Own Your Inbox Part 2: How to Organize and Sort Your Email Effectively

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Most of us are using email the wrong way. And a lot of the time, we shouldn’t even be using email in the first place to get our message across. In my last blog post on owning your inbox, I walked through the emerging modes of communication that can be more appropriate than email and cause less stress, such as instant messaging, BlackBerry® Messenger (BBM™), third-party apps, or even simply using the phone. Reducing email pile-up by using one of the many alternative methods of communication is a great step towards using technology effectively. The results are reduced stress, increased speed of communication and response, a more organized approach, and a lighter load on the mail servers.

This time, I’m going to focus on email itself. Let’s face it: Email is inescapable even if we do use other modes of communication. What’s important is using it effectively to handle what’s being thrown at you. Judging by a recent Twitter® poll from @BlackBerry4Biz, some of you deal with a lot of email in a day. Let’s look at ways that you can manage it more effectively using your BlackBerry® smartphone.

Use accurate subjects to utilize and improve search

An email with the subject “Hey” or “Question…” is useful for about as long as it takes for you or the recipient to read it. It ends there, and often becomes another item to scroll past in your seemingly never-ending list of emails sitting in your inbox. But if you use accurate and descriptive subject lines for your email, your inbox becomes beautifully searchable. Some even have their own system for categorizing emails within the subject line.

For example, instead of sending an email with a subject of “expenses”, I could use “BlackBerry World 2012 Expense Report”. Later on, if I need to gather together all of my activity around BlackBerry World™, I can search for the term “BlackBerry World 2012”, or if I’m looking for expense reports, all I need to do is search for “expense report”. If I’ve been consistent in my title conventions, all of my past event activity is accessible. Using a date in some form is also a key tip here.

To search for an email in the inbox of your BlackBerry smartphone, just press the “S” key from the inbox as a shortcut for bringing up the search box. I use this constantly.

Organize your mail into conversations

I know this one isn’t for everyone, and I’ve even changed my mind a few times on this one, but it’s without question worth a try. Similar to recent versions of Microsoft® Outlook® or Google® Gmail, your BlackBerry smartphone can organize mail into conversations based on a thread with the same subject line. If you look away for a few minutes and suddenly there are eight replies that have come in, it only takes up one line on your screen. This setting alone can significantly reduce the amount of scrolling and picking through email that you may undertake on any given day.

To activate or toggle this feature, open up the Messages application on your BlackBerry smartphone, hit the menu key, find “Options”, choose “Message Display and Actions”, and then change “Display Style” from “Single Messages” to “Group by Subject”. Like I said, opinions vary, so figure out which one is best for you.

Use follow-up flags and task synchronization

There are many instances when I don’t have time to read each email and follow through with any action, but I can skim them and understand what will need action at a later point. This is where “flagging for follow up” comes in, and it’s arguably my favorite feature of the BlackBerry device inbox. On your BlackBerry smartphone, head into your inbox, highlight or open a message, hit the menu key, and choose “Flag for Follow Up”. A small red flag is displayed on the message, and if you’re set up with a corporate email account and use Microsoft Outlook like I do, the message will also appear in your “Flagged for Follow Up” area and in the Outlook tasks section. The next morning or whenever I have a chance, I can review the emails that need my attention.

Use a folder or filing system

Mail folders can be used to sort your messages either manually or with rules set up in your mail client. A common system is to have folders labeled as Action, Hold, and Archive. If you’re really on the ball with a system like this, you can keep your inbox completely clean. Mail folders can also be accessed from your BlackBerry smartphone or BlackBerry® PlayBook™ tablet. On your smartphone, head into the Messages app, hit the menu key, and choose “View Folder”. Here you can expand or collapse folders as well as perform searches. BlackBerry Messenger folders for BBM groups are also visible here, as well as text messages, call logs, social accounts, and more. It’s a great place to have a handle on for accessing logs, messages, and attachments from all of your communication.

The “two-minute rule”

I learned of this rule while doing some research for this post, and it’s a great one that I’m going to start following. The rule basically states that if you can complete an action associated with an email in two minutes or less, you should do it right then and there. Otherwise, if you flag it and do it later, you’ve spent more time already on that task than you should have. This is a key concept for dealing with email – if you can get an action item off of your list immediately, take care of it and move on. Learn more about the two-minute rule in a Q&A with David Allen on success.com.

Control the flow of email into your inbox

Yes, it is possible. When you see unimportant email come in, such as certain newsletters or even spam, take a few moments to find that unsubscribe link and get yourself off of the list. And instead of replying to an email by instinct, try using other methods like picking up the phone and giving someone a ring – the reality is that when you respond to email, you’re more than likely to get a response back.

Hopefully this helps you get a handle on that raging inbox. What tips have I missed? Share in the comments below.

About Luke Reimer

@Luke_Reimer is an Enterprise Marketing Manager at BlackBerry helping to design, launch, and manage enterprise marketing programs - particularly concerning content across digital mediums. Beyond spreading BlackBerry goodness in enterprise communities, you can find Luke cooking up a storm, out on his motorcycle (when Canadian weather allows), or digging into a good science fiction book.

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