An email solely for invoices, plus electronic folders and archiving, have helped Anne-Marie Wells’ tidy her office.

When I look at my inbox I am staggered by the number of emails there. It’s normally pretty bad, but add to it the COVID-19 correspondence from the many businesses we use and it’s almost at the point where I want to create a new email address and walk away from the old one!
The truth of the matter is that I did this last year and over the past year, especially during lockdown, and in a roundabout way I am so pleased I did. I had set myself a challenge to be paperLESS in the office – to reduce my three fully-stacked folders of invoices to just one – and sorting out my emails played a large part in achieving that goal.
My main driver was saving paper but, if I’m honest, there was a fair bit of me being a miser in there too. Many companies were already emailing invoices and I was printing each one out and adding it to the ones that came in the post. I thought “why should I be paying for the paper and ink?” Going paperLESS would mean buying less stationery – a win for the planet AND my budget.
The first thing I did was tidy up our emails. Invoices were at risk of getting lost among the newsletters, updates, quotes, and general correspondence. When I say “tidy up” I don’t mean trawling through, sorting, and deleting: I mean doing that thing Outlook asks about every so often – archiving our emails.
Archiving seems a bit scary. Where will they go? How will I find an email I want from ages ago? What if I change computers and lose everything?
I liken it to grabbing all your folders off the floor and throwing them in an outside (weatherproof) cupboard. Everything is still there in the same order you left it – it’s just not in the way any more. On the rare occasion I need to look for something Outlook loads it back up and it looks like it never left (I am using MS Office Home and Business 2016).
Once I had a clean slate I set up a new email address dedicated to invoices and connected it to my existing Outlook so it is always visible with my emails. Even if I couldn’t have connected it I would still have set up another email – it has been invaluable having them in their own dedicated mailbox. I contacted all our suppliers and asked them to send invoices and only invoices to this email address.
My invoices email is set up to mirror my paper folders: I made an email folder just like the A4 folder for my printed invoices, with dividers marking each month. My “in tray” is for unprocessed invoices and, once they are paid, I move them to the relevant folder. To the right is how it looks:
It took a while to get used to processing invoices from the computer screen but having a good system and sticking at it has made it easier. I am now struggling to fill up even one A4 folder and am buying less printer ink and paper. I can’t say I am any better off yet – I used my savings to buy a second computer screen, which has been a huge help with managing the invoices online.
My new goal – keep our farm emails as tidy as our invoice emails. I have a feeling this will be as (un)successful as my goal to clean my oven regularly. Still, there’s always Outlook archive again this time next year.