If you’ve ever used Outlook at your workplace, you’ve undoubtedly been in “reply-all” Hell, where someone sends an email to several distribution lists with thousands of users on it, and then the thread keeps going – either with valid replies, bad jokes/puns or with numerous emails from desperate people wanting to be removed from the thread.
(And yes, this was spawned by a recent occurrence of this)
- Take me off this list!
- Please remove me!
- Please use bcc!
There’s not a catch all way to avoid this, but you can be assured that you are *not* completely helpless when you’re caught in the deluge.
Here are some Outlook tips/tricks that I use to keep my inbox as clutter-free as possible, as well as email etiquette you can use as a sender.
These tips mostly cover Microsoft Outlook thick client on Windows. If you have additional tips, or tips for Mac Outlook/O365 (or other email clients) comment below!
Etiquette for Senders
If you’re planning on *sending* to a distribution list, try to keep in mind that you might be guilty of the very offenses that might annoy you. So, try to think before you blast off that mass email.
Consider your audience
Your email is likely targeted to a select group of people. So that means you probably don’t need to send it to 10 different distribution lists – and you almost *certainly* don’t need to send it to the entire company. In fact, smart companies prevent most employees from sending emails to the largest DLs.
Try to send only to 2-3 DLs at most, and make sure they are your targeted audience.
Check the numbers
How many people are in that distribution list? Not sure? Sometimes, Outlook will show you in plain sight:
If there isn’t a field there, you can go to the DL’s properties to see who is a member of the group.
Do you need people to “Reply all” to this message?
As a sender, you might be able control whether people can reply all to your email with permissions in Outlook. This article covers it:
Preventing Reply All
(If your organization isn’t using IRM, this won’t work.)
Using “blind copy” (bcc)
This one is tricky; if you use it, then replies only go to you. But it also will break rules for users that filter emails to folders and end up in their inbox. If that’s your intent (as in, forcing someone to see your email rather than it going to a rule) then by all means do it, you evil, evil person. But it’s something to keep in mind; using the reply all permissions is a better option for everyone, IMO.
Tips for Controlling Your Inbox
While some people may not be aware of the tricks for senders (or are and just don’t care), you are not helpless as someone who gets email. There are ways to control your inbox, even if you’re on a Mac.
Tired of a thread? Ignore it!
In Windows Outlook, if you’re sick of a thread, you can click the “Ignore” button, which basically redirects all emails from that conversation to the Delete folder.
Subscribed to multiple DLs? Use your rules!
Outlook provides methods to filter emails based on a variety of things; keywords, subjects, senders, etc. I like to filter by the DLs things get sent to. These get filtered to specific folders I created, rather than cluttering up my inbox.
This does two things:
- Keeps things organized
- Keeps me sane
Creating a rule is easy. In fact, you can create one from an email that you receive by clicking on the little icon in the “Move” section.
One issue here is that if someone sends an email with the DL you set a rule for in BCC, the rule won’t work. There are workarounds, but they’re not always ideal.
Use Quick Steps!
Outlook has a way to create actions that you can trigger with the push of a button called “Quick Steps.” This is a more manual process, but it helps if you get bcc’d on emails.
As you can see, I’ve created several Quick Steps. My “Support” quick step will move the email I run it on to a folder called “Support.” I don’t use these a ton, but if I get emails from people not on DLs and I don’t want to filter them all but want to keep for later, I can create one of these.
One use case that comes to mind is for my technical report (TR) writing; sometimes I see an interesting thread or a frequently asked question that I need to put into the next TR update. I usually manually move that message, which can be cumbersome since I have so many folders I use to filter. With a quick step, I can just click a button to move it.
UNSUBSCRIBE (no, seriously)!
One of the most unintentionally hilarious results of a “reply all” storm is the mass of “reply all” emails that all want to be removed from the DL. For one, that doesn’t work – no one is going to remove you and emailing the DL with that reply doesn’t automatically do it. Second, you might not have total control over removing yourself; sometimes, an email has been sent to a larger DL (like all employees) and you’re a member of one of the thousand sub-groups in that DL. Removing you from the group removes you from other possibly important emails.
You likely have a way to remove yourself from a DL, but you need to check with your email admins or IT organization to do that. At my company, we have KB articles on how to do it, and a nice web-based group management interface to add/remove ourselves from groups. Some email servers allow you to send an email to a DL you want to subscribe or unsubscribe to with specific subject lines. Again, check with your IT admins.
Most email administrators employ some fashion of spam filtering. However, these things can’t block everything, so it’s up to you at that point.
If you are getting frequent spam, make it a habit to use the “Junk mail/block sender” options. Otherwise, you’ll keep getting those emails.
You can manage your junk mail settings, including the email addresses on the blocked/allowed lists with “Junk E-Mail Options.” (I’m including the blocked senders, because those spammers are annoying)
(Not) Junk mail
One thing I forget often is that, sometimes, our corporate spam filter is *too* effective. I’ll sign up for an account somewhere and it gets filtered into junk. After the 2nd or 3rd “forgot my login” request gets put there, I finally remember to check the junk folder. So, it makes sense to occasionally check there to see if anything got put there incorrectly, and then whitelist it by marking it “not junk.”
Got any tips?
Do you have any things you do with your email management? If so, add to the comments!