Saturday, October 06, 2007

How do you organize emails and calendar?

After reading a blog by Scott Hanselman on the topic of email organization with Outlook, as well as one of my co-workers tips for Outlook 2007, I was curious to find out how other folks organize their life. This includes anything from emails, to tasks, calendaring, IMs, communication in general. Also, what tools and programs are you using to keep yourself organized? Do you use a plan like the GTD (Get Things Done) or Franklin Covey’s?

So to start off….here is my so called “system”:

Well….it’s morphing a little since I’ve started using categories and search folders in Outlook 2007. But before, when I used Outlook 2003, I set up multiple subfolders under my Inbox (including one for distribution list emails, travel, and lodging, as well as Admin stuff). Then, using multiple rules, I would automatically have them moved to these folders as they arrived.

I confess my Inbox is a dumping ground for old messages. I usually archive items that are about 4-6mos old…..but anything else that isn’t picked up by rules stays in my inbox. I use the search feature to find messages. However it looks like I am starting to go the “google” way to do emails…tagging them by using the categories feature, and combining indexed search with search folders.

I try to color code appointments and things on my calendar by using the category selection, but to this day I don’t have a single view of my client calendar (since I have an exchange account at my client and use their Outlook) merged with my work calendar. That would be a nice thing to get working but I am not sure I can do that yet, like the blog post mentioned earlier. I am, however interested in syncing my personal Yahoo calendar, and my wife’s Google calendar up so I can see them using Outlook, and so I can overlay them. If you’ve done that, please share your story.

I have a Windows Mobile phone, so I can get my emails and calendar synced, and I have only my Inbox and a couple of the distribution list folders synced up to my phone (no need to see other messages on the mobile).

Instant Messenger
Finally, I have several IM accounts (Yahoo, MSN, GTalk, and I think I even had an ICQ acct at some point…though haven’t used that in years), but honestly, I generally stay on MSN/Windows Live Messenger. When I am the client, since they block IMs, I use Meebo (, which uses the Internet protocol (HTTP) to transport your messages, so it doesn’t get blocked by firewalls. Also, they allow you to connect to multiple IM services using one ID (VERY NICE)…and it runs from the web browser (which is good and bad). I heard that the Google Talk client allowed you to connect to other IM services besides Google’s, but I’ve yet to try it.

I’d be interested in finding out what other ways are being used to stay organized with your communications, so post your comments, dear readers!


Anonymous said...

I'm using GTD by dumping everything into my task list and then priortizing, deferring, etc. for a single view of all those "things" that need doing. My email has an inbound Reading Folder set up into which Rules direct inbound News, etc. I save my Inbox for actual email messages that I need to see/respond to in some way.

I just use multiple calendars side by side to help me see differing views. My calendar, email and tasks are all sync'd with my mobile device so that is never a problem.

Lots of personal folders where I move project messages and other email I want to keep for a while. I delete the entire project folder once the client has accepted the deliverables and paid the last invoice. So, it is fairly steady state in terms of size.

Anonymous said...

Hey Thiago,

I'm not the most organized person in the world but I do try. Here is what I've been doing for a while.

For emails I do have a folder structure similar to yours. I also use some rules to push emails into folders as they come in. I usually only do these for things that I'm less interested in reading as it arrives (such as distribution lists, admin stuff, Marketing announcements, etc.).

For my calendar I use a combination of separate calendars to organize things. Currently I have 3 calendars. I use the default calendar for all my meetings and personal life stuff. I have a second calendar for all my travel info. I also have a third calendar dedicated to kiteboarding (this is mostly a journal to record days I get to ride and notes about the sessions to look at later, and also the tide schedule).

I would keep all my personal items in their own calendar but then I wouldn’t get reminders. I haven’t checked Office 2007 yet but hopefully reminders can be given from multiple calendars.

I do use the notes feature but just to track stuff like website logon names or reward program logon names.

I also use the Task folder a lot. The one thing I found pretty annoying with Tasks Items is that once you complete them they clutter your Task folder. I like to keep a record of things I’ve done so I didn’t want to delete them and I didn’t want to spend much time organizing them either. I ended up writing a macro to move completed task items to a folder with the same name as the Category of the task item. This way I can keep my task list clean as I complete items by just clicking a button I added to the tool bar that runs the macro. If you want to check that out I posted it a while back.

