I was starting to have that feeling that certain things that needed to get done, that existed in my email inbox, were getting overlooked or lost, among clutter and emails that had no importance at all.

A little background, my main email set-up is about a half-dozen email addresses created at my own domains, all directly sent to one computer’s Outlook 2010 account.  Admittedly, this is already not ideal because it’s not cloud-based, and thus a problem on this computer, means a big email problem to solve.  But that’s an issue for another day.

My existing system included too much “heavy lifting” – I would, on a monthly basis or so, organize the inbox by “sender” and then I would drag all my client emails into their own folder.  This was very time-consuming, because every single email must be dragged one by one, and when there’s about 1000 emails to work with, it’s overwhelming.

I’d been starting to learn evernote which is an organizational tool for other purposes, and I realized I really wanted a system of “tagging” emails in a basic way.  I call this method the 4-Cat System.   In Outlook, this takes a few minutes to set up, but the result experience is this.

I have 4 main “tags” I use for my emails:

  1. Do Now
  2. Do Soon
  3. Pending
  4. Archive

Then I have 5 “views” I toggle between:

Well, you see the pattern.

The real trick – is…

[optinlocker]assigning each category to a “hot key”, I use control+F9, control+F10, control+F11 and control+F12.  Then, every day, once or twice, I switch to “To Process” view of my emails, and all I see is any email that does not have any categories.  Then I put my left pinky on control, and I tap F9 through F12 to put all my emails where they belong.

I never have to touch the mouse, or any other key, because as soon as I tap F9 for example, the email is Tagged “Do Now”, and it no longer fits the requirements of the view, which is to show only emails that haven’t been tagged.   This means the next email gets automatically highlighted.   You could think of this like one of those automatic pitching machines.

I find it to be extremely manageable, and when I finish a few tasks that are on the top of my mind, I go to the “Do Now” list, and I try and knock out a few task-assigned emails.  I never move them into subfolders anymore.    It’s quick, painless, and extremely organized.

For quick replies, a nice trick to keep your hands off the mouse is knowing ctrl+R to go into reply mode – and ctrl+Enter to ship it off.  I leave that “are you sure you’re ready to send this” option on and hit enter again, so I don’t accidentally try to enter a line-break and send unfinished emails off, which definitely happens on occasion.

Here’s how to do this


1. Look for the Categorize button and click on All Categories from the dropdown


 2. Add or Modify Categories so that you end up with these 4 categories assigned to these 4 shortcut keys:

  1. Do Now – F9
  2. Do Soon – F10
  3. Pending – F11
  4. Archive – F12



3. Click on the “View” tab and look for the Change View dropdown, click on Manage Views within there.step-New-view

4. You’ll need to go and create the following 5 views:

step-unreadFirst create the four to match the 4 categories:



5. When editing one of your new views, choose “Filter”

6. Click the “More Choices” tab and select Categories and match up each one to each view. Do this for each of the 4 main Categories.   4 Views, for 4 Categories. The  4-Cat System is taking shape!


7. Now to create the “To Process” view, this is the correct configuration here. (Advanced > Categories = is Empty)


8. I don’t remember off-hand, but I think show “Unread Only” is already available as a view, in case you want to add this extra one, there’s the view configuration for “Unread Only”.  Very simliar to “to process”, which will always have all your unread messages, but sometimes a useful view to flip away from already read messages.




7. Once this is complete, you should be able to click “Change View” and jump between different views.  First you’ll need to practice tagging your emails by choosing the “To Process” view and then clicking on the top message in your inbox.  Now put your left hand’s index finger on the left side of the keyboard’s “control” key, and use right 4 fingers positioned on the F9, F10, F11, and F12 keys.   Then fire away.

First email doesn’t need your attention?  Control+F12.

Next one is something you  have to do and figure out, like an important task? Control+F9.

Next one is something you want to do but there’s no rush?  control+F10.  You get the idea.



Lastly, it’s probably going to help you out to be able to jump between views from the “Home” tab of your Outlook, find your Outlook options, and drag “Current View” from the View tab to the Home (Mail) tab so that it’s always with you on the home tab.

Please let me know if this method was helpful to you, thanks for your input, and let us know what other problems you’d like if we could offer a related strategy.