Like many new features that suddenly pop up in Outlook, our favourite productivity application, Clutter has received a lukewarm reception since it appeared, nestling in our mailbox folder tree, towards the end of last year. I suppose the reason it became much-maligned was that nobody really paid it any attention until it affected their daily routine in a negative way. Microsoft must shoulder some of the blame for this by slipping it into an update cycle, some would say, ‘unannounced’ (this is a little unfair as would have been well documented but who reads the release documentation?) and made it enabled by default.

For most, it came into our awareness when inbound messages started to go amiss or a curious click into this new folder revealed a number of unread and, more importantly, unanswered messages. Horrified at missing that important notice or ignoring a potential sales opportunity, most Outlook diehards were aghast at this incursion into their mail sorting routine. All users of electronic mail are familiar with fishing out a perfectly good missive from their junk e-mail folder, but who was this interloper, popping up in their filing system and impertinently taking it upon itself to suggest that this particular message didn’t require your immediate attention and should tucked away into a hitherto unknown folder.

This unprompted invasion into what is considered by some computer users as an equally personal, and in some ways more vital, part of their lives than their own personal bits, was utterly unacceptable. Understandably, this caused many to reach for (or request their IT bods, ITbuilder included) to reach for the off switch – or disable toggle, in this case. “Get rid” is the common knee-jerk reaction to this feature, that has left many in the lurch, by causing them to unknowingly ignore communication that would otherwise have been diligently dealt with. I would like to encourage anybody that isn’t using it and view it as an unnecessary ‘secondary junk folder’ to give it a second chance. It is my opinion that it is a useful feature and could help you keep your work productivity high.

Let’s face it, everyone wants to email you these days. Newsletters, bulletins, blogs, advertisements, masquerading as informative news items, are hitting your inbox no sooner have you attended an event, made a purchase or enquired after some information online. Companies are hungry to get you on their mailing list to assert their brand on you and keep you informed about their great offers. This is Clutter.  So is automated email from systems and services that need to be in your peripheral view, but shouldn’t necessarily increase the count of unread items that you see when take a cursory glance at your inbox. When you have a few moments to check your mail, do you really need all of this noise as you scan your new message items?

I say let this stuff gather in Clutter. Get into the habit of browsing the folder from time to time to review what needs your attention and also scan it for items that Outlook has been a little over-zealous to class as littering your digital world. A quick drag of said item into your inbox and it won't make that mistake twice. This is the thing. Outlook – as well as the algorithms in the mail systems that transport our e-mail from sender to recipient - is becoming more clever. It has a pretty good idea what is complete and utter rubbish, syphoning this off to your Junk E-mail folder. This will be completely unsolicited mail, or SPAM, offering you everything from credit facilities to erectile dysfunction remedies. Clutter is different in that it sorts mail that is legitimate and to which you, by and large, gave authority to receive, but to which it thinks you only need get around to reading when it suits you. It’s those messages that, prior to Clutter sneaking in, would sit for days on end in that bold unread state in your inbox until you got around to reading and then either filing or deleting them. In fact, with Clutter enabled, Outlook will detect messages from a recipient, or with a specific subject line, that you frequently leave unread in your inbox as clutter to be tidied. What remains when Clutter has done its thing, is the wood for the trees. Those important, direct messages that need your attention right away. Its a good concept, don't you think? I am here to tell you that with a bit of initial co-operation, Clutter will be your friend and the not infernal, meddling nuisance many have assumed it to be.

All it takes is to get into the aforementioned routine of checking it frequently to begin with. I would recommend at least once daily. Scroll down your last day of clutter messages, checking first for anything that should absolutely not be there. Drag that to your inbox right away. Now have another spin through and identify anything that really have no interest in. Before you hit the big X, open the message and scroll down to find the link that enables you to unsubscribe. It is almost always at the bottom of the message in much smaller text that is sometimes only a few shades darker than the background colour to avoid detection (the marketers badly want you on their list). With practice, you will get good at spotting it. Other, less professional, ‘mailshotters’ will not provide an unsubscribe option and will ask you to reply to politely request you request them to stop sending you unrequested messages (great, eh?). I will leave down to you if you can be bothered to do that.

After a few weeks, your Clutter folder will have less mailshots and newsletters, but also the appearance of genuine correspondence, that you really need to see the moment it arrives, will be a rare thing. If you are anything like me, and I know there are a lot of your out there, who view an unkempt inbox as a symptom of complete chaos and disorganisation, Clutter is right up your street. If you have abandoned it, give it a try and let me know how you get on.