How to manage your project mail folders

A French mailboxI don’t know about you, but I get a lot of email. It’s not unusual for me to come back to my computer after a few hours away and have fifty new messages in my inbox, much of it important (though much of it not). And the messages can concern a variety of different topics – client needs, in-company administration, meeting requests, personal chat… if you’re a project manager or business consultant, I’m sure you’ve been there.

The most important emails of all are the ones that concern the work being done for client projects, as it’s the clients we most wish to keep happy! If you use Microsoft Outlook like I do I’m sure you’re already sticking your messages into a folder hierarchy of your own design. I myself organize my email for each client project in a particular manner, and here is how:

  • Clients
    • Client name
      • Internal
      • Outstanding
      • Travel

Folder descriptions

Here’s what I put in each of the folders I’ve listed:

This folder contains information about client projects that I may not happen to be working on – potential new clients, interactions with clients outside of my own sphere, and any others. I don’t tend to access it much after I’ve moved mail into it, but those messages are there if I ever need them.

Client name
Client email foldersThis folder contains the bulk of project-related messages (from the client, from coworkers or from other consultants involved with the project) that I receive. I find it’s best not to break down the project activity hierarchy too much for search reasons; it’s much easier to search for mail in this folder when it’s all in one place! I tend to search for messages a lot, mostly by author or subject, and such searches occur quite often within this folder.

This folder doesn’t get used too much, for the reasons I explained above. However, occasionally you will encounter email messages of high internal importance (usually involving budgets, change requests or conflicts) that you might want to separate into a special section – and this is that section.

Microsoft Outlook lets you stick a little red flag beside important messages or those that require action, and I tend to have an inbox full of those. The messages I found difficult to manage with this system were those messages where it’s someone else charged with the important action, but you as a project or program manager don’t want to lose track of that item. Those messages I put into my Outstanding email folder, and every now and then I go through that folder to follow up with those people who were tasked with the actions. I find it gets clutter out of my mailbox (the messages in my inbox with little red flags are my messages with little red flags) and also gives me an opportunity to go through follow-up items all at once for each project, whenever I care to.

Project managers often tend to travel to client sites, and this folder is where I put my travel-related messages: travel plans, hotel confirmations, train or airline itineraries, and that sort of thing. The messages here also serve as references for when I expense trips.

Happy archiving!

Even with a decent folder structure, email is hard to manage! So I wish you the best of luck with your own email infrastructure. If you have any good ideas about how to improve upon my own structure, please be sure to let me know!

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2 Responses to “How to manage your project mail folders”

  1. Great strategy, thanks for sharing it! I have experimented with different types of folder setups, but my main fear is that I will not go back frequently enough to check those messages in the ‘followup’ folder, and once they are in the folder, they are somewhat out of sight/out of mind.

    I prefer using an online project management tool like LiquidPlanner, where much or all of the project communication can take place on the site, so that I won’t have to worry about searching for items later.

  2. Thanks Dina!

    I agree… once I put mail into archive folders, I very infrequently go back to check on the vast majority of those messages. When I do, it is normally the very recent messages that I need to check that are quite near the “top of the pile”, so to speak – a lot of it is just filling up my folders.

    I haven’t heard of LiquidPlanner – I will take a look into that! I have used tools other than email for communication in the past, but the problem I’ve found is that people don’t go to those sites to find the messages – communication on other collaborative sites (like SharePoint, for example) is never quite as in your face as an email message.

    Thanks for visiting, and thanks for your comment!

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About the Author

Website: Brian Crawford
I'm a Canadian and British dual citizen with an internationally-focused American MBA and an MS in International Project Management from a French business school. I am PMP, ScrumMaster, and ITIL Foundation certified. I'm particularly into travel, writing, and learning about different languages and cultures.