Updated: Aug 20
In a recent episodes of my podcast, I delved into the fascinating world of Productivity and Time Management. I was thrilled to share the ultimate recipe for crafting a personalized time management system and shed light on my own tried-and-true weekly planning process. Moreover, I unveiled a treasure trove of 20 powerful strategies to supercharge productivity. Together with my listeners, we explored some of the most common pitfalls people encounter while attempting to manage their time effectively and enhance productivity.
You can listen to the podcast episodes here:
Throughout this series, I emphasized the pivotal role that tools play in constructing a truly effective time management system that aligns perfectly with individual needs and goals. Today I want to talk about one of those tools that have the ability to help you increase your productivity: Outlook.
If you use a computer at work, you probably use Microsoft Outlook like millions of people around the world. It’s one of the most popular email and calendar productivity platforms around. But few people really know and use all of Outlook’s features. Learning about all of Outlook’s capabilities and how to use them will really up your productivity game and help you get better organized and work more effectively.
Here are some productivity hacks you'll wish you knew sooner.
1. Control Your Notifications
Do you find yourself getting distracted by frequent email notifications for incoming messages? Do you feel the need to immediately check your emails upon receiving these notifications? How often do you open emails from notifications only to discover unimportant messages or marketing emails that you end up deleting?
This Outlook productivity tip can be of great help. You can minimize these distractions by customizing your email notifications to receive alerts only for the most important emails from specific individuals you designate. By doing so, you'll only be notified about emails that genuinely require your immediate attention.
Take control of your inbox in Mail Options by disabling all desktop alerts and creating a rule to display notifications only for messages from designated people. This way, you'll experience far fewer pop-ups for incoming emails and can check your general inbox at a time that is convenient for you.
2. Set Reminders Before Deadlines
Are you tired of reaching the end of projects and feeling stressed due to overlooked steps or pending tasks? Let Outlook be your solution by alleviating that stress and helping you stay on track. Schedule check-in reminders in your Outlook calendar for tasks that need completion at various points before your project delivery deadline. These reminders will act as benchmarks for essential steps throughout your project's progress, not just limited to the final deadlines. Instead of merely setting reminders for project start and end dates, utilize the calendar to set check-in reminders for your individual tasks. In Office 365, you can also use Planner to track progress against deadlines, allowing you to revise and fine-tune team tasks to ensure everyone stays on course.
Furthermore, make use of Outlook reminders to stay on top of regular tasks that tend to get overlooked or forgotten. Whether it's taking breaks from screen time to give your eyes some rest or doing ergonomic exercises to protect your wrists and back, these reminders will help you maintain productivity and well-being.
In summary, leverage Outlook's calendar and reminders to keep your projects on track, ensure essential tasks are completed on time, and maintain a healthy work routine.
3. Introduce the "Inbox – CC" Folder in Outlook
As an Outlook user, you likely have various folders to organize incoming emails for future reference and documentation. However, you might also receive numerous emails with little significance, such as those where you are carbon copied without being directly addressed. Handling these emails can become time-consuming and overwhelming, particularly after returning from a vacation or taking some time off.
Are you exhausted from sifting through endless email threads where you're just carbon copied? How much time do you spend skimming, sorting, or deleting such messages? Does your inbox seem overwhelming after a break, or have you checked your email during vacation to avoid facing an overloaded inbox upon your return?
No need to fret! There's a more effective solution - the "Inbox – CC" folder. By creating this folder, all emails where you are only cc'd and not directly addressed will be automatically redirected. This straightforward step declutters your inbox, enabling you to prioritize and focus on more relevant and crucial emails.
To set up this folder, navigate to Rules, and select "Create Rule," followed by "Advanced Options." In the Rules Wizard, click on the option that reads, "where my name is not in the To box." On the subsequent screen, choose "move it to the specified folder."
With this practical feature, you can manage your inbox more efficiently, ensuring your attention is directed towards the most essential emails.
By doing this, you'll have a much cleaner and organized inbox, making it easier for you to concentrate on essential emails and efficiently manage your communications.
4. Implement Time Blocks in Your Schedule
How often do you find yourself attempting to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously? Have you caught yourself checking emails while on a call with a client? Or perhaps watching a training video while trying to write a report? Maybe even creating a presentation while simultaneously reviewing team stats?
While multitasking has become commonplace in our modern lives, it can lead to stress and may not yield the best results.
