Best Practices for Outlook Reference folder / subfolder structure

kglade

Registered
I recently converted from Notes to Outlook. I brought my email folder structure with me. I have dozens of folders organized into subfolders, e.g. "People/Smith, John" and "People/Jones, Sally," and "Management/Goals" and "Management/Meetings." In Notes, I could copy/move/save an email to any folder just by typing a few letters of its name, e.g. "Smi" for "People/Smith, John." Outlook doesn't work that way. I am too often scrolling through the folder list, expanding as I go, searching for the right folder. It is a real productivity killer since my brain shifts from the work at hand to finding the right folder.

It seems like I would be better off with a flat folder structure. However, this would result in hundreds of folders. And, if I name them just by the subfolder name, then Smith, John would be placed next to Supply Chain rather than next to other people. This seems like it would make my brain itch with discomfort. Naming them like "People - Smith, John" and "People - Jones, Sally" would get them grouped together but would not help much with outlook copy/move/save since outlook would make me type "people - j" to get to Sally Jones' folder. Too much typing and I'd have to remember the long folder name including the "people" part.

I considered grouping emails into one giant folder and relying on search to find them later, but this would require editing email subject lines since many senders don't do a good job of including the right tags in the subject line. For example, I get an email with the subject "project plan request" for the project "Acme product shipped" but I'd have to manually add at least "Acme" to the subject line to be able to find it later.

What are the best practices for reference folder structure in Outlook?

Thanks in advance.
 

Murray

Registered
A flat A-Z structure is what David Allen recommends. It's what I use (in Outlook, OneNote, Gmail and paper files) and I've quickly let go of my earlier desire to see all the different folders grouped with like topics. And yes hundreds of folders is not unreasonable.

David's reminder is that reference is for putting things in quickly and getting them out when you need them - it doesn't have to be a way of organising your thoughts and showing relationships. That can be done easily and effectively somewhere else like a mind map or hierarchical outline when needed.

You've done a great job of identifying certain frictions you may face when retrieving items from folders. Don't forget also to minimise the frictions that could lead you to resist creating a folder when you need one and have a lot going on. That's why I love a flat structure using the first, most natural name that comes to mind. If in doubt I finish the sentence "this folder is about..." using natural language, and that is my folder name. Eg: John Smith, Birth certificate, Dental, Printer, etc.

True, there is no fixed rule about where things go, but there will only be two or three places at most I need to look for any given folder, and if I'm using the language that comes most naturally then it will most likely come back to me next time too when I'm searching for it.

One advantage of this system is it works both digitally and for a filing cabinet where there is no search function.

Of course whatever system you use has to work for you, over the long haul as well as "in the heat of battle". So that's always the most important criteria.

Good luck!
 

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TesTeq

Registered
Naming them like "People - Smith, John" and "People - Jones, Sally" would get them grouped together but would not help much with outlook copy/move/save since outlook would make me type "people - j" to get to Sally Jones' folder. Too much typing and I'd have to remember the long folder name including the "people" part.
@kglade Maybe the "camel case" naming convention would help?
  • "People - Smith, John" --> "pSmithJohn"
  • "People - Jones, Sally" --> "pJonesSally"
 

Gardener

Registered
I don't use email as sorted reference at all. There are just too many frustration points associated with it.

If I might want to find a specific email associated with an action or project, I'll name the action or project in a way that will allow me to search for it. (So, in "Acme Project Shipped", the task might be "Provide project plan. Email/Joe/12/4")

If an email contains a useful small fact, I have lists for that. (Outside email.) If it contains a pointer to something useful, same thing.

If an email itself contains a useful glob of information independent of any near-term task, I'll probably copy-paste it somewhere. That doesn't happen all that often, because at my work most information is on some website somewhere, and when it appears in an email, that's just copied from the website. And at home, I've realized that if it can't be recorded as a URL or a book title or some other pointer to an outside source of information, I'm never ever ever ever going to go back to it.
 

Visual Learner

Registered
I recently converted from Notes to Outlook. I brought my email folder structure with me. I have dozens of folders organized into subfolders, e.g. "People/Smith, John" and "People/Jones, Sally," and "Management/Goals" and "Management/Meetings." In Notes, I could copy/move/save an email to any folder just by typing a few letters of its name, e.g. "Smi" for "People/Smith, John." Outlook doesn't work that way. I am too often scrolling through the folder list, expanding as I go, searching for the right folder. It is a real productivity killer since my brain shifts from the work at hand to finding the right folder.

It seems like I would be better off with a flat folder structure. However, this would result in hundreds of folders. And, if I name them just by the subfolder name, then Smith, John would be placed next to Supply Chain rather than next to other people. This seems like it would make my brain itch with discomfort. Naming them like "People - Smith, John" and "People - Jones, Sally" would get them grouped together but would not help much with outlook copy/move/save since outlook would make me type "people - j" to get to Sally Jones' folder. Too much typing and I'd have to remember the long folder name including the "people" part.

I considered grouping emails into one giant folder and relying on search to find them later, but this would require editing email subject lines since many senders don't do a good job of including the right tags in the subject line. For example, I get an email with the subject "project plan request" for the project "Acme product shipped" but I'd have to manually add at least "Acme" to the subject line to be able to find it later.

What are the best practices for reference folder structure in Outlook?

Thanks in advance.
I sort by next steps- call, email, research, software fix and more general topics a category of clients, a broad focus of work or department, with very general office info going into file folder by year so I can delete as a batch after a defined time period
 

kglade

Registered
Update: A couple of days ago I switched my Outlook email folder structure to a flat one as Murray suggested. It is working well for me with respect to easier filing. Thanks to all for the tips.
 

Murray

Registered
I do not use Outlook for reference but instead use the Plugin to OneNote and send any email that has content that I want to keep for reference to OneNote with a simple click.
Does that email go to a OneNote page that you have designated as your inbox, to be processed and filed later? Or do you file it on the spot as you send it to OneNote?
 

boomer70

Registered
Does that email go to a OneNote page that you have designated as your inbox, to be processed and filed later? Or do you file it on the spot as you send it to OneNote?
I believe that you can do either but I usually stick it right in the section that it pertains to
 
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