Use a Single Folder (Processed Mail folder) when Filing Mail in Outlook

June 15, 2015

In all my classes I talk about using a single folder instead of using multiple Outlook folders when filing mail. Here’s why: Speed! Single folder filing is much faster both when initially storing mail and when finding mail. I call it the Processed Mail folder, but you can call it anything you want.

Single Folder is Faster for Filing Mail

I know, having lots of individual folders feels very logical and orderly. And it mimics the old paper filing systems, so it just seems right. But using multiple folders is soooo slow! Because it’s so slow you’ll rarely file, and then everything ends up clogging up your Inbox anyway.

Rather, storing all mail in one folder is very easy and fast; just shift select or control select and drag everything to the one folder when you are done with it. Because it is so fast I can empty my Inbox every day using this approach. An empty Inbox feels great, and you can clearly see new mail in the Inbox as it come in.

Single Folder is Faster for Finding Mail

When you do want to find mail in that single folder, use Outlook’s excellent Search tool in that folder. Many people complain that the Search tool doesn’t work for them (too many returns), but if you are willing to use simple field-based searches in that tool when needed, you can narrow your search and find what you need almost every time.

Also, finding mail in a single folder is easier because you can sort all your mail in that one folder by sender or by subject—that often helps you find the mail you are looking for.

Easier Archiving

When it comes time to archive or delete your oldest mail, you only need to open one single folder, select the oldest mail at the bottom of the date-sorted folder, and relocate or delete in one step. That’s so much easier than opening 40 or 400 different folders, one at a time, and doing the same.

Great for Use with Categories

All that said, some mail really should be filed by topic. For mail that you must organize by topic use Outlook Categories, within the single folder. Then you can group your mail by category, and visually find it that way.

Every student of mine who has switched from multiple folders to using one folder said it was life changing—they say it is so much quicker and easier and that they finally are able to consistently keep their Inbox clean. So give it a try.

Next Steps

Study Chapter 5 in my Outlook book to learn more about single folder filing and searching in Outlook. Or study Part  IV of my MYN Outlook Video Class.

Michael

12 thoughts on “Use a Single Folder (Processed Mail folder) when Filing Mail in Outlook

  1. Ludger Schmidt

    Thank you Michael for this important tip. Until last month I had a folder for every project and I spent a lot of time for drag and drop. Now I have a folder “2015″ and a quickstep in the menu. It´s very fast and it´s no problem to find any mail by search. Before a put the mail in the folder I check if the name of the project is mentioned in the mail. otherwise I add the information I need to find it again. Thanks a lot!

    Reply
  2. Cathy Tippe

    It was a hard decision to give up the detailed filing of emails by subject/issue. I kept worrying if I was going to be able to find what I needed if all the processed mail was in one folder. I decided to try it (just couldn’t look at the ever-so-large, unmanaged inbox any longer) and braced for the worst… Guess what? I was able to search, sift and sort the processed folder with ease and always found what I was looking for. I also found that I can change the subject line of received emails, so now I do that, too (whenever needed), to ensure the subject line best reflects the content of the email. This makes searching for subjects/content in my “processed” folder even more easier! The quick-step feature was a big time-saver for me, too! Now… my well-managed — and small — inbox is much more energizing, definitely less stressful, and helps to make me much more productive! There’s always lots to do at work — that part didn’t change — but the tips I’ve learned and implemented have made a tremendous and wonderful difference! Thank you, Michael!

    Reply
  3. Thomas

    Thanks Michael. This tip has help enormously. However, I struggle with the definition of “processed.” I currently move email into “processed” emails that have an associated action or are related to ongoing tasks / broad projects. But that leaves a ton of emails that, yes, I should act on or might find valuable but, let’s be honest, I’ll likely not find the time to do anything with (and won’t get fired if I ignore.)
    Does this reflect your reality? Or am I missing something in how I’m implementing what I’ve read in your genius of a book?

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Thomas, I move *everything* (that I don’t delete or flag for reply) to the PM folder, but only after I have extracted tasks as needed. It sounds like you are concerned about lower priority actions in those emails. Go ahead and create a low priority task from them before you move the email to the PM folder. If you are not sure whether there is a task there (say you need time to think about it or need time for business situation to evolve), then create a task from the email anyway and call it something like “determine later if action needed on XYZ” and set an appropriate priority on it (probably low). Don’t worry about creating too many tasks because if you use defer to review (I highly recommend you do), you can revisit that task at an appropriately low revisit rate. See info on defer to review here: http://www.michaellinenberger.com/blog/defer-to-review-how-to-keep-your-task-list-short/
      Michael

      Reply
  4. Lisa

    Hi Michael
    That is a great tip, thank you. I would like to switch to this system, but what do I do with all the folders that I have got already with mails in them??? How do I make the transition? Please help!
    Thanks
    Lisa

    Reply
  5. Michael Linenberger Post author

    Lisa, Marty, thanks for your question. First, let me say like all good “tips” there are a lot more details to it. All those details can be found in Chapter 5 of the Outlook book (and then Chapter 8 if you start using Categories). Or in the MYN Outlook video course. But let me answer your question here.