If you crave some uninterrupted, focused time to tackle important tasks or projects, Outlook can
be a valuable ally.
Utilize Outlook's calendar to add dedicated blocks of time when you are unavailable for meetings. By scheduling specific time blocks to work on particular tasks, you'll experience a significant improvement in productivity and the quality of your work.
5. Incorporate Frequently Used Text Easily with "Quick Parts"
If you often find yourself repeatedly typing the same information, there's a helpful tool called "Quick Parts" in Microsoft Outlook that can boost your productivity.
"Quick Parts" is an excellent feature designed to streamline your workflow by allowing you to create and use repetitive content more efficiently. To set up Quick Parts, just write the text you frequently use and highlight it. Then, go to the 'Insert' tab on the ribbon, click on 'Quick Parts,' and choose 'Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery.' Assign a memorable name and save it.
Now you're all set to utilize your Quick Parts! When composing emails, head to the 'Insert' tab, select 'Quick Parts,' and choose the relevant item from the list. Alternatively, if you recall the name of your Quick Part, simply start typing it in the email body, and press 'Enter' when the tooltip appears.
By using Quick Parts, you can easily access and insert commonly used responses, graphics, tables, or mixed content, saving valuable time and ensuring consistency in your Outlook communications.
6. Filter your Inbox for a Stress-Free Return to Work
Imagine returning from a delightful vacation, all set to get back to work. You turn on your computer, open your email, and whoa, your inbox is inundated with numerous new messages! Your coworkers have sent a ton of emails, and many of them include you as a carbon copy. Now, you feel overwhelmed and unsure how to handle it all.
Fear not, for there's a quick and easy solution using a Microsoft Outlook hack called the "Filter" function in the View tab.
Here's a simple step-by-step guide:
Go to the 'View' tab at the top of the Outlook window.
Click on 'Current View' and then select 'View Settings.'
Find the 'Filter' option and click on it. Initially, it might be set to 'Off,' but you can change that.
The 'Filter' option is fantastic as it helps you locate important emails and lets you focus on them. For instance, you can choose to see only emails from your boss or a specific customer by setting the filter accordingly.
Additionally, you can use a filter called 'Where I am,' which displays only the emails sent directly to you. These could be emails that require your immediate attention. By using this filter, you'll see only these crucial emails, making it easier to respond promptly and address any necessary actions.
The 'Filter' function offers various other ways to manage a large number of emails, making it a handy tool that can significantly ease your email management. So, the next time you return from vacation to a plethora of new emails, you'll know just what to do!
7. Get Organized with Categories
Categories in Outlook can significantly enhance productivity by providing an efficient way to organize and prioritize emails, tasks, and appointments. With categories, you can easily group related items together, making it simpler to locate and manage information. By assigning specific colors to different categories, you can visually differentiate between various types of content at a glance.
Here are some categories you can use to enhance productivity:
Project Names: Create categories for each of your ongoing projects. This way, you can quickly filter and find all related emails and tasks for a specific project.
Urgency Levels: Assign different categories for tasks and emails based on their urgency, such as "High Priority," "Medium Priority," and "Low Priority." This allows you to focus on the most critical tasks first.
Clients or Contacts: If you deal with multiple clients or contacts, categorize emails and tasks according to each one. This makes it easier to manage communication and commitments with different individuals.
Follow-Up Needed: Use a category for tasks or emails that require follow-up action. This ensures that important items don't fall through the cracks.
Action Required: Categorize items that need your immediate attention or response. This helps you prioritize tasks and stay on top of pending actions.
Meetings or Appointments: Use categories to identify and group emails and appointments related to specific meetings or events.
Personal vs. Work: Distinguish between personal and work-related emails or tasks using separate categories, helping you maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Waiting for Response: Categorize emails or tasks for which you are awaiting a response from others. This allows you to follow up promptly if needed.
Delegated Tasks: If you delegate tasks to others, create a category to keep track of these assignments and monitor their progress.
8. Convert your emails into actions in your to-do list
Have you received an email before that required you to take action and you completely missed it? It is estimated that around 30% to 40% of work-related emails require some form of action or response. This includes tasks like replying to inquiries, completing assignments, setting up meetings, or addressing urgent matters. However, keep in mind that this figure is only a rough estimate, and the actual percentage may differ based on specific circumstances.
