The Microsoft Office Outlook Team Blog writes up a guide to using Outlook's categories and search folders to organise your messy inbox and prevent email overload.
The guide walks through creating a set of categories for organizing incoming email, and then creating a "New Mail" search folder that will replace your inbox—by automatically filtering mail with categories assigned, you can remove items from your new "inbox" by simply assigning the appropriate category, and they will show up in the appropriate search folder—a very slick system for keeping your inbox clean.
The new organisational structure contains the following email categories, loosely based on the same principles as Getting Things Done or our founding editor's Trusted Trio.
- Response Needed – Use this for e-mails that you need to follow up on. If something is extra important it should probably get a response right away – everything else can get this category.
- Read Later – Use this for e-mails that don't need a response, but should get read eventually.
- Reference – This category will be for e-mails that contain information that will be useful to access easily later.
- Personal – And finally, a category for non-work-related e-mails just to keep them separate from the rest.
Once you've created the categories and search folders, the guide recommends using Outlook's Shortcut pane with links to each of the search folders, instead of the normal Mail pane.
Hit the link for the full explanation and screenshot tour.
Triaging Mail with Categories and Search Folders [Microsoft Office Outlook Team Blog]