If you are anything like me, you will live your life by Outlook. Sad but true, right? I literally wouldn’t know what I was doing without my inbox and calendar organised just so. For me, Outlook is key to the work that I do – it was even more important when I was working as an EA. I’ve written a few blogs in the past about maximising Outlook for productivity and filing paperwork, but today I wanted to focus specifically on organising your outlook folders. This is a little excerpt of a blog I wrote back in 2012 while working as an EA to three directors, I included a picture of my Outlook filing system which gives a good overview of how I filed stuff.

Organising your Outlook folders

I think the way people structure their email files can be quite a personal thing! I like to keep it fairly simple, but I also like to keep every single email. I know this is controversial and most email gurus would say delete your emails after a certain amount of time, but, and as an assistant it is a big but, I get asked the most random things so many times a day that I am constantly referring back to emails that can be years old. So for me, I like to keep them filed away, just in case! Here is a little diagram of my email file structure.

 Organising your Outlook folders

As you can see I like to keep the filing system fairly simple and straightforward, mainly because I’m so used to working with the structure and I sort of know where everything is anyway. Also, I find the search and sorting functions on Outlook to be quite good so I don’t file things too specifically because I can already sort the emails within each file by name, subject or date received. One little tip though – I do put ‘Associate’ in front of each of my director’s names so that they are at the beginning of my file structure, it just saves time really. Organising your Outlook folders so that you can quickly action emails is so worth it, especially when you work with multiple Executives and project teams. 

Workflow processes and rules

Back in the day, I would use my inbox as a sort of task management platform. If I had to do something with the email I would keep it in my inbox until I answered the email and then I would file it away on completion. This is still the case to a certain extent, but only if the email requires a quick action. If the email requires more work I make a note on my to-do list and file the email away so that it doesn’t clutter up my inbox.

I also use rules a lot now because I receive a lot of emails about similar things (blog subscriptions, etc.) Rules are brilliant for organising your Outlook folders – I love rules! Here is a good article about setting up rules on Outlook. Anything that helps automate your workflow is well worth setting up. I would suggest you use rules for the following emails:

  • Move to specific folder: General Company information (updates etc.)
  • Move to specific folder: Newsletter subscriptions / RSS feeds
  • Move to specific folder: Social Media updates
  • Move to specific folder: Project updates
  • Move to specific folder: Email with attachment to view and print off later
  • Move to specific folder: Personal Emails from friends / family
  • Alarm sound: When a direct message is sent from your Executive/s to you with actions
  • Alarm sound: Meeting requests for Executive

With my rules in place I then use the Unread function as a reminder that I have emails to deal with in the various folders. I then set time aside every day to work through my folders. Some folders are obviously more important than others and require more urgency.

The system has to work for you

Back in 2012 I said that I get asked such random stuff that I keep all my emails. I can only imagine 5 years later the kind of stuff you get asked! So, lastly, I would suggest that your Outlook filing system has to work for you and your Executive. As part of your role you have to know stuff and a good place to start looking for the answers is in your Outlook files!