Mastering your Outlook inbox

Forget Outlook 2016’s weak Clutter and Focused Inbox features. Instead, use these four simple methods to cut spam, limit incoming email and regain control of your inbox.

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The truth is, I hate Outlook. But in the Windows environment, there's no better email, calendaring and contacts package than Microsoft Outlook 2016. When I think about why I hate the software, it comes down to a set of frustrations around key areas like a lack of focus on inbox management, a tacked-on search facility with a terrible user interface, and the absence of two-way syncing with non-Microsoft sources of calendars and contacts.

I've decided to tackle Outlook's annoyances head on. This article focuses on making inbox management much more productive.

To be fair, Microsoft has been trying to address the overwhelmed-inbox condition for the last couple of years. It started by introducing to Office 365 subscribers a feature called Clutter, an automated filtering tool that put emails you were unlikely to open (based on your past behavior) into a separate folder. Clutter was not well received because users were not given a way to fully remove it.

More recently, Microsoft rolled out a feature called the Focused Inbox. This is little more than Clutter inverted so that it highlights mail you want to see instead of mail you probably don't want to see. The difference between them is more marketing than programming. (Microsoft shrewdly implemented Focused Inbox as a view instead of as a mailbox. That makes it much easier to disable.)

Whatever you call it, this functionality is a step in the right direction, but it falls well short of what most users really need. For some users, self-discipline may be the thing that's most needed. No algorithm or set of built-in rules from Microsoft is going to solve the inbox overload problem that many business users face. Only you know what mail is important to you. But if you take that knowledge and leverage Outlook's complexity and power to your advantage, you can boost your inbox management productivity significantly.

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