Managing Work E-mail with a ‘go-to’ folder

In today’s connected world, do you find disconnecting from work email is near impossible on weekends? Do you ever find yourself involved in personal activity, only to receive an email from a client who is catching up on their email? Do you receive work email on your personal smart phone, perhaps along with your personal email? Are you unable to stop responding to work email in your personal time?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions then you might have asked yourself if there is a better way to manage work email polluting your personal time.

Before I explain how I went about configuring my work-email and cell phone, I want to point out that I am not suggesting that I wish to avoid work email outside office hours – that would be a near impossibility in my line of work – just that I want better control of when I am interrupted. I got my idea from watching my fiancé, who has a separate blackberry for work to personal – she is able to put down her work blackberry in the evening and “choose” when to pick it up. If there is an emergency in the office, someone will call her work phone and she can address the issue. Only having one smart phone and numerous laptop computers, I wanted to replicate the ability to “put down” the office at specific points of my evening or weekend, without disconnecting completely.

Enter Microsoft Exchange Rules…

The following configuration assumes you are using Microsoft Office and Exchange Server at the office. You can achieve similar results with G-mail and other email services, as long as you can configure server-side rules to manage email.

(Note: I use Outlook 2010, which the screenshots show, but older versions of Outlook typically offer similar functionality).

Create a folder under your inbox to house work email – I called mine @@Client because I still want internal office email to stay in my inbox.

From the Outlook Home tab, click on the Rules icon in the Move section, and select Create Rule

Click the Advanced Options button on the Create Rule dialog

Choose the option “with specific words in the sender’s email address,” click the underlined “specific words” and add “@”

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Click the next button and then choose the following actions:

– stop processing more rules

– move it to a specified folder

Click the link “specified folder” and choose the folder, under your Inbox, that you created earlier

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Click the Next button, and then choose the following exceptions:

– except if it is a meeting invitation or update

– except if it is marked as High Importance

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Click the Next button, and then give the rule a name, finally click the Finish button

What happens now?

The rule you just created is an Exchange Server-side rule, which means Exchange will process it whether Outlook is running or not. This is important – you do not want to receive email on your cell phone when Outlook is not up and running on your work computer.

If not already configured, make sure that your smart phone shows you the main Inbox folder only for your work account. I have an iPhone and the default “All Accounts” folder shows only email in my main inboxes. If I want to read client specific emails I now have to go and look for the @@client folder under my work account – which is the point!

Working with this new setup does require a certain amount of diligence. If you so desire, there is nothing stopping you ignoring all client email for a period, which will likely hurt you in the short term when next in a meeting and your client asks whether you read their emails. The main point of this configuration is to allow you greater control of when and how you access emails, without technology interrupting you at inopportune moments. As a rule, I check my client folder at least twice a day when in the office working, and during downtimes in the weekend/evenings.

One thought on “Managing Work E-mail with a ‘go-to’ folder

  1. Chris

    Great post. The ubiquity of communications devices has definitely changed the way we live, and the challenge now is ensuring we strike a balance between our personal and professional lives in this new age.

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