The holidays are here and as part of my "2009 clean-up" efforts I’ve got my mind set on getting my inbox under control. It’s not that I’m disorganized or lackadaisical about managing e-mails; it’s just that I get a lot of them and sometimes the process of culling through everything can be a bit daunting.

Manual clean up is a necessary evil, but I’ve started to realize that effective e-mail management really boils down to the ability to quickly search for and prioritize e-mails in the midst of a hectic workday. Keeping this in mind, I did a little digging online and found a few free inbox management tools I'd like to install on my desktop (pending approval from Paul, our IT guy, of course).

There are number of great options out there, but I felt that Xobni and Liaise were the most user friendly and comprehensive of the free tools available.

Xobni (inbox spelled backwards) is a simple plug-in for Microsoft Outlook that makes it possibly to instantly find e-mails, attachments and contact information using a search box. Think of it as the “find” option on steroids.

Why it’s worth downloading?

  • Xobni Basic is free.
  • It’s easy to download and integrates seamlessly with Outlook.
  • It’s extremely intuitive and user friendly, so you can start using it immediately.
  • Your search results appear in a helpful side bar with the lists of contacts, e-mail content or other information neatly laid out, so you can find exactly what you need in no time.

Liaise is a free beta tool that helps you identify key tasks/priorities within your flood of daily e-mails, so you can search for projects, assign tasks, update calendars and address pressing client issues more efficiently. It gives you access to everything you need to streamline conversations and projects right at your fingertips.

Why it’s worth downloading?

  • It’s free and works within Outlook, so you won’t have to deal with disruptions when you download it.
  • Liaise automatically isolates key points or action items in e-mails by keywords (say “We need to finish the draft of the Lions release by 12/23, for example), so you can assign priorities, send updates to coworkers and set up calendar alerts without having to exit the e-mail you’re currently reading.
  • It’s secure and won’t interfere with anti-virus software, including solutions from vendors like Symantec and McAfee.
  • It works with Office 2003 or 2007 and it's compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems.

I can keep rattling off features, of course, but the easiest way to get a handle on this tool is by checking out a demo on YouTube. See below.

Both Xobni and Liaise make managing e-mails, tasks and client contacts easier, while streamlining the way you use Outlook. I’m in the midst of getting permission for Liaise, and hopefully Xobni, so I plan to dedicate a follow-up post to how these tools work in practice, and not just in theory, sometime in 2010.

– Contributed by Gretchen Doores. Follow her @canadiangal84