Definitely an efficient alternative to creating and taking care of 10’s or 100’s of extra folders in Outlook used to organize all your messages. It’s an often over-looked feature of Outlook. I believe the biggest reason it’s overlooked is simply because organizing into sub-folders is just always how it’s been done in the past.

Some years back I noticed the number of folders I was using was getting to be a pain to have to manage (deal with). I like to be organized just as much as the next person. I like to be able to quickly and easily put my fingers on information I need as quickly as possible, and like so many others I was organizing my messages into folders. Mostly and almost always, folders not directly beneath (sub-folders) of the Inbox folder. I had a sub-folder labeled Vendors and one labeled Clients. Then of course, folders for each client of vendor underneath those. After a while I noticed how much time I was spending moving messages around to their respective folders and thought, “there’s got to be a better way.” Occasionally a message would end up in the wrong folder then I’d have to dig, root, and search for it in order to find it and place it in the correct folder. I know what you’re thinking… why isn’t he using rules to determine where the message goes? He could just have that message placed into it’s folder then he wouldn’t have to move it later. When I get really busy message that get placed into a folder by a rule are now Out-of-Site-Out-of-Mind. If it’s a message from a Client I don’t want them wondering why I haven’t responded yet.

Then I saw the Search Folders feature in Outlook. I’m sure it had been there for a while but I’d never really noticed it before. I started working with it and discovered how easy it was to configure some simple search parameters to bring up messages for Clients or Vendors. For instance, if I want to have a search folder for a specific Client or Vendor and there are multiple people associated with either I would simply enter something like this in the From field: And when I’d click on that Search Folder every email that contains that information in the From email address would load up. Not only that it would tell me where in my mailbox that message was located. It didn’t take a thunder-clap to tell me I no longer needed to maintain all those folders. Everything could just sit in my Inbox. I was happier, Exchange was happier so on I went. (Exchange was happier because message indexing was simplified. It had one place to find the messages to build its index of messages.)

Normally under those conditions you would tend to build up quite a number of messages in your inbox and pretty soon you’d be hearing from your administrator that your mailbox quota had been reached. That might sound like a disadvantage but actually the reverse is true. Messages kept in separate folders enter the realm of Out of Site Out of Mind. Your admin contacts you and lets you know you need to clean out your inbox, so you try to comply and get rid of some old messages either by archiving or out-right deleting them. You let him or her know you’ve complied but the admin comes back and says nothing has changed. This back and forth usually goes on for a few messages until you remember all those hundreds or thousands of messages you’ve got in your sub-folders. If you’ve got 10 sub-folders your task has just increase by a factor or 10. People I know that use sub-folders don’t have just 10 folders for their messages. Some folks I know have WAY more than just 10.

So, now you’ve got to do some re-arranging and some advanced searching through your mailbox. Probably looking for messages older than a certain date. Typically that’s messages aged older than 3 months (at least for me it is). They’ve got to come out to free up space in your mailbox. Of course you’re going to want to archive these messages. If you setup auto-archiving in outlook that might solve the problem if you trust this feature in Outlook; I don’t, and in fact, I advise my clients not to trust it as well. I’ve seen it fail too many times and messages go missing, or the PST file becomes corrupted and then, well, those messages aren’t accessible any more. If you must use a PST based archive folder set one up and move the messages manually. That’s how much I don’t trust the auto-archiving feature, but I’m getting off point. Message Archiving is another topic.

The point is this: the simpler things are in your Outlook mailbox, whether your connected to an Exchange server, or accessing a pop or imap service, simpler is always better. All mailboxes have a storage quota; even Gmail believe it not. Organizing your messages doesn’t have to be a time consuming process. You’ve got better things to do than move messages around and possibly drop them into the wrong folder. At any given time on any given day I’ve got at least 1200 messages in my Inbox. If you’re one of my Clients or Vendors I can pull up your messages in a heartbeat, and I can even do further searching on those messages connected to that search filter. Quick, Easy, and Painless. Good Heavens! I almost forgot… Those Search Folders you create appear as regular folders! Albeit as sub-folders underneath the Search Folders object in Outlook. 

It’s the simple things in life that are often overlooked but that free us up to enjoy other things.

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