Here’s how I dealt with my Outlook inbox at the Big Bank; looking at each email once, creating tasks where necessary, and getting them out of the Inbox. It’s one method among many out there on the web, but it works for me, and it might be useful for you.
As I come to the end of my time with the Big Bank, I’ll be saying goodbye to Outlook, which has been the central hub of my work for so many years. Almost everything I do comes in via Outlook and a huge amount of what I create in response goes out through Outlook. Being a fan of the Getting Things Done method (more about it here) I’ve gradually built up a way of working with it that allows me a clear focus on tasks and a one-touch way of dealing with emails. Since I went to two days a week I’ve found the system invaluable as my first task is always to deal with three days of email.
Here’s the method: My Outlook System (PDF)
What I didn’t mention in the flowchart is a first pass where I identify all the ones I know by the sender or subject that I don’t need – all the circulars, copied-in updates, adverts – with Ctrl-click until they’re all highlighted then Delete. What remains are the ones that might be of interest and they’re the ones I’d apply this method to. I know I could automate this with Rules, but I prefer to do it myself.
I hope it’s of some use to you. There are lots of methods proposed by different people. This is an adaptation of one I found years ago which, sadly, I can’t find now to give credit. In my home/freelance life I don’t use Outlook. I have a similar intention, using a combination of Gmail, Evernote and GQueues; it isn’t as simple or elegant as having everything in one place. I’ll describe it another time if anyone’s interested.
PS – here’s an opposing view from http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/01/open-question-inbox-zero.html
If you’re pursuing inbox zero, the one thing that’s guaranteed is that you’re killing your productivity. You’re expanding your triage and mail processing time to meet the volume that is being generated by other people, whose idea of how your time is best spent probably doesn’t correspond remotely with yours. Even triaging email takes mental energy and decision-making. If you insist on giving every message in your inbox consideration, you’re letting others (the senders of the messages) control your attention and your triage time.
Here’s my favorite Inbox Zero technique. It still involves triage, but through clever use of decision architecture and defaults, it greatly lessens your email load: Select All then Delete. You can still rescue and process any messages that demand replies from your Deleted Messages folder, but charge yourself $5 for each one you rescue. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to decrease your email load by 90%.