Millions of people use Microsoft Outlook every day to manage their email and calendar at work.
That’s no surprise given that Office is the worlds most popular collaboration and productivity platform.
But the truth is:
Few of us really know how to make use of all of Outlook’s features and benefits.
But, learning a few simple tricks can save you time, help you work more effectively and collaborate better with colleagues and customers.
Here are seven simple Microsoft Outlook tricks you can use to take your productivity to the next level:
1. Limit desktop notifications to only the most important emails.
Your email inbox can be a safe haven for procrastination.
Think about it:
How often do you click into your inbox the moments you see one of those notifications in the bottom of the screen of a new mail?
It’s terribly distracting, and can suck your time away from your priority tasks.
But you still want to get notified for the most important alerts right?
In Outlook, you can set desktop notifications only for those important messages. Essentially, first you’ll turn off all desktop alerts under the Mail Options, then create an Outlook rule to display alerts for messages from specific people sent only to you.
Leaving you distraction free from pop-ups.
2. Set Check-In Reminders
The secret to avoiding end of project stress is this:
Schedule check-ins with reminders in your Outlook calendar, for your benchmarks along the way.
That may sound intuitive, but so many of us focus on the ‘goal’ rather than the ‘steps’ that will get us there.
Using scheduled check-ins with reminders ensures you’re checking off tasks before they’ve passed. Include team members on your calendar reminders to encourage team check-ins as well.
If you and your team are using Office 365, then using Planner will give you a visual overview of your team’s progress against deadlines with charts. It also lets you quickly alter tasks among members to help keep things on schedule.
3. Use Post It Notes in Outlook
If you have a collage of many coloured post it notes around your screen to remind you of important dates, numbers etc., then this one’s for you.
As it turns out:
Outlook includes a built-in sticky notes feature.
Press Ctrl+Shift+N from anywhere in the Outlook interface to create a new note, which can be dragged and positioned anywhere on screen.
By default, notes appear in pale yellow, but if you want to get creative with colour, you can assign them to categories, which causes them to switch colour.
Click on the Note icon at the bottom of the View pane to manage your notes.
From here you can copy, organise and print notes, and also search, via the field at the top-right of the window, for notes containing specific text.
4. Schedule “No Meeting” Time Blocks
15% of an organisations collective time is spent in meetings.
As if that’s not enough:
Many of us spend up to 4 hours a week preparing for ‘status update’ meetings.
Although meetings are an important part of how businesses and teams develop and make decisions, we should all be aware of how they can take us away from tasks that may be a greater priority for the business.
Instead of multitasking, or cram in your work between meetings, set aside time without interruptions. Add blocks of time in your calendar when you want to have time to focus on what you need to.
“When people multitask, often they do multiple things badly,” says David Sanbonmatsu, University of Utah professor of Psychology. “A lot of times, the people who multitask the most are the worst at it…it’s individuals who lack impulse control.” (From Forbes.)
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5. Get emails that aren’t sent directly to you out of your inbox.
It happens to everyone:
You get cc’d into an email chain that continues for some time.
As a result:
Your inbox gets weighed down by the mass of messages.
One of the best tips is to use a special “Inbox – CC” folder to gather all the emails that aren’t sent directly to you; that way, the inbox is focused on only the most important emails.
To set this up, go to Rules > Create Rule…. Then click the “Advanced Options” button.
In the Rules Wizard, select “where my name is not in the To box” and then in the next screen, “move it to the specified folder.”
6. Create search folders for your most important emails.
What are your most frequently accessed emails?
Maybe they’re emails from your boss, or reports from team members.
Save yourself scrolling to find the email every time you need it by saving the search terms for quick access.
Right click on Search Folders in the left navigation menu, select “New Search Folder,” and then either use the wizards or manually customise the search to your specifications.
7. Compare calendars to find free slots
Think about it:
Trying to find a free slot in your day isn’t easy.
Outlook can help by showing calendars alongside each other. Meaning you can easily identify where you have a free slot.
Simply, place a tick next to all the calendars you want to see in the Calendar view, then choose a layout format from the ribbon menu at the top to change the view of all your displayed calendars.
You can scroll through the times and dates across all of your calendars as normal, and drag copies of appointments between them (if you have the right permissions).
Click the arrows at the top of additional calendars to temporarily merge them with the main one, simplifying the view.
If you’re using Office 365 there are loads of great add-ins for Outlook.
One useful add-in for meeting scheduling is Boomerang. With Boomerang you can suggest multiple times for a meet up and everyone you need to be there can pick the time that works best for them.
If you work with international clients or colleagues, this trick is invaluable.
You can add a second time zone to your Outlook calendar, so you can easily schedule calls or video conferences and ensure your there at the right time.
This detailed post from How-To Geek details how you can do this.
Those are 7 Outlook tips for increasing productivity that we at NSUK have found extremely useful. What Outlook trick or hacks do you use to keep on top of things?
We’d love to hear about them in the comments.