Does Your Inbox Spark Joy? How to Easily Categorize and Manage Email from Outlook


Marie Kondo has advocated for the magic of tidying up various aspects of your life. But what about the clutter behind the screen... in your email inbox? While we can use Kondo's tips for folding or storing items in our homes, we've also found her advice to be applicable to organizational email management.

Her first rule? Tidy by category. This tip inspired us to share how categorizing your emails can both organize your inbox and transform your organization's overall email management processes.

We'll be sharing a simple method to categorize emails via Outlook Exchange color coding for an organized inbox that sparks joy. We'll also look at how retention policies can be applied automatically to these categories so business-critical email content is properly managed for easy accessibility and the most gained value. This can all be done in three simple steps:

Step 1: Face the clutter

It's time to get real about the situation in front of you. You've likely got a case of cluttered inboxes. While your organization needs to properly sort and manage email content, this task can feel gargantuan because every employee has their own full inbox and receives many new emails on a daily basis. In addition, not all emails are equal: there are different types which require different retention periods based on their level of importance. We've broken down three main types of emails:

1. Interaction with external parties

Whether it's communication with a vendor about services, or exchange of a contract with a potential client, emails about business with external parties are often considered higher level of importance.

2. Internal communication about business-critical methods

While these emails are between team members, they are often considered mid to higher level of importance because they contain exchange and content about organizational processes.

3. Personal and casual interaction

This could be about anything from where to go for lunch that day  to banter about the latest season of 'XYZ' on Netflix. These interactions can fill up inboxes fast and are usually considered lower levels of importance (even though last week's episode was really good).

Inbox - no categoryScreenshot 1: A general inbox with all three email types. The opened email would be considered Personal and ranked lowest in importance.

While all email types build up in one inbox, the email with the contract should be managed and retained for a different length of time than the one about lunch spots. Retention periods will vary based on your organization's retention policies: those with higher importance will require a longer holding time (say, ten years) than those considered low importance (say, 90 days or no retention).

We've acknowledged that these unorganized, cluttered inboxes need to be sorted for proper email management. The first step to tidy them up? Categorization.

Step 2: Color code your emails

Who can sort these emails? As much as we'd love AI and machine-learning to auto-categorize all of this for us, the technology is not quite there yet, especially for emails falling under multiple category types that require a judgement call. Organizational records managers could be assigned, but they likely don't have the time to sort through all individual inboxes (not to mention overstepping privacy boundaries around viewing others' email exchanges). Giving email recipients the autonomy to categorize what is in their inboxes can be the quickest, most simple, and least invasive method of ensuring the organization is properly managing email content and employees have organized inboxes.

Now to the method itself: categorization with Outlook Exchange color coding.

How would this work? By setting guidelines in place for the category types as indicated by different colors (for example: Personal is green while External is yellow, etc.), email recipients can then use the Outlook Exchange color coding feature to specify the email type (see Screenshot 2). This can be done quickly when they open the email to view content, taking a minimal amount of time but leaving their inbox content color coded. This is great for individual organization, but the next step is what will transform email management for the entire organization.

Email CategoriesScreenshot 2: Categorizing your inbox with Outlook color coding. Three color categories have been created and the latest email has been coded into Personal.

Step 3: Use a content lifecycle management platform to automatically stream, categorize and manage your emails

By using a solution such as Collabspace, the color-coded categories can be connected to document lifecycle workflows in the Cloud. This means that any email marked as Internal (in blue), for example, would automatically be streamed into the Collabspace data lake repository, where it would then be auto-categorized by the email type and an appropriate retention policy would be applied (see Screenshot 3).


Screenshot 3: The automated workflows have been set up so that emails coded in blue for Internal are streamed into Collabspace and the 3 year retention workflow is applied.

Wrapping up: Follow this process to keep organized inboxes and optimal email management

So in this process of tidying up, email recipients can group their email content via color coded categories from within their inbox. Then, Collabspace will manage the rest of the lifecycle of these categorized emails automatically. All it took was color coding and the rest was cleaned, organized, and automatically retained for optimal organizational email management.

This should spark joy for both the email recipients and the overall organization!

Inbox - with category

Screenshot 4: Email recipients are left with a color coded inbox, and the knowledge that each of these emails has been securely backed up and auto-categorized into an appropriate workflow.

For more information on implementing this method for your organization, contact us. You can also read about our Data Lake repository Collabspace and it's automated lifecycle workflows. To learn more about general Collabspace features, download our free brochure below:


Access Collabspace Brochure


Tagged: Automation, Collabspace, Email Management

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