December 07, 2011

Too many emails in your inbox? Use Outlook Folders to automatically manage them – by Salma Patel

Editor's note: Please welcome Salma Patel to our blogging community! Salma is is a doctoral researcher at the University of Warwick with a primary research interest in digital engagement and participation in healthcare environment design. She has a background in computing, web design, education, librarianship and management. You can follow her on twitter: @salma_patel

How many of you have way too many emails in your inbox?

A couple of months into my PhD I subscribed to Google Scholar Alerts. I inputted various keywords that Google could used to send me alerts if a new paper was published using those keywords. So every 2-3 days I receive around 8 emails from Google alerting me to papers to read. This is of course fantastic. However, in August, I took a two week break which was a complete break from the internet and my iPhone (I'd say this rather bizarre experience probably deserves a post of its own). When I came back, I had 150 emails, from which around 100 where from Google Scholar Alerts, other newsletters I had subscribed too, and basically emails that didn't require urgent attention. The emails I was wanted to see in front of me where the ones from my supervisor and others related directly to my research.

With an inbox that flashed at me that I had 100+ emails that still needed to be read, it was demotivating to say the very least (as I am the organised type of person), even though I knew I had taken care of the 'important' ones. A month later I joined a professional online society, which started sending me around 30 emails per day. As all my emails are setup on push (both on my laptop and on my iPhone), this is when I knew there had to be a way for my inbox to realise that some emails are much more 'important' in the short term than others. So this is how my love story with Outlook Folders began ...

Outlook Folders allows one to direct emails from certain email addresses into folders that sit within the inbox, but are don't appear in the main inbox. So for example, all emails coming from Google Scholar alerts sit in the Google Scholar alerts folder instead of the Inbox, and all emails from PM Group, sit in the PM Group folder:

Outlook Folders setup

This now means:

1. I am not alerted on my laptop or iPhone (by push) when emails from Google Scholar/PM Group arrive (as I don't want to be alerted because they are not in my priority list, but I could of course change those settings)

2. Hence I can concentrate on emails that are important in the short term.

3. It means that my emails are better organised, and easily searchable.

4. I don't feel guilty every time I look at my inbox - I have the honour of having zero-inbox even if it is not technically zero! ;) (Some could argue this is not a good thing ...)

I'm also thinking about how I could use utilise Outlook Folders effectively in other ways too. For example, all emails coming in from finance or careers office etc could go straight into folders, so the only emails left in my main Inbox would be emails related directly to my research. I could use them to clean up my inbox too. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Removes clutter, organises emails automatically and makes me feel good, what more could a girl ask for? Or am I just blinded by love?

- 6 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Jenny Delasalle

    I’m a fan of this technique too and it’s a good reason to have all your alerts from the same source (ie not journal tables of contents from each publisher and search alerts from every database) because you can have them all bound by one rule to dump them in a folder other than your inbox. Having lots of alerts from lots of sources means having to set up lots of rules on Outlook! I personally use Zetoc rather than Google alerts, but it’s the same principle. When you do get around to looking at all the alerts you can do some powerful filtering too, to get to the really, really important stuff!

    Also, you can have the alerts sent by RSS to a feed reader rather than to your e-mail, as another strategy.

    On some mailing lists that you join, you can elect to have a weekly digest sent to you, rather than having to follow the conversations one e-mail at a time. I find digests rather difficult to track through and prefer to get e-mails which I find it satisfying to delete! I also rely on the web archive of the lists for future reference, should the themes being discussed become interesting/relevant to me again at a later stage.

    07 Dec 2011, 14:13

  2. Salma Patel

    Hi Jenny,

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only fan ;)

    I can’t agree more regarding the satisfaction of deleting emails! Thanks for the tips around RSS and Zetoc, I will look into the latter.

    07 Dec 2011, 17:47

  3. Jenny Delasalle

    Zetoc is at:

    and there is also Journaltocs:

    The only reason I use Zetoc over Journaltocs is that it’s been around longer (like me!). At one time, Journaltocs was certainly faster, and it also claims to be a bigger collection.

    08 Dec 2011, 10:01

  4. Salma Patel

    Thanks Jenny for the direct links. As my research is multi-disciplinary I’m always on the look out for databases that are not specific to one subject. From your experience, is Zetoc better than Google Scholar (has more papers)?

    08 Dec 2011, 10:04

  5. Katie Carter

    Outlook rules are often overlooked and they can be a very useful tool in the battle against email overload. offer Outlook training clinics where teams of email users can be given specific help and learn how to use Outllok rules effectively.

    08 Dec 2011, 11:53

  6. Jenny Delasalle

    I think you’ll probably get more alerts from GScholar than you would from Zetoc, but it would obviously depend on what search terms you are using and the topic of interest to you. Zetoc is based on the British Library’s holdings so you can expect a bias towards English language publications, amongst other biases…

    It’s also worth getting alerts from Web of Knowledge (I use this to get citation alerts for articles of particular interest, so I know if anyone cites those articles: you can also do search alerts there too, though.) I won’t provide a link as your best route is to follow links from the library pages, so that you can authenticate to Web of Knowledge.

    Another strategy you could deploy for keeping up to date, other than getting alerts by e-mail or RSS is simply to create accounts and save your search history, so that you can run the same search again at a later date.

    So I’d recommend that you use a combination of alerts from all sources on the topic most highly important to you (a really targetted search query to keep alerts to a minimum!) and saved searches for topics of wider interest. Or use one source for your targetted interest search and one for your wider interest, so that you know which email folder to look at regularly and which one to ignore for months!

    Have you been to one of the Lit searching sessions on the RSSP? We cover using the best cross-disciplinary tools at those workshops, so it would give you time to play with the likes of WoK, Science Direct, Copac, etc…

    08 Dec 2011, 13:23

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