails in the inbox in such disciplined manner will consequently result in an empty inbox! Remember the main rule: Never touch an email without taking some form of action.
3) Task management
With the inbox empty obviously not all work is done. All smaller tasks have been dealt with and the real work sits in the To Do area.
Move away from the inbox to the To Do area to start working on the outstanding issues according the assigned priorities. Once an email is finished archive it away out of To Do area.
Few times per week review the Follow-Up staging area whether the required follow-up has been received – if so, archive the corresponding email out of the Follow-Up area.
The only goal of archiving is to be able to retrieve emails at a later moment. This automatically means that whenever an email is not be needed anymore the best choice is to delete this item. When archiving is needed a useful categorization needs to be chosen to minimize archiving efforts and maximize retrieving efficiency. Obviously this is not a trivial task at all and many struggle with finding the right balance. Too many folders make searching easy but archiving complex and vice versa. This is particularly an area where technology can help.
Interestingly enough most users rely on old-fashioned paper archiving methods to store and retrieve email communications. As emails are stored on searchable media a sophisticated search facility will always have preference over searching based on physical location of the email. Also here technology can help.
Implementing workflow principles using NEO Pro
Success of implementing workflow principles have to do with willingness to change current working practices but also with using these principles in a disciplined manner.
Implementing NEO Pro and adopting a configuration to facilitate the above workflow can help users to apply these principles. Making optimal use of automatic organizational features of NEO Pro will further minimize the required manual actions needed by users so they can focus on dealing with the actual business activities.
The following is describing how to implement the above workflow using NEO Pro based on supplied user interfacing settings.
For clarity this description is following the above 5 identified email related activities. The next section will provide a summary of all implementation steps to achieve the right NEO Pro configuration. The necessary workflow settings within NEO Pro are also shown in the next section.
1) Flow: Deal with the flow of incoming messages
Set specific times to deal with the inbox (NEO’s Active Mail) – this is primarily a personal choice. Block these times in your calendar.
2) Triage: Deal with emails accumulated since last time looked at the inbox
a – Separate relevant from less relevant (subscription) emails: use NEO’s Active Mail as (virtual) inbox for relevant emails; set NEO’s workflow to keep Bulk mail out of Active Mail.
b – Deal immediately with relevant mail if this can be done in less than 2 minutes and remove from inbox: after dealing with the emails make email Inactive (use Backspace key)
c – Emails requiring further actions make To Do and remove from inbox: use Alt+1, 2 or 3 to assign To Do with high, middle or low priority – set NEO’s workflow to make email Inactive when setting To Do.
d – Emails requiring Follow-Up assign a Follow-Up flag and remove from inbox: use (or redefine) one of the standard flags on the toolbar – set NEO’s workflow to make email Inactive when Flagged.
e – As Bulk Mail is configured not to show up in Active Mail review from time to time new subscription mails. Also reorganize all mails in Unsorted Bulkmail into their own Bulk Mail folder (as subscription mails proves to be fairly static this requires normally only a one time action). For improved control keep Unsorted Bulkmail always empty.
3) Tasks management: Deal with what needs to be done
Once Active Inbox is dealt with (after step 2 in principle all emails have either been made Inactive, To Do or Flagged – so Active Mail is empty) go to the To Do folder. This now is the working area with emails listed according their priority. Make sure the To Do status folder is in the Hot section. When an email is finished clear the To Do flag (Alt+0) to remove the email from the To Do list. Regularly check the Flagged items – make sure the Flagged status folder is in the Hot section. When a follow-up is finished clear the flag (button on the toolbar) which removes the email from this folder.
4) Archive: Store emails so they can be retrieved later
As argued above archiving emails is only for the purpose of retrieving emails at a later moment. NEO’s automatic email organization providing a Correspondent folder for each correspondent and a Category folder for every category assigned combined with its lightning fast search capabilities can be easily used to replace an actual folder structure with NEO’s virtual folder structure.
