Managing Email: Using Categories in Outlook and Gmail

Managing Email: Using Categories in Outlook and Gmail

We all know how much time email can take up during our day. We often try to focus our time on completing specific tasks but end up monitoring the messages that come into our inbox, constantly distracted by the “new message” icon.

While email in the workplace is problematic when it comes to productivity, there are ways to manage your email account that can make it easier to deal with the number of messages coming in. This includes sending less email to receive less, and using applications and organizational systems that streamline the functioning of your inbox. While it is very time consuming to manage messages that come straight to one general inbox, filtering your messages and breaking up your emails into categories can be a very helpful way to manage your emails more effectively. Often though, we don’t have the time to sort through all of our messages manually, which is why applications that automatically sort out the emails in your inbox can be very effective at simplifying your workday and making you more productive.

While email is very difficult to stop using in a world so accustomed to using it, in an effort to make email easier here are five of the most popular ways to organise your inbox in both Gmail and Outlook:

1. Make Better Use of Gmail Tabs

Gmail introduced a new layout system in 2013 that automatically included three tabs, which divides your inbox into three default sections, namely Primary, Social and Promotions. Primary emails are those considered general by Gmail’s default filters, with Social being emails sent from social networking sites and Promotions made up of newsletters and other emails with a promotional or marketing slant. In addition to these, there are the Updates and Forums tabs, which are designed to filter confirmations, receipts and messages from online groups or discussion forums respectively. Although you can’t create your own tabs, there are ways to improve the tabbed system, including setting up your inbox so that all starred emails show in your Primary inbox, and setting up custom filters to automatically direct emails to one of the tabs.

2. Set Up Colour-Coded Labels in Gmail

In addition to the predefined tabs that divide up your inbox, you can also set up labels in the left-hand navigation pane on Gmail, which can help to categorise your mail even further. You can set up the labels in the left hand pane to only show unread mail, and even use different colours to visually organise your inbox into a colour-coded hierarchy that can make assessing the urgency of emails a lot easier. Emails can also be given multiple tags, which allows you to group emails together and be able to find them more easily later. Labels can easily be created or deleted by clicking the “Manage labels” menu item on the left-hand navigation pane. To make things even more simple, you can also drag a label from the left hand navigation pane onto an email to classify it.

3. Use Hashtags to Easily Find Messages Later in Gmail

In addition to using colour-coded labels, another way to easily organise and categorise the emails in your inbox is to use hashtags in the body of your emails. Typing into the search panel at the top of the page can be frustrating as you need to sift through potentially hundreds of emails. By using specific hashtags in your emails you can easily find the message you are looking for. While this can be very helpful when you are working on projects with specific keywords, you can also use this in a more general way, by using personal terms perhaps like #ReadLater to bookmark emails that you don’t have time to read during work hours but can easily find later when you have time to catch up on your unread emails.

4. Use Colour Coded Tabs to Identify Your Outlook Categories

Similar to Gmail, Outlook also allows you to categorize your email with colour codes. To set up this different codes, go to the top toolbar in Outlook and click on “Categorize”. Once you click on this you can go to “All Categories” in order to rename and define each colour coded tag. In your inbox, you can then add labels to relevant emails by right clicking on the email and selecting the relevant category by clicking on the desired colour label. To make assigning a category to an email even easier, you can also set up shortcut keys to make selecting a category as simple as clicking a predefined key.

5. Use Default Categories and Rules in Outlook

It’s one thing to brighten up your inbox using colour codes to help visually order your inbox, but if you’re applying these categories manually this can mean that many emails go uncategorized and are more difficult to find at a later stage. In order to make sure that all emails are categorized more easily, you can set up Quick Click in the Categories tab to select a default category that you use most often, and can easily apply to an email by clicking on the categories column. Another more efficient way of categorizing emails, and making sure that this is done consistently, is to set up Rules under the “Move” tab, which will automatically direct mail to the correct category without no effort necessary.

Making Email Categories Practical

Organising your inbox effectively can require some trial and error, and finding out what works best for you can involve some research into different category systems. Overall, the need for streamlined inboxes in all workplaces means that there are all kinds of integrated applications and online resources available to help to make your inbox as easy to navigate as possible. Although it might also require some time investment, it’s helpful to take however long you need to sort through your inbox and set up all the relevant default settings and labels. It could prove a time consuming process at first, but doing this can save you hours of searching and avoid any unnecessary frustration in the long run.

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