Ah, almost 2 weeks maintaining Inbox Zero status and it feels great! So great in fact that I decided to go back and clean up some other folders as well. While reviewing my archive folders, I found to my utter mortification that some of my active email correspondence from about a year ago had accidentally been archived – Yikes! Read on to find out how to avoid archiving the wrong items.
One of the most common reasons my clients give for not wanting to archive their Outlook Mailbox is that they are concerned they will lose emails or not be able to find them. Archiving does not make emails go away, but it does move them to a new set of personal folder files where you are unlikely to see them unless you are looking for them specifically. Moving you old emails out of sight is fine (much like moving old paper files into storage – see Arrow-Tip #9 Why Archive Your Microsoft Outlook Inbox) unless they are part of an active task or project. In Arrow-Tip #3 Limit Your Inbox to 15 Items or Less I introduced the idea of FARD (File Assign Respond Delete) – illustrated below are some examples of how FARD will help prevent loss of active emails to archiving.
Active Tasks are not Archived
When archiving, Outlook only grabs tasks that are completed for the archive period so if you have a task that is 6 months old, but it is not yet marked “complete”, it will remain in your active Tasks folder. This scenario is another great reason not to use your Inbox to manage your tasks – that is what your Tasks folder is for.
Use a Call List
Consider not treating follow-ups with your contacts as individual tasks, but rather working your follow-up list for the day as one collective task. In Arrow-Tip #2 Don’t Use Your Calendar to Manage Your Call Backs I discuss not managing your follow-ups or call backs from your Calendar. The same methodology applies for your Inbox. If an email can easily be answered on the fly without further action or research, then by all means answer it and get it out of your Inbox. But sometimes an email requires some research, coordination, or believe it or not a phone call. These are often the emails that accumulate in your Inbox and then get lost in the shuffle. If an email requires a phone call or some other communication with the contact that cannot be made right away, manage it in your Contacts folder (which also does not get archived) with the methodology discussed in Arrow-Tip #2.
Archiving can be turned off for sub folders
While I wouldn’t recommend abusing this feature (because it would defeat the purpose of archiving) Outlook does give you the ability to turn off archiving for specific folders. If you are using a good filing system (see Arrow-Tip #34 Managing Inbox Overload Part II for a screen shot of my filing system) then you can turn archiving off for active project folders. For example: if you are a real estate agent that maintains folders for each property you might want to turn off archiving for a property folder until it sells and the transaction is complete.
Spot check your Archives Folder
On a regular basis (preferably right after Outlook archives your mailbox), check your most recent archive folder to make sure that items in your main Inbox folder did not get archived. If you are following all the suggestions above, this scenario should never occur because you won’t have emails that old sitting in your main Inbox. But if you are prone to letting email stack up in your Inbox then you might want to set a recurring task for yourself that coincides with your Outlook archiving frequency to check your archive folder Inbox for emails that sneak in their unintentionally.
Only Archive on One Machine
If you maintain the same Outlook profile on more than one machine (like your desktop and your laptop) then make sure you only archive it in one place. Otherwise you are going to have some items for the same general period (I archive quarterly) going into two different sets of folders which you will not be able to access from any one computer. This is exactly what happened with my stray Inbox items when I upgraded laptops, but decided to keep the old one for testing purposes.
Don’t worry about it if you slip now and then and let your Inbox accumulate – vacations, family or business emergencies can all force us to let things go for short periods of time now and then (obviously I’m guilty myself). Instead, use the steps outlined in the Arrow-Tip #33– Arrow-Tip #37 Managing Inbox Overload series to get caught back up and then jump back on the wagon. I look at maintaining Inbox Zero as being very similar to maintaining your optimum weight – it’s ok to cheat now and then, but the sooner you get back on track, the easier it will be to get back to your goal.
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