Microsoft Outlook: It’s about time!

We could all use more of this hot commodity. Let Outlook give it instead of take it. All day long we receive copious amounts of information. It comes in various forms: e-mail, voice mail, in person, hard copy such as business cards and the internet. Let Outlook be your information manage system and save time searching for and connecting related forms of information.

First of all, Outlook has features that prevent unimportant or less important email for even staying in our inbox. Outlook rules can move e-mail that meet certain conditions such as sender or subject to a specified folder. Rules are appropriate for the nice to reads such as newsletter subscriptions or social committee events. Of course, you should periodically go to these folders to read these email. You’d hate to miss that company picnic! The disciplined Outlook user can even use rules to automatically redirect email that they’ve been copied on or email from a certain co-worker.

The real challenge remains and that is what to do with all the remaining e-mail that does stay in your inbox. The information we receive can be divided into two sections: a Reference System and an Action System. The goal is to have an organized reference system for pieces of information that you need to keep such as email, contacts, and attachments. E-mail go to e-mail folders, contacts go to Outlook Contacts and attachments get saved to file folders (that way you don’t have to search for that e-mail that contained the attachment). Then… you copy or insert these pertinent pieces of related information into your Action system. The Action system is made up of Outlook items that require action: Calendar and Tasks. For example, you organize a meeting and you want to include the agenda and contact information for your guest speakers. Before you send the invitation, you will insert the agenda and the contacts from your contact list. Another example is that you need to create a task to write an article for LinkedIn. You received a great e-mail from a co-worker with the perfect content. Right click and drag the e-mail onto the Task button. When you let go you will see several options. Choose copy here with an attachment. This inserts the e-mail into the task! Are you getting the idea? You want to insert all related information into your actionable items. Why? So that you don’t have to forever keep switching from email to contacts, to files to calendar. Your actionable items become a one stop shop with reminders. Yes, Outlook can also be used as a time management tool. It gets better. You can even use your tasks as a project management tool by keeping a communication log of sorts to capture verbal as well as electronic information.

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Don’t be a Slave to your Inbox

You should not use your inbox as your daily agenda any longer. Besides inserting reference information into actionable items another way to not be a slave to your inbox is to flag e-mail for follow-up. When you click the flag to the right of the e-mail header the flag shows up in your to-do-bar and at the bottom of your daily and weekly calendar views if you have the Daily Task List visible. That way you can safely move your e-mail to a folder because its follow-up remains visible on the to-do-bar. To flag e-mail for a later date you can right click the flag. You can even ask for a reminder so that the follow-up shows up in your reminder box in the middle of your screen at the most inopportune time.

Instant search

Where did that e-mail go? You can search quickly for any Outlook item using your instant search. Just be sure to refine your search using one of the tools in the Search bar. For example, you can type “meeting” in the search bar which may pull up way too many search results. You can then restrict your search by clicking the attachment button and only view results that also contained an attachment. In general you should apply the four D’s rule to all your e-mail: delete, delegate, defer, do it (if it takes 15 minutes or less).

Now you can enjoy a longer coffee break or get more done with a focused mind knowing that Outlook will remind you of your actionable items.