    Converting old folders into the Processed Mail folder can be done easily and quickly. But before you do that, be sure to use the Processed Mail folder for a while, to make sure it is working for you. Also, before you do that, first empty your Inbox and keep it empty for a few weeks. That’s your highest priority. In the mean time it’s not hard to open old folders and search there when needed . (Or use the Search tool with All Mailboxes selected). Then, after you are confident the Processed Mail folder works for you, and you are keeping your Inbox empty, go ahead and convert the old folders over. Before you do though, be very conscious of where you put the Processed Mail folder. Did you put it on your server or in a PST file? And be very conscious of where your old folders are. Are they on the server or on a PST file? (Most archive folders are really PST files). What you don’t want to do is move years worth of mail from PST-based folders into a server-based Processed Mail folder. You’ll immediately overflow your server storage space if you do that! If all this is Greek to you, study Appendix A in the Outlook book, it explains it all. Then, if you are safe (for example, say both the Processed Mail folder and all your old folders are on the server), here are the steps (these steps also show optional steps that assume you are using Categories too):
    1) [optional] create a category that corresponds to the folder name
    2) select all the mail in the old folder
    3) [optional] apply the category to all the selected mail in one click
    4) drag all the mail into the Processed Mail folder
    5) the old folder is now empty, so delete it.
    6) Repeat for each folder

    Pretty simple. If you have a lot of old mail, the question of where to put the Processed Mail folder is important. Study Appendix A of the Outlook book to get some insights. The best approach is to create one Processed Mail folder on the server for new mail, and another called “Old Processed Mail” in your PST file for you already filed mail (which is probably on a PST). When you move your old mail, move it all to the Old Processed Mail folder–that way you don’t overload your server. Then, when you need to archive in the future, move your oldest mail out of the bottom of the date-sorted server-based Processed Mail folder into the PST-based Old Processed Mail folder. You can even set up auto-archive to do this automatically, and how to do that is discussed in Appendix B of the Outlook book.
    Good luck! Michael

    Reply
  6. Marty

    Michael,

    Many thanks for outlining the interim process for moving from ‘many to one’.

    I use and have used ClearContext (CC) with Outlook for many years and since adopting your MYN methodology I have used their MYN derivation, but still using multiple filing folders.

    Changes to the way that CC auto-files has meant that it is now much more time consuming to use a multi-folder system so I am looking to simplify and want to try the single processed folder concept.

    I’ll will take heed of your server overload warnings as I do it.

    Regards
    Marty

    Reply
  7. Alyssa

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the useful information! I know this post is a few years old, but I have a question – why have a specific folder for processed mail, rather than just putting all your mail in the “archive” folder? My understanding is that mail is never automatically deleted from the archive folder, so it’s essentially just a collection of all of your email that you haven’t deleted; AKA exactly what your ‘processed mail’ folder sounds like, but with a handy “archive” button to more easily move mail there.

    Am I missing anything?

    Thanks!
    Alyssa

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Alyssa, yes the Archive folder is essentially the same idea as the Processed Mail (PM) folder. And yes, as you have noted this blog is old. The date on this blog is June 2015 and the Archive folder wasn’t invented by Microsoft till late 2016, and even then not rolled out to all Outlook users. (We usually don’t go back to old blogs and rewrite them though occasionally we do update some of them). Since the release of the Archive folder in later editions of Outlook 2016, we’ve written extensively about it. See this for example: http://www.michaellinenberger.com/NewsletterJun06-17.html . Also, the 5th ed of our Outlook book discusses it.
      But even with the age of this blog, the PM folder is still the best **general** recommendation for most people. That’s because the Archive folder is only available to a subset of desktop Outlook users: those with the latest copies of Outlook 2016. Many people are not on an Office subscription plan and don’t have the latest versions of Outlook 2016. Many corp IT departments wait years before upgrading Outlook. Also, you have to have a newer version of Exchange as your mail server, or Outlook.com as your mail server for the Archive folder/button to work or even be present, and many desktop Outlook users do not have access to those. So even though we acknowledge the Archive folder in newer writings as being a worthy substitute for the PM folder (they both function about the same and you can add a Quick Step button to duplicate the Archive button for the PM folder), the PM folder is still the best general solution to point the public to, knowing it will work for all Outlook users, not just a small subset. Hope that helps! Michael

      Reply
      1. Alyssa

        Hi Michael,

        Thank you so much for your quick and detailed response! Everything you said makes sense, and I’m happy to have confirmation that the archive folder will work just as well.

        Thanks again for your time!
        Alyssa

        Reply

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