Managing emails (in Outlook) is simple — once you understand three things

For many, managing an inbox is an agonizing Sisyphean task – or at least unpleasant and inefficient. But really, it’s quite simple, and can be enormously efficient if you embrace three important concepts.

Before we get to those concepts, however, let’s understand why you might reject the thesis that managing email could be simple. Nearly anyone reading this would immediately react with: Maybe for you, but you have no idea about the complexity and sheer number of emails I receive 

And I would say, Ah, but after 15 years devoted to understanding email management as seen from those on the front lines of battle, and having worked with thousands of users form every company size and vertical imaginable, I have the qualifications to say, I do understand your situation.

Here’s the thing, I agree that your work (decision making) may be complex: i.e. competing priorities and urgencies, intricate dependencies, never mind the strategic ways to request or submit responses is indeed demanding. The amount of mail you receive might also be overwhelming. I have seen inboxes with over 275.000 emails and daily loads of 800 emails per day. Nevertheless, the actual processing of email can be simplified to just two steps, and occasionally three – making managing email quite manageable!

There are three important notions to get your head around in order to commence your journey to successful email management:

1. Without a systemic approach, you cannot continuously improve.  

When I say systemic, I mean following a best practice that has proven effectiveness, and in which you put your faith. Otherwise it’s just “how I manage emails”, which is probably not a proven and trustworthy method that you would be willing to share with the world. If it is, please do share!

Trust is the main issue here. If your system is not trustworthy, you will eventually abandon it – especially when you need it the most. If, on the other hand, you find a system you can confide in – one that works in all circumstances, and one that stands the test of time, grab it with both hands and don’t let go. 

2. Microsoft will never equip Outlook with the tools you need to systemize managing more than 20 mails per day.

You will need an equip yourself with an extra tool to help you manage more than 20 emails per day. Why? Because Microsoft’s mission is to sell software licenses, not train or put anything in the way of plug and play. Outlook, out of the box, is an all-purpose tool that anyone can learn in a few minutes. The more refinement Microsoft adds to support heavy users, the fewer licenses they can sell. Yes, there is a LOT you can do with rules and behind the scenes programming in Outlook, but no one has ever come up with a convincing email management solution that actually stands the test of time. No one. You do not have to take my word for it, just ask any one of your colleagues. Ask your IT responsible.  Besides, that’s why Microsoft works with partners like LeanMail.  

People often ask me if I am afraid that Microsoft will simply copy LeanMail’s business solutions and integrate them with Outlook. Here is what I tell them:  

Not at all.  Microsoft is in the business of selling software licenses. LeanMail is in the business of digital productivity for the modern inspired worker. We support their users, thus making Microsoft even more competitive. They remain the best at what they do, and we remain the best at what we do. It’s a symbiotic, not a competitive, relationship.

3. A best practice is relational.  

What you put into it; you get out of it. You can have the best CRM system in the world (if one would exist), but if you do not treat it well, it will not treat you well. It is the same with LeanMail. The very first time you implement one of our modules, your eyes will bulge. Your heart’s bpm will increase. You might jump out of your chair with excitement and shout “Eureka!” (It has happened). But the truth is that your journey has just begun. Yes, you have found a reliable systemic approach that can transform how you manage email (each module has specific benefits towards that goal), but it is up to you to keep up the relationship. That basically means sticking to the methodology – especially when they smacked in the mouth.

There is no free lunch.  

In the end, it is up to you. If you become complacent and fall back into your old ways, LeanMail will not be able to help – it is, after all, just a methodology supported by an Outlook add-in. The only thing that will aid you in that moment is the longing for excellence you were able to achieve when you tended to your relationship with it, and the reminiscence of how it was when you were in full control of your inbox.

Michael Hoffman

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