You know the scenario. You know there is an email which contains a piece of vital information somewhere in your mailbox. You may know who sent it and have an idea of when, or maybe the subject, but can you pin it down?
Below are five suggestions to help you in your quest. Note that the detail will depend on whether you are using webmail or a mail program (such as Outlook or Mac Mail).
Sort your mail
Modern mail clients often default to grouping emails by conversation as well as by date. This means that the email you remember from last week can get hidden behind a more recent one in the conversation. Remove the conversation grouping and set the sort to the most useful for your search. You will generally find the sort order above the list of emails, with a dropdown to change it. Once sorted you can scroll through to locate the email you need.
Use the search box
Depending on how tidy you are, sorting on its own may still leave you with a substantial set of emails to scan. The next step is searching. If there is an uncommon word or phrase in the email, type it into the search box. This will hide any emails which do not contain the search text. If your search contains more than one word, it will return emails containing all the words. Using quotes round a phrase will return an exact search.
Use the search options
If you use GMail or a mail program, you have the option to refine your search. This will normally be available when you start typing in the search box: Outlook shows a search ribbon, GMail has a dropdown and Mac Mail shows options as you type. Narrowing the search to just the sender/ subject/ date gives you a better chance of success.
Are you looking in the right place?
There is the saying that if you cannot find what you are looking for, you are looking in the wrong place. If your search has not produced the goods, look wider. It only takes the slip of a mouse to file an email in the wrong project. There is normally an option to search in all mailboxes or folders and now is the time to use it.
Hopefully by now you have found your lost email. It has however taken some time and effort. This is maybe the time to think about getting organised. This is a whole separate subject, so I will only put one suggestion here: try to manage your emails as they arrive. Delete the read-once emails and file the important ones straight away.
Emails store a vast amount of useful information, but can be difficult to organise and manage. Using the facilities to target your search will help you find the email you need quickly.