19 Apr Top 5 Outlook Tips and Tricks to Help You Enhance Productivity
Email management tips to increase productivity
Outlook tips and tricks – are they worth implementing? Before you decide, consider this: How do you feel about your inbox? Do you dread opening Outlook at the beginning of the day? Do you get stressed out by the number of unread emails? Do you spend too much time responding to email at the expense of getting actual work done? You’re not alone!
At PEPworldwide, we have been assisting teams and individuals for over 30 years to increase workplace productivity. One of the most common challenges we hear about from clients is email management. In fact, 37% of our clients spent more than 3 hours a day in their inbox prior to completing our Personal Efficiency Program. Given how much time we spend on emails, it’s unsurprising that managing our inbox can feel like a struggle.
Luckily, there are easy and practical ways to manage your inbox better. Effective email management can boost your productivity. So if you need some tips to manage email, we’ve got plenty of them. This week, we share our top 5 Outlook tips and tricks to help you maximise efficiency.
Tip #1 – Clean up your inbox
The first step to managing your inbox is to clean it up. If you’ve got too many emails sitting there, cleaning up your inbox can save you a lot of time. It is especially handy for those times when you’ve returned from a holiday and have hundreds of emails to deal with.
That’s why the first one on our list of Outlook tips and tricks is to use Outlook’s clean-up function is a fast way to reduce the number of emails you need to sort through manually. The clean-up function removes all emails that are duplicated in a later thread so that you can read a single conversation thread instead of individual emails. Simply select the “Clean Up Folder” option, and voila! Fewer emails to read in a single click.
If you have amassed thousands of emails, we recommend moving them all into a folder and scheduling regular times in your calendar to process them. Deal with the urgent ones first so that you don’t forget about them in the folder.
Tip #2 – Organise your folders
An organised inbox can help you process emails quickly and efficiently. So how should you organise your inbox? We recommend using categories of folders, depending on how your emails are linked. For example:
- “To do” folder – for emails that need more than 15 minutes to action
- “Speak to” folder – for emails you need to discuss with someone, or you’re waiting for a reply on
- “Follow up” folder – for when you’re waiting on responses from others
- “Delegated” folder – for emails and tasks that you’ve delegated
- “Reading” folder – for emails that have things you definitely need to read within scheduled time blocks
- “Someday” folder – for emails that you’d like to read, if you have time
The benefit of an organised inbox is that new emails that come in don’t get mixed up with emails you’ve already dealt with. New emails that come in at a steady stream then can’t push important emails down, where you might forget about them. It can also help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by a cluttered inbox.
The best organising folder system for you depends on the nature of your work and team. Keep things simple and group like with like – this will make it quicker and easier to find what you need when you need it. Don’t be afraid to delete emails that you don’t need to access.
Tip #3 – Use time-blocking to process emails
We discussed time-blocking in our last blog in the context of to-do lists. Time-blocking also applies to managing emails. Schedule time in your calendar for processing emails, and avoid looking at emails at other times. Turn off email notifications, so you don’t get distracted.
When you process emails, we recommend responding immediately to emails that take less than 15 minutes to answer. For emails that need more than 15 minutes to action, you can create a task within Outlook and schedule time in your calendar to deal with it. To create a task based on an email, simply drag it to Tasks on the navigation bar. This will copy the message’s contents to the body of a new task, where you can set a due date or even assign the task to someone else.
The advantage of using the Outlook tasks list is that you don’t clog your inbox, and you can set a reminder to deal with it before the deadline.
Tip #4 – Automate to save time
One of the best email management tips is to use automation. Automated actions save you time. For example, a helpful Outlook tool is Quick Parts, which allows you to store frequently used text blocks or phrases so that you don’t have to retype them each time. If you are commonly asked the same question, use Quick Parts to avoid typing the same answer repeatedly.
Another useful tool is Quick Steps, which sets up custom actions for repetitive tasks. If you have regular set tasks, you can use Quick Steps to perform multiple actions in a single click, such as forwarding invoices to the accounts team and setting up a reminder to follow up in a week. Another example could be forwarding Learning and Development emails to your team members and setting up a reminder to ask them at the next team meeting.
You can also use Outlook inbox rules to automatically move emails to different folders within your folder structure to help you maintain an uncluttered inbox. You can apply inbox rules to either a specific sender or a specified subject line. An example might be to set up a rule to always send emails from your boss with a particular subject line to your “to-do” folder. Another example might be to send emails from a newsletter to the “to-read” folder. You can even set up a rule to automatically delete emails that you never want to see, such as useless system notifications.
Try integrating your Outlook with other apps that you’re using, such as Dropbox, Wunderlist or Zoom, to save even more time. For example, you can automate turning new Trello cards into Outlook events or sending emails from a specific sender to Slack. Have a look at Zapier for more examples. There are more than 3000 apps that can be integrated with Outlook, so there’s bound to be something you can automate.
Tip #5 – Start each day with Outlook Calendar
Outlook is more than just emails. We recommend starting each day with your calendar to know what tasks you need to complete and what meetings are coming up. Set up Outlook so that it shows your calendar, not emails when you first open the program. This will help you focus on the essential things rather than being bombarded with emails first thing in the morning. You can also try the Outlook on the Desktop add-in that allows users to pin a Calendar directly onto your desktop for easy access. You can even edit the Calendar as you would within Outlook, but on your desktop.
Another excellent calendar tip is to use colour coding for events. Our brains can quickly process colours, so you can use colour coding to visualise your calendar easily. Meetings can be one colour, breaks another colour. You can even assign different colours to different types of tasks. For example, red can be for detail-orientated tasks, whereas purple can be for creative tasks. A colour coded calendar allows you to visualise what the day entails quickly and make sure that it aligns with your goals.
Efficiently managing your inbox is a skill. Better email management is a great start for increasing productivity. Learning a few Outlook tips and tricks can save you time and help your workday be more organised and less stressful. So try out our email tips for yourself! At PEPworldwide, we will help you apply practical strategies to build productive habits. Find out more about how we can help you and your team, regardless of where you work.