Challenges of Email and Outlook Folders

Email and Outlook Folders: Inbox Routing

Most users make extensive use of folders to store Email messages, but there are many challenges to using Email and Outlook folders.

However, folders can be a difficult and challenging part of e-mail management for several reasons:

  • Folders require creating, naming, and maintaining a folder structure ahead of time.
  • For every message you review and decide you wish to save to a folder, you need to make a decision as to where to store each message.
  • Some messages fit several folders, and some do not fit any current folders, making it difficult to determine where to store a message, or sometimes requiring you to create a new folder before you can store it.

In addition, some people make use of automated Outlook Rules that automatically move Email messages to specific folders, such as for mailing lists, newsletters, or electronic subscriptions. Although some find this practice helpful, others find that this just tends to "spread around the work", causing you to have to look for unread messages in more places, instead of leveraging the inbox as a central "to do" list.

Yet ironically, despite the heavy use of folders by most Email users, research has actually found that the vast majority of items stored in folders are never referenced again. This makes the time and effort to create and manage folders a questionable practice.

In order to utilize folders most effectively, here are some Email and Outlook Folder best practices to consider:

  • A flat and simple structure with fewer folders has been found to be most effective and efficient. The time saved on filing has been found to be more than outweighed by the occasional need to use the e-mail system's search capabilities to locate a needed item.
  • Use folders that correspond to high-level categories of work, such as; "Projects, Team, Administrative, or Personal" or "Systems, Corporate, My Group, Reference".
  • Save only what you truly need to reference later – delete the rest.
  • If all you need is the file attachment associated with a message, simply save the attachment to your computer or network drive and then delete the actual e-mail.
  • Try using an "In Process" folder right under your Inbox for storing Emails you have reviewed but require further review or action. Some find this helps to keep the Inbox focused to "new items", but keeps your "in process" messages readily available for easy review.

Important Reminder: Please ensure you follow your firm's "legal retention requirements", and save any messages required by your corporate policies or applicable laws.

Do you make use of Email and Outlook Folders?

If so, do you use only a few folders or a complex folder hierarchy?

How well does your folder management process work for you?