How I Manage My Inbox (using Exchange & Outlook)

How I manage my Inbox

Ken Norton just yesterday published some neat insights into his email workflow (probably the one product management tool which will never die).

Being with Google/Alphabet for a couple of years obviously includes the neat advantage of being on Google for Work including Gmail. But what if your work email is hosted on Exchange and you thereby are somehow stuck with Outlook?
Well, that’s actually the setup I’m in for current my day job at XING. And after some ping-pong with Ken on Twitter, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share my personal email workflows with those of you being in a similar work environment:

  • Naturally, my native client of ‘choice’ on my Mac is Outlook (let’s please not discuss trying to use Apple Mail or Calendar.app with Exchange). I’m currently on the 2011 version while having an envious eye on some colleagues already using the 365 update.
  • I care pretty much about Inbox zero as my personal organization system and am definitely a filer of mails (compared to Ken being a classic piler).
  • Ironically, when it comes to finding a specific mail, I first use the Outlook search – Which is surprisingly convenient once you learned the syntax – before I pick the folder to search in.
  • My folder structure evolves around projects or topics. In contrast, I see some colleagues filing emails based on the sender as well.
  • When a project is ‘done’ or has at least passed a critical milestone, the folder is archived and related mails will find themselves in the ‘daily business’ folder.
  • I actually don’t use auto-read/-delete rules on a daily basis. I only have a certain set of some being in place when I’m on a longer (5+ days) vacation. This way, I can focus on the important stuff in my inbox when I’m back (e.g. stripping out regular reports or company meeting updates).
  • Opposed to most of other PMs I know, I have all of my JIRA e-mails coming straight to my inbox. This might seem overwhelming, but it helps me to stay on top of operational things when I’m in the office. When I’m on vacation, I set all JIRA-related mails to auto-read and -complete. There’s really no value in trying to recapture development work by JIRA history.
  • I don’t use the Outlook ‚categories‘ feature for e-mails, as my folder system reflects my categories of work.
  • The built-in reminder system works quite unreliably for me and is hard to use. Instead, I create mid- to long-term reminders for getting back to e-mails in Wunderlist, which is ironically now also a Microsoft product, but not very well integrated (yet).
  • If an email remained longer than 2 weeks in my inbox for some reason and the sender didn’t follow-up on it, I usually just set-up a lunch date with her to casually discuss the mentioned topictopic.
  • On iOS, my default solution for handling Exchange are actually the built-in email and calendar apps from Apple, as Microsoft’s Outlook app is not usable within our environment because of its security problems. I wouldn’t consider this solution to be great, but it gets the job done on a very basic level with regular hickups like missing calendar updates or an incredibly bad teach experience.
  • I’m quite delighted that Exchange works pretty seamless with the native Gmail application on Android. It’s currently my favorite solution for handling mobile work emails – But don’t expect any Gmail-specific features to work when you’re back at your laptop using Outlook.

What works for you in an Exchange/Outlook environment?