Outlook – Some Productivity Tips

(originally published in May of 2011, I think we can all use a reminder and some tips to be more productive with our email management – hope you will enjoy)

Do you get a lot of email every day? Most of us operate on email overload on a daily basis. Do you have a system to quickly handle each item? Many experts tell us to handle an item only once. If you open it, take action then – don’t close it and deal with it later. Some experts say to turn off the auto-check feature that Outlook has. They look at email as an interruption to productivity and suggest that checking email perhaps 2-3 times daily makes us more productive. email

What do you think? Can you ignore your email half a day to focus on your work, or is your email your work? I think the type of position we have in a company determines how we process email. If you’re in a support or customer service role, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to turn off Outlook for a specified period of time. However, if you have a deadline and really need to focus, or your position has more of a thought/long range planning emphasis, it probably makes sense to not let incoming email distract you.

Whatever your role, you may benefit from the three Outlook tips featured this week.They are:

  1. Effective ways to sort and organize your mail.
  2. Take an email item and make it a calendar or contact item.
  3. Fast searches to quickly find what you need.

Outlook Message Sorting

Check out your ‘View’ setting in Outlook. This is a quick way to cycle through all the choices available to you. The default is date with the newest on top. But check out the other options. Are you looking for something with an attachment – click on that. Have you ever tried out conversation view. I’ve found this one useful when needing to find and follow a thread of conversation. This feature is in Outlook 2003 and later. With Outlook 2010, there is a feature that will ‘clean up’ duplicate conversations, which is nice.

views for outlook 2003

Below are links to ways to change how messages are grouped in Outlook. The defaults are listed in the links. There are instructions for making your own groups.

To be more productive in your email, I find it’s helpful to create folders. Then when items come in, I can file them in their proper folder. You may want to make your folders topic based. Studies show that most email is for reference, so you may want to have folders to file this material in by topic or by who it’s from. The method just depends on the way you think is effective. Someone else may have a totally different system, but it works for them.

Perhaps flagging or categorizing mail (using color) works best for you. Take a little time to set up your perfect system and then tweak it from time to time.

Take an email item and make it a Calendar, Task or Contact

If you’re like most people, you get many items via email that need to go to either your calendar, a task to be done or you’d like to add the sender to your contacts. I used to imagecopy and paste or just open up my calendar and type things in from the email. Then I discovered drag and drop.

Use drag and drop to take an email and put it in your Calendar, Tasks or Contacts! If you want to put an email item on your calendar, Left-click and drag the item down to your calendar icon (see below). If you have more than one calendar, the icon will expand to show all your calendars and you can drag it on to the one you want. Then an appointment box will open up (look on your task bar for it). You will have to fill in the time and date details, but the body of the email will be in the appointment.
The same works for making an email into a task or contact. This is a great time saver.

Fast searches to quickly find what you need

Have you ever noticed the ‘Search Folders’ folder? It’s the last folder in the illustration below. It can become a powerful tool and timesaver for you. Use it to aggregate and/or sort your mail into specific categories. You can see below I’ve named a search folder ‘for follow up’. This contains all the emails I’ve flagged for follow up. Now they’re all in one place and I can quickly go to that folder to quickly check items needing attention.


If you have a team member(s) you collaborate with, you can set up a folder to capture all emails from people you designate. This can save you a lot of time and scrolling. You can also move your search folder up in the folder list. Simply right-click on it and follow the prompts to move it so it’s more in your line of sight.


Summary – Take Action!

Are you a ‘zero inbox’ person? I must confess I’m not. I’m one of those people who use Outlook as a repository of information, reference and referral. In my many years as an admin, I’ve had to go back and search for documentation to prove that yes, indeed, you did get an email on this and here it is! The Outlook search is powerful and effective for my needs and with the sorting features Outlook offers, I don’t see a need to change. I do need to go through and eliminate the junk I don’t need anymore and again, the sorting features in Outlook can quickly help me accomplish that.

What about you? Do you need help with your inbox or some organization tips? Perhaps I can help. Feel free to contact me via email, twitter or phone.

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