We misuse the the Follow up flag in Outlook. Most of us think of it as a method of marking mails which actually are Tasks. Read this article to know why it is NOT a good idea.
In today’s world, this flag has a much more important use. Read on to find out how to use it to your advantage.
Update: Since December 2020, we have a new Pin option, which may render the follow up flag less relevant. Pinned messages always remain on the top of Inbox (or folder).
The Need for using the mail follow up flag
All of us access the mailbox in at least two ways. On mobile phones and on some other better device (tablet, PC, Laptop). Mobile phones have built-in apps for connecting to all kinds of mail systems. In this case I am discussing Outlook and Exchange. However the concept can be applied to any mail system which supports follow up flags.
This is the familiar follow up flag. For years, we are using it as a method of marking this mail as a Task. As you have seen in the above-mentioned article, Tasks should be created in the Task folder – not Inbox.
So now what do we use this flag for? Many incoming mails are viewed first on the mobile phone. Do you agree? And this proportion is bound to grow even further.
Now, if the mail requires a quick reply, or just a simple forward we can manage it on the mobile phone itself. However, there may be many kinds of more complex actions which simply cannot be performed on the mobile phone.
For example, I want to trace an earlier mail I had sent, search for related topics and keywords, combine multiple mails and copy paste them to create the reply, specify in-line explanation, bring in diagrams or pictures from other documents, and so on. Of course, one such scenario is I have read the mail and I want to convert it to a formal task in the task folder. These kind of activities require a PC or at least the browser version of Outlook (Outlook for Web or Outlook Web Access). These activities are impossible to perform using a mobile phone (however “smart” the phone may be).
The problem is that eventually when you do have access to a more capable PC or laptop, you may forget to act on these mails. In the Inbox, these mails will be shown as “Read” because you have already read them on the mobile phone. This reduces the chances of you noticing these mails even further. You will, naturally, focus on newly received Unread mails by default.
How do we make sure that we not only NOT FORGET about these mails but also look at them proactively and take the relevant action – which has been pending for some time now.
The solution is the Follow Up Flag
This follow up flag is supported (is available) in almost all email apps on all kinds of mobile phones. Other features like Convert to Task, add deadline, etc. are not available on mobile phones (at least the default apps).
So here is the solution. You read a mail on your mobile phone. You decide that you want to perform some action about that mail which is impossible to perform right now due to the limitations of the mobile phone capability (or it could even be lack of time). At this point, just put this follow up flag ON. That’s it.
This flag now means – needs further action as soon as possible and as soon as you have access to a more capable device.
Now, when you get access to a laptop or a full version of Outlook Web Access, filter, group or sort on flagged mails and handle them first.
In case the mail actually implies some work to be done with a deadline, convert it to a task.
Remember to clear the flag after you have taken the relevant action
This is equally important. Otherwise you will have too many flagged items – some of which are actually NOT actionable. This will be confusing and counterproductive. Therefore, clear the flag after doing the related work – immediately.
More articles about using Outlook, Tasks and Calendar – and now Groups