Old joke: The world is divided into two kinds of people, those who divide the world into two groups and those who don’t.
Heh. Actually, I think the world is divided into people who file stuff neatly and those who throw everything into a shoebox. I’ve historically fallen into the latter category, but I’ve always felt a little guilty about it. Which is why I was eager to try a new program called ClearContext Inbox Manager. It’s an add-in for Microsoft Outlook that is supposed to automate the process of sorting and filing e-mail.
How does it work? Well, let’s just say that yesterday, my inbox was overflowing with 4500 messages. Today, it contains 29 messages, all of them related to a project I’m working on now.
ClearContext is easy to set up. Deceptively easy, in fact. I was convinced I had missed something, because installation and configuration were so simple. The program works by examining your Contacts folder and prioritizing your contacts. You answer a few questions to improve the automated process. Incoming messages get assigned a priority based on the sender, the recipient (messages addressed directly to you are more important than those where you’re a bcc), and your level of involvement in the thread. Based on the priority level, each message gets a color code.
Messages get assigned to topics, which map to folders in your mail folder. In about 15 minutes, I set up Auto-Assign rules to automatically categorize messages from mailing lists and frequent correspondents and then move them into folders.
When all was said and done, my inbox was slimmer, all remaining messages were sorted so that the most important ones were at the top of the list, and I was able to quickly delete almost a thousand unnecessary messages.
Thanks to a new toolbar in the Outlook window, I can assign a topic to a message with one click and file it in its folder with another click.
I had done some of this stuff with Outlook message rules, but the ClearContext Auto-Assign rules are much easier to create. Likewise, it’s possible to file messages into Outlook folders, but this add-in makes it much easier.
I’ve tried other add-ins that promise to do similar things, most notably Getting Things Done, which Marc Orchant raves about. But that program tried to force me into a new system, and I wasn’t comfortable with the adjustment.
ClearContext Inbox Manager doesn’t insist that I learn its way of working. Instead, it makes it easier for me to use Outlook the way I always have. You can try it out for 30 days, and if you like it, pay $29.95 to keep using it.
Now, if someone can just come up with a program to file this four-foot-high stack of paper on my desk…