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The best Outlook Folder system in the world is

I can’t tell you how many times I am asked to ‘pronounce’ on the ‘Best Outlook Inbox Folder Structure’ when we run training programmes. It’s a question I answer this way….Yes, those who know me are right …..You already have the answer and there’s about 60 seconds of work and 2 questions here to help you towards that answer. So, grab a pen and read on. Let’s start with a quick question :

What are the KRAs (Key Result Areas), KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of your role?

Scribble out a quick list of the key deliverables of your role. Answer this in the reality of your role – not just the ‘official’ version.

Go beyond the ‘Headline’ and get into the major silos of work that help you deliver that overall result. You are writing aren’t you?

So, for example, a senior sales person may have:
Headline: Generate £X million in sales in the next 12 months
Major silos supporting the key business results:

  • Key Account Management for top 3 clients
  • New business generation
  • Mentoring or managing others
  • Project team participation for new CRM purchase
  • Forecasting, Reporting and other ‘administration’ responsibilities.

Got your list written out? If so move on to step 2

2 Expand your Outlook inbox folder structure.

The idea is to see your folder structure in all its glory. So if you file your mails in any other Outlook folder / archive / .pst structure, expand that instead.

3 Now open up your ‘My Documents’ folder …

or any other place that you use to store the data that you choose to save in connection with your role. Resize this window so that you can see it beside your Outlook storage folder structure.

OK, now for the incisive question:

To what extent do the structures you created in your Outlook inbox folders and your ‘My Documents’ folders reflect the structure of the Key Result Areas of your role?

Truth is that most of the thousands of people I have trained over the years have created their Outlook folders and their ‘My Documents’ folders with best intentions and almost always in response to a tactical question such as ‘Where will I put this email so I might find it again?’

The result can be stand-alone labyrinths of folders and subfolders in each system that bear little relationship to each other or the key drivers of our roles.

And so to my answer. It does not matter if you are an email ‘Piler’ (relying on advanced use of ‘Search’ functionality) or ‘Filer’ with a wonderful folder system. All that matters is that your structure is as simple and elegant as it can be, that it is common across all your critical data storage areas and that it serves you, rather than you serving it.

So, over to you. What approach do you adopt? Are you a piler or a filer? Do you use big silo folders or granular subfolders? Your approach could help other readers, jot it down in the comments area below. Also, could I ask you to spread the word through the media buttons directly below this post. I have just added them here. Finally, do get in touch if you think our training, coaching or speaking services could help you, your team or your company. Thanks.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Richard Maybury February 25, 2010, 7:19 pm

    HI Kevin, thanks for bringing this information to us.
    It looks interesting.
    Our training approach helps people manage multiple mini projects within Outlook simply through leveraging the Contacts and Category functionalities within Outlook without any add-ons.
    I have approved your post because I’m always interested in opening up new ideas to my readers.
    I will check out your approach more fully at a later time. Meanwhile do keep in touch, especially with any enhancements, updates or case studies

  • Kevin Moore February 25, 2010, 6:59 pm


    In case you or some of your readers are interested, I’ve created an add-in that incorporates project management into Microsoft Outlook.

    All of your project base emails, files, contacts, tasks and appointments are managed in a central, easy to use location.

    You can find more information on our web-site: Outlook Project Management


  • Richard Maybury February 12, 2010, 3:34 pm

    Cool, Mark. I see you come at this from the minimalist school, as do I to a point.

    One of my colleagues has gone one step further. He works his 4D decisions on new emails in his inbox and then drags everything he wants to keep into one main subfolder he names ‘Stuff” and then he uses desktop search to find what he is looking for.

    I’m not quite there but I have been on a mission to reduce subfolder usage over the past year or so.

    I have always thought it just makes sense to map my outlook folders to my ‘My Document’ folders and am always surprised that this is very much the exception with the people we support.
    Thanks for your contribution

  • Mark Bower (Connectegrity) February 12, 2010, 3:08 pm

    Oops that would be 2007…how time flies!

  • Mark Bower (Connectegrity) February 12, 2010, 3:07 pm

    I wrote about my approach (http://blogs.msdn.com/bowerm/archive/2007/01/09/new-year-new-low-cal-outlook.aspx) back in 2008. I haven’t looked back since.
    There’s a psychological leap to get over, but trust me, it’s the biggest time saver ever.

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