One functionality I use all the time on Outlook is convert emails into items in my to-do list just by dragging my emails to my task list. This can help you stay on top of all the things you need to do and avoid them get buried on our inbox
9. Get organized using email rules
Do you find yourself drowning in an overflowing inbox, struggling to manage and prioritize the barrage of emails? Don't worry; you're not alone! In today's fast-paced world, email has become a primary mode of communication, and keeping up with the constant stream of messages can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there's a powerful tool at your disposal that can help you regain control and bring order to your email chaos - Email Rules
Set up rules to automatically organize incoming emails into specific folders based on criteria like sender, subject, or keywords. This helps keep your inbox tidy and makes it easier to find important emails.
Here are a few use cases for email rules:
Create Rules to Prioritize Important Emails: One of the most significant benefits of email rules is the ability to prioritize critical messages automatically. By setting up rules that identify specific senders, keywords, or subjects, you can flag important emails and ensure they land right at the top of your inbox. This helps you focus on essential tasks without sifting through numerous less urgent messages.
Sort Emails into Folders: Tired of searching for that one crucial email amidst a sea of messages? Email rules can help you sort incoming emails into designated folders based on predefined criteria. You can create folders for different projects, clients, or departments, making it easy to locate relevant emails when you need them.
Reduce Clutter with Automated Archiving: Not every email needs to stay in your inbox indefinitely. Use email rules to automatically archive non-actionable emails after a certain period, keeping your inbox clean and clutter-free. This approach also ensures that you have a neat and organized email history for future reference.
Set Up Automatic Replies: When you're away on vacation or attending a conference, don't leave your colleagues or clients hanging. Email rules enable you to set up automatic responses to let people know you're unavailable and when they can expect a reply. This sets clear expectations and maintains professional communication even when you're not actively checking your email.
Flag Urgent Messages for Immediate Attention: For urgent matters, email rules can be configured to highlight or flag specific emails, making sure they catch your eye right away. This ensures that you don't miss critical messages and respond promptly to time-sensitive requests.
Organize Email Newsletters and Subscriptions: If your inbox is cluttered with newsletters and subscriptions, email rules can help you organize them into a separate folder. This way, you can read them at your leisure without them interfering with your more pressing emails.
10. Hit snooze on your emails
With an overflowing inbox, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and lose track of essential messages. Thankfully, Microsoft Outlook comes equipped with a powerful tool to help you take control - the Snooze function.
The Snooze function in Outlook allows you to temporarily remove an email from your inbox and have it reappear at a specified time or date. It acts as a virtual reminder, ensuring that important messages don't slip through the cracks while preventing unnecessary distractions during critical tasks.
Here are a few use cases for this functionality:
Prioritize Your Tasks: Start your day by focusing on your most important tasks before delving into your inbox. With the Snooze function, you can temporarily put emails on hold and give priority to crucial assignments without being disrupted by incoming messages.
Customize Snooze Times: Outlook's Snooze feature offers flexibility, allowing you to choose from predefined snooze times or set a specific date and time for the email to resurface. Tailor these options according to your workflow and individual preferences.
Maintain Inbox Zero: Striving for "Inbox Zero," where your inbox is consistently empty or nearly empty, is a popular productivity goal. The Snooze function enables you to clear less urgent emails from your immediate view while ensuring they reappear at a time when you can address them effectively.
Reduce Decision Fatigue: Constantly deciding which emails to respond to and which to leave for later can lead to decision fatigue. By snoozing non-urgent emails, you can alleviate this burden and concentrate on more important matters.
Set Reminders for Follow-Ups: Use the Snooze function to set reminders for follow-up emails. If you need to give an email a few days before responding or require additional information before replying, snooze it to reappear when you're ready to act.
Enhance Work-Life Balance: Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is vital for overall well-being. Leverage the Snooze function during non-working hours or weekends to disconnect from work-related emails and dedicate time to personal life and relaxation.
Avoid Inbox Overwhelm: During busy periods or when returning from vacation, the sheer volume of emails can be daunting. Utilize the Snooze function strategically to process your inbox in manageable portions, preventing it from becoming overwhelming.
Implement Email Batching: Email batching involves grouping similar tasks together to improve efficiency. Snooze-related emails to appear at specific times when you can batch-process them, optimizing your email management routine.
These are just a few ways you can maximize your productivity leveraging Microsoft Outlook. I hope you found them helpful.