At this point it is relevant to quote Mark Ledsome - former Microsoft Exchange Server Executive:
"It's the first technology I've seen that could arguably eliminate the need to manually file email, or set any rules or filters."
Replacing the folder system with assigning categories is the better choice to categorize emails in logical groups with the purpose of retrieving them at a later stage. Also as emails can be easily assigned multiple categories while they can only be moved to one physical folder.
This means that archiving while relying on NEO’s virtual email organization consists basically of 2 steps :
a) Assign (when needed) a category depending on project, customer or other grouping required (use Ctr+T or Alt+Z for easy access under the Advanced UI settings).
b) Make the email Inactive to remove them from the virtual Active Mail inbox – use Backspace key to make Inactive (or assign a To Do priority or a Flag).
On top of this there is still a need to actually move the emails away from a user’s inbox to an archive data folder (PST). As this has no relevance anymore for retrieving emails this task can be automated by setting up the AutoArchiving functionality in Outlook.
5) Retrieve: A method to retrieve older communication after archiving
NEO’s automatic organization goes a long way in how users tend to think about emails when looking for older communication:
- from whom did I receive the email (Correspondent)
- what was subject of the email (Category)
- what keywords are relevant to this email (Search)
For maximum comfort in retrieving older emails the Advanced User Interface settings will include easy access to all 3 search entries.
When selecting a Correspondent or Category a Search in Folder can be launched by using the shortcut Alt+X which is very comfortable located on the keyboard.
Steps to implement above configuration settings with NEO Pro
Following steps will implement the described configuration settings with NEO Pro:
1) Import the Advanced User Interface settings.
Note: before changing layout settings it is recommended to first export (save) the current user interface settings by going to View | Layout | Export Layout…
Import by going to View | Layout | Import Layout… the DockingAdvanced or DockingAdvancedRightViewPane layout (depending on where reading pane is preferred).
These settings will configure the toolbar with easy access for To Do actions and assigning 3 different Flags (these can be easily redefined by customizing the toolbar).
Docking of tabs is optimized to easily retrieve older emails – below the Hot view the following tabs have been docked: Category and Correspondent View. Size of these views can be optimized for the screen size used.
Besides the Category and Correspondent Views, the lightning fast Search feature can be used to find messages back. To search for a message, enter the search term in the search entry box above the message listing. Press Enter to search all message stores. Press Shift+Enter to only search the currently selected folder ('Search in Folder').
2) Define correct content of Hot section.
Make sure Active Mail, To Do and Flagged status folders are made Hot (right-click the folders under the Status tab and select Make Hot).
Also certain important Bulk Mail folders can be made Hot for easy access.
3) Reorganize emails in Unsorted Bulk Mail.
Create for every subscription email a specific Bulk Mail folder (right-click the message and select Reorganize). NEO Pro will reorganize all similar emails into the same (virtual) folder. For most users the number of received subscription emails is fairly static making this mostly a one-time action. Afterwards all subscription emails will be clearly organized in a limited number of bulk mail folders. For improved control keep the Unsorted Bulk Mail folder always empty.
4) Set correct Workflow options within NEO to support the described workflow – see below figure
Figure: workflow settings under Tools | Options – workflow tab
5) Set AutoArchiving of Outlook to auto-archive the Inbox and Sent items to a yearly PST – for further instructions please see our Application Note T1166: Setting up auto-archiving in Outlook
Some final remarks
The above described a theoretical workflow to deal effectively with daily incoming emails. It also has been demonstrated how this workflow can be implemented using NEO Pro.
In most work environments this way of working will significantly reduce the email associated workload and result in daily time savings and reduced email stress.
Obviously users are free to adopt the described working methods to their particular work situation and personal preferences. For some the described way of working cannot be implemented when (e.g.) there are very stringent requirements that have to be adhered to.
The above is supplied as a suggested way of working tested and successful in many business areas. However, every user proceeding to change his way of working will do so under his own full responsibility where the above will only serve as a guideline without any guarantees.
Last updated: 07 May 2008