22.00.0022: Taming Outlook

A short video showing how I used to use Outlook to tame my inbox. Bad news though: these advanced features are probably going away.

This has been a Johnny.Decimal blog post notification; see jdcm.al/21.05

Outlook has gone from one extreme to the other. The “old” Outlook was fussy, confusing and ugly. The new Outlook is basically useless.

Hopefully, they make “Goldilocks Outlook” at some point in the future.


I think I don’t get quite that many emails but I have a different automation approach that works extremely well for me. I should post a thorough write-up of it, but here’s the gist of it:

  1. I have index subfolders, like you show here.
  2. I do not have a custom search folder. I also do not use “move conversation”. Instead, I have Outlook rules that say, essentially, "if the subject contains “#23.16” then move it to that folder. It’s easy to add this rule because it’s not very often that I create new index values.
  3. In every message I compose (new or reply), I add the ID like “#23.16” to the end of the subject line. Easy. I also add a task flag to my outgoing emails, but only if I need to keep track and follow up later.
  4. I also have a simple Outlook rule that gives every incoming email a task flag (due today). This is what frees me from the Inbox and moves my focus to the Task view.
  5. Because of this, I almost never work in the “Mail” view at all, except when I’m looking up past correspondence. In daily work, I am mostly in the “Task” view. I’ve set it to group by date, so it automatically has “next month”, “next week”, “this week”, “tomorrow”, and finally “TODAY” which is the only one I actively look at, the rest are collapsed.
    Now I no longer have emails – I have tasks!
  6. At this point, I have everything sorted nicely, and everything in my daily Task view. At the start of the day, I look through the daily Task view and determine whether the items are relevant today or should be postponed to a later date. Postponing is nice :wink: but it also feels good to know that I won’t forget, because Tasks will bring it to my attention when the time is right. By the way, things left over from yesterday are automatically red because they are overdue.
  7. Then I apply the GTD mindset and pick the first item in the list. Does this take less than 2 minutes, then it gets done immediately. That keeps me working really fast. Otherwise I will plan when to work on that. Next! This is how I go through my task list very fast.
  8. When I am between tasks, or have some downtime or breathing room, I also review the task list to see if there’s anything special that needs attention. If not, again just work from the top.
  9. New emails coming are either (a) sorted by existing rules, and ready to process, or (b) it’s a new conversation and I quickly move it to the proper folder (it’s already in my task list, so I only do this so I can find it later) and maybe set up a new rule if there’ll be more mails like that (notifications).

Boom! Nine steps to efficient emails.

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