Inbox Zero and Outlook 2007 (Or: How I stopped hoarding mails and Love the Inbox)

Okay, I admit: My Outlook Mailbox used to be a big gigantic mess, a gigantic crap cake that made it impossible to find something, even less to get a quick overview what is left to do. My Inbox used to have exactly 12733 mails in it, and that is not counting any subfolders. If you add that Outlook’s search functionality is really not suited for more than 10 mails (even with the Desktop Search that should not be needed in the first place), you can imagine that between “Just look for the damned e-Mail that you need right now” and “Just ask the person to send it again”, the second Option usually won.

Well, I think that Randy Pausch is right: Your Inbox is not your To-Do List. Paul Derham described the Inbox as an airport: “mail arrives and departs from there, it doesn’t hang around all day”. And perhaps the best essay about Inbox management is Michael Mann’s Inbox Zero, which is available as a Video as well.

Unfortunately, Outlook 2007 does not make it easy to manage e-Mails effectively. For example, the most common action that you can take on e-Mail is deleting it. That is easy, but in a corporate environment you may want to keep e-Mail and just move them into a vault. Outlook has the Auto Archive feature that puts old e-Mail into a separate archive. Unfortunately, this only works on old e-Mail. There is no built in way to take a recent e-Mail and archive it. Sure, Drag/Drop works, but if you have a big folder structure, that quickly becomes annoying.

The Interaction between your Inbox and the Task List is somewhat poor. Sure, I can put a flag on my e-Mail, but that does not remove it from my Inbox. Wouldn’t it be nice to convert a Mail into a Task somehow? Or link in an external Task Tracker, like FogBugz?

I started writing some addins for Outlook 2007 to remedy some of these shortcomings. The project is available on CodePlex, and I’ve called it Inbox Zero Outlook 2007 Addins. At the moment, it is only one AddIn – AutoArchive Now!:

AutoArchive Now!

This is adding a new Entry to the context menu of e-Mails that will move a mail into the Archive folder, creating any subfolders that may be needed to mirror the tree structure.

It’s officially still a Beta Version because there are some slight quirks, but it has already saved me a lot of time. The next topic I look into is whether or not Covey’s four-quadrant TODO (at around 21 minutes) can be incorporated somehow, and I’d like to connect my Outlook to FogBugz somehow. As said: My Inbox is not my To Do List, so I’ll look into ways to get mail out of the Inbox as fast as possible.

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