Outlook Hacks – managing the inbox

Too many emails! Don’t waste your valuable attention and focus clearing your inbox. Check out these three hints.

  1. Get rid of duplicate emails in a conversation
  2. Opt out of conversations you don’t need to be copied in on
  3. Get rid of emails only relevant on that day

1. Get rid of duplicate emails in a conversation

Email conversations get complicated. A few people in on a discussion can result in many emails flying into your inbox in a single day. What do you do if you come back after a day away to find heaps of emails all from one discussion?

Try Conversation Clean Up – Outlook evaluates all the content in the emails in a conversation and deletes emails with duplicated content. So in a lengthy ‘reply all’ discussion, it deletes all the earlier emails, so you can read the whole conversation via the last email. It can also deal with more complicated conversations too. All the instructions are here. Note if deleting all these redundant emails makes you nervous, the linked instructions also show you how to move the emails to any folder you nominate (rather than the bin).

Remember too that there are better ways these days to have a conversation than over email. Try to encourage your team to explore teamwork sites like Teams which is part of the Microsoft 365 suite (see a demo here) or Slack here. I prefer Teams as it is integrated into the Microsoft suite and they have done lots of work lately to meet the security and privacy requirements of the most stringent industries. Teams was limited to your organisation so Slack was a good option for multi-organisation teams. However the good news is that MS Teams now supports ‘guest mode‘ for team members outside your organisation – yay.

2. Opt out of conversations you don’t need to be copied in on

You are copied in to a discussion but it really doesn’t apply to you. How do you stop seeing these emails, particularly as the conversation goes on and on and on? Use Ignore Conversation – see how here.

An important note on using this tool in a work context – just remember there may be a reason for you being copied in, for example the staff in the conversation report to you and want you to be aware of the issue as it unfolds. If you use Ignore Conversation, the other recipients won’t know you have opted out. So it pays to inform the project leader/key team members that you have opted out, so they know to make contact directly if something goes awry and they do need you to be involved.

3. Get rid of emails only relevant for that day

Many emails in an office relate to “daily notices”. For example “Steve is away sick today”, “The third floor toilets aren’t working” or probably the most welcomed version of these notice emails “There’s cake in the lunchroom for Brooke’s birthday”. These emails have no purpose unless you are there in the office that day.

So how do you filter these emails out if you are not in the office that day? The first step is to make these emails readily identifiable. This requires you to get some buy in from your team. This may seem impossible, but remember that most of these emails are sent out by one or two members of the support staff. So you can start with getting them on board. The trick is to get these staff members to start the email’s subject line with a distinct phrase so that these type of daily notice emails are easily recognisable. You have to use a phrase that will never come up in other work emails. Try ~staff~: or <TEAM: see the examples of what this looks like below. Remind all team members to use this prefix for any email where the content won’t matter by the next work day. It is important it is a phrase that won’t come up anywhere else, otherwise important emails could be missed. Hence why it is good to use some quirky punctuation marks next to any regular words (don’t use spaces).


The second step now that these emails are identifiable is to find a way to get rid of them. The best option is that the sender creates an expiration date on the message when they create it. See how here. This means that after the expiry date it appears in the recipients’ inboxes in strike-through so it can be easily deleted without being read.

The other option is for the recipients to create a rule in their inbox to filter these out based on the key phrase you use. You would create a rule which deletes all emails with the agreed phrase in the subject line (see image below). This rule can then be turned on whenever someone is away from the office (or to Ctrl-F all these emails when they return from holiday and had forgotten to switch the rule on beforehand).


Good luck on your road to Inbox Zero!

This post is part of the How-to June series, so subscribe to the blog to see more How-To’s and hacks.



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