The secret to a tidy house is not letting it get messy in the first place. While that sounds easy and obvious, for many people it’s neither. It takes a concerted effort to consistently and routinely throw out what you don’t need and put things away where they can be found.
The same is true of your inbox. Although it’s arguably a more difficult task just based on the volume of what must be sorted, in practice, it’s really no different: file what you need, delete what you don’t.
Whether it’s a tidy house or a tidy inbox, the benefits to your demeanor can be comparable. The environments in which you live (your home) and work (your inbox is one important virtual “room”) affects your sense of calm and focus — or lack thereof.
Make a Clean Sweep
While Microsoft Outlook has for a long time now provided tools to help maintain sanity in your inbox, both on desktop and the web, a new feature holds promise to make it even easier.
Located in the main tool bar between Junk and Move is the Sweep button, complete with a little broom icon.
Sweep is a quick way to create rules for emails from specific senders in particular folders, including your inbox. Select one or more messages and click Sweep to bring up a dialog box with multiple choices:
- Move all messages
- Move all messages and future messages
- Always keep the latest message and move the rest
- Always move messages older than 10 days
A drop-down menu then lets you decide which folder to move the messages to. The default is Deleted Items, but you can also send the messages to Archive, a new folder you create, or another existing folder.
In just a few clicks you can determine how to consistently handle messages, so they don’t clutter your inbox or other folders you use.
How Sweep Is Different from Rules
Now you may note that Sweep sounds like Outlook’s Rules feature. While they can serve similar purposes, Rules are much more detailed and not as simple to create. A Rule can incorporate many combinations of specific conditions, from certain keywords in the subject line or message body, to whether you’re the only recipient or cc’d and much more. You can also set multiple actions to organize, categorize, or route the messages. Although Rules are very powerful, they require you to apply more “if this, then that” logic.
Sweep is a more straightforward way to address the most common need: keeping messages from piling up in your inbox. It’s based solely on who sent you the message, no other factors, and it applies only to your Inbox or another personal folder — so not Deleted Items, Archive, Junk Email. Sent, etc.
Once a Day, Every Day
The biggest difference, however, is that while Rules apply to messages as soon as they arrive, Sweep occurs once a day, not unlike how you might take a few minutes at the end of every day to make sure everything in your kitchen is put away. This offers you a chance to read and reply to messages before they’re ultimately moved to another destination.
Let’s briefly explore how you can use each option:
Move all messages — a quick one-time way to clear out messages from a sender that you no longer need. Outlook runs the request immediately but does not create any kind of ongoing rule that would apply to subsequent messages.
Move all messages and future messages — Ensure messages from a particular sender get filed (or archived or even deleted) within 24 hours. Technically, it creates a Rule (not a Sweep Rule), but it’s a fast way to make an ongoing, regular process.
Always keep the latest message and move the rest — You likely have multiple separate email threads with the same people, so use this with some caution, but it’s very handy for dealing with regular alert messages, or project management system notifications. Create a folder where such alerts can go, then run a Sweep rule to free up that folder occasionally.
Always move messages older than 10 days — Old emails can clog your inbox and some, like subscriptions or messages about local events, have no reason being there after a certain amount of time. But no one likes the chore of going back through and deleting. This function does it for you.
How to Adjust Sweep
If you change your mind about how to handle messages, you can adjust or delete any of these Sweep Rules. Just go to Settings > Mail > Sweep, and then edit or trash them.
For many, email has become an unavoidable burden of work in the digital age. Even with new communication platforms like Teams, email is still an unfortunate necessity. At least by using Sweep, you can keep your inbox from needlessly overflowing.
Need more ideas for how to optimize Microsoft 365 tools for better productivity? We’re always here to help businesses use technology more effectively so they can focus on what makes them money.
This could be cut for space, but I thought it might be worthwhile to explain each.