In today's age of receiving dozens to 100s of e-mails a day, quickly processing these is critical. Microsofties are known for the volumes of e-mail we deal with, particularly as a Program Manager. As ScottHa mentions, "these guys used Outlook like it's an IM client" (so true that I don't use IM). It's not unusual to go on vacation for a few days and come back to 100s of e-mail (not spam!). Saying MSFTEs are know for this is odd to me, because it's nothing unique, most people online these days are flooded with mail. This post is my 'lessons learned' and a simple 3-step discovery to e-mail nirvana...
In the first two years at MS, I created an elaborate folder structure (~40 folders) and ended up writing my own filtering rules engine since I quickly hit our Exchange server's rule limit. Now I take a completely different approach...
The key of good e-mail management is being able to respond and take action to mail quickly and not let mail fall through the cracks. To archive this, I abandon complexity, embrace simplicity, and use rapid aggressive triaging. With this simple system, I'm now able to hit 0 unread mail throughout the day. As well as respond to all mail (that needs a reply) in a timely manor.
The key is in applying this Rapid Pickup Process (inspired by Getting Things Done) to triaging email: For each unread item in the Inbox either: 1. Ignore it (mark it as read), 2. Reply to it quickly (if <1min), or 3. Mark it 'For Follow Up'. Then later go through the flagged 'For Follow Up' items that need more reading or action.
The 3 Step Process
Note: I renamed my "Unread Mail" folder to "Unread in Inbox" since I exclude the "Other" folder from this search folder.
Ideally, the measure of the mail one has to deal with isn't measured in the number of incoming messages, but in the amount of mail you send. Anyone can get bombarded with mail, the skill comes in improving the signal to noise ratio and balancing a narrow pipeline with mail management techniques to keep up with it all. It's like anything else, if clutter is reducing productivity, eliminate it.
<rant> We all know plenty of people that just never seam to reply to our mail, or at least in a timely manor, what a pain!! How do they survive? Ever get that overwhelming feeling 'I've got SO MUCH MAIL to go through?!?' I HATE that feeling, used to get it all the time, so that's what this is all about. Make it quick and easy to keep up with it all. </rant>
Update (1/3/08), New Tip: Collapsed Navigation Pane
Since originally posting these tips, I've discovered you can hide/collapse the Navigation Pane in Outlook 2008 (not previous versions) which saves screen real estate and makes for a more simple, clean view. This is the only way I run Outlook now. Lean & Mean
Update (5/20/08), Google Reader Pattern Ever use Google Reader to read RSS feeds? It hit me last week that I love the pattern there, you're presented with a long list of unread items, as you read them they're marked as read, and you can flag items to follow up with. That's the same pattern this post is all about, but using it for e-mail. So if you like Google Reader, you'll probably like this way of reading e-mail too.