That’s about it for my setup.


Loc Nguyen said...

I use labels in Gmail to make sense of my emails too. I'm a big fan of Google calendar because of it's UI and notifications (SMS, email etc). I sync my online calendars to my local iCal on my Mac using Gsync. It's worked out well so far. I'm able to sync with our Exchange calendar too but I find I like keeping work and personal schedules separate.

Anonymous said...

I have two emails: personal and work. They both use Outlook and I control them via two separate profiles.
As far as organizing the emails, everything starts in the inbox, and from there I move them into many different folders. I would like to use Rules, but I find that they it doesn't catch everything. Besides, I don't see where they went, forcing me to open the various folders.
So, basically, I keep a split screen that allows me to see the content of each message as I check them. I try to delete as many as I can. For projects I use archive folders - everything goes there and stays there well after the end of the project.
The emails that stay on the Inbox are only retained for 3 months - everything else is deleted blindly (if I didn't need them for 3 months, I will not need it.)

It is not perfect, but it does the job.

Calendar is in the Hitachi profile - and sync'ed with my Blackberry. The Hitachi emails are also sent to my Blackberry.

My contacts are kept in my personal profile - and synched with my Blackberry. I only have one list of contacts.
My personal emails are ruthlessly deleted, with many going straight to the Junk mail (never read).

Although I have accounts with gmail, yahoo, and msn, I don't use their free email because I don't want them to have my info in their servers. I do use MSN and Skype to talk to friends, family and coleagues around the world. We should all use Shoretel to chat within Hitachi firewalls - it comes very handy during virtual conference calls with clients, allowing us to silently communicate with each other.

I hope that helps. I would welcomes ideas on how to best use Rules.

Anonymous said...

I use my Outlook Inbox as a To Do list: I have disabled any of the MS-Oulook facilities that automatically mark a message as "Read" when the cursor moves over it, after 5 seconds, etc etc. If something needs my action, I will mark it as "Unread" again, prompting me to do something with it later that day.

Once completed, I always move the message to an appropriate folder - or simply delete it if I am unlikely to want to refer to it again.

My aim is always to keep my Inbox as small as the pane on my screen: any more messages and I am frightened I will fail to action something that is down there, out of sight. Non-urgent mails that I think I might be interested in reading properly, I mark "Unread" again and then move to the appropriate folder, to open and digest on a train journey or when I get some time

This approach is simple and works for me!

Anonymous said...

Similar to yourself. I have a client outlook account and a work one. I've found a way of getting over this.
1. Use the client's outlook account as the primary one.
2. Connect to my work one via IMAP. All meeting requests will be placed in one calendar
3. Connect my HOME pc to my Work exchange file.
4. Using my Pocket PC synchronise my calendar and contacts between my Home and Office pc.

This means:
1. Both work and client e-mails are on your laptop and can be categorised together. you can choose which account to send e-mails by.
2. Any calendar requests that come from your client and your work go in the same calendar, so you are on top of it all.
3. Your contacts can be added from your home or laptop - and using your Pocket PC - your telephone numbers and details are the same on all 3 computers.
4. Because you sync to your HOME PC - people at work will see your combined calendar on their busy/free list, although it might be 24-48 out of day (rather than completely wrong!), depending how often you sync your Pocket PC at home.

Phew -- after 8 months of juggling computers. At last I have my client and work in sync.

You could use PLAXO to sync your work and client files but this particular client blocks plaxo. Secondly. You need to respect your client's Non Disclosure Agreement on what contacts you have on work and client outlook.

I hope that helps.
Pete Bricknell

Jay said...

About two years ago I got fed up with email organization and did something really drastic that has worked well for me.

Everything goes to my default inbox. Every few weeks, I sort by sender, then I select all, go down the list and control-select only the things I think I need. Although I usually get around 100 emails per day, I'm usually only left with about a dozen emails. Anything older than 3 weeks gets packratted into a PST file.

For sent mail, I do the same thing, but keep all of the past two months worth of mail.

In those two years since doing that, theres only been a few times where I didn't have an email I needed because it was deleted. Of those times, I've never not been able to get the person to resend me the info.