Microsoft Outlook is one of the most prominent email clients out there. Almost every business I have worked for or have been a part of was using Outlook and the rest of the apps within the Microsoft suite. The university I attended also used Outlook as their email client which gave me a little bit more exposure and helped me learn how to organize my Outlook.
What really pushed me to learn the ins and outs of Outlook was getting the job I am in now. Most (but not all) of the tips I have on how to make Outlook a productive space, I have learned while working this job. I have a very high volume of emails coming in on a daily basis. I am a member of various email groups and I receive several automatic reports, some are daily and some are sent every few hours. That is a lot of emails. And if my email client wasn’t sorting this out automatically, it would all get lost in an exponentially growing unread email notification. Email can be a significant source of stress at work so it is important to master your email client to make it do the majority of the work for you.
Try to keep your email inbox at zero. To help do this, unsubscribe from email blasts that no longer serve you and do this regularly. When going through your inbox you’ll recognize patterns and can eliminate emails you have no intention of reading or referencing. You’ll also find newsletters that you do want to read, organize those to so you know where to find them when you are finally ready to browse through them.
Tasks will often come to you through your email. I have found the best way to handle tasks in email is using the flag function in Outlook. Flag an email if there is any type of action associated with it, even if the action is to file the email. This will ensure that nothing is missed. If the task will take less time than 2 mins, do it now. I often get commended at work for how quickly I respond to emails. This is because I always respond or action the task right away if I know it would take less than two minutes to complete. Work to get your task list as close to zero as often as possible. I also use flags to set reminders of recurring tasks for myself at work. For example, I do two types of payroll, one is done weekly and one is done bi-weekly, setting to-do reminders using the flag function helps me to ensure these tasks are not missed.
Never delete emails unless they are truly irrelevant and will never need to be referenced. To be safe, archive instead. I can’t count how many times I have needed to go back and reference an email that a team member deleted not realizing we would need it again.
Set an ‘Out of Office’ (OOO) auto-reply if you are going on vacation or will be away from your emails, this way anyone emailing you will know not to expect a response until your return. You can set automatic replies in the settings of Outlook, on the desktop app, the web app, and the mobile app.
My Biggest Outlook Tip and it Works for Both Work and Personal Inboxes
Folders and rules are so important to keeping any 21st century inbox manageable. The way you set up your folders will also adapt and grow as time goes on and as you notice new patterns. Make sure to make a folder for every person, type of email, and topic, coming into your inbox on a regular basis. For example, I receive emails from my boss on a daily basis and want to access them easily, so I make a folder for him and set up a rule so anything he sends me is put automatically into that folder. In my personal inbox, I have folders for various aspects of my life, for example, any emails coming in from my part-time gig are filed into a folder and I have a folder dedicated to emails related to By The Scales. I also have a folders for receipts and another for tax returns because I usually file online. If the email is important, not a newsletter, subscription email or from a retail business of any kind file it right away.
If you do set up folders and automatic rules, make sure you keep an eye on the unread notifcation for every folder so you are aware when something new comes in. Automatically filed emails won’t trigger a notification, so you will need to keep a close eye, But this is particularly handy for when you are at home and not wanting to receive notifications for every email coming in.
BONUS: Online and Mobile App Features
Sweep is a brilliant feature that basically allows you to choose from a shortlist of rules that would help clear out the unimportant mail coming through your inbox. I use this to clear my inbox of promotional emails mostly. For example, I had unsubscribed from ‘BestBuys’ emails, then I highlight the last email from them, click sweep, and select ‘Move messages older than 10 days from the inbox’. Then Outlook will go through your entire inbox for email from that specific sender (so usually, any receipts or customer service emails from the same company won’t be included, because they all use different emails for different purposes) to whatever folder you set it as, in this case I would choose to delete the emails.
“Do Not Disturb”, the do not dsiturb function is another very important function if you are worried about keeping your personal life and work life separate. I have set this function so it automatically turns on for evenings and weekends. I do occasionally check my emails when I have a spare moment during these times, but overall thanks to this feature, I am not getting notifications and being distracted at home by work.
Mastering applications like Outlook is not only good for your productivity at work but it can also help you organize your personal life. Making your work and personal inboxes can also help to keep the two worlds as separate as possible. It is so important to keep your inboxes as organized and free from clutter as possible, this will help increase your productivity and will be less overwhelming on high email volume days. I highly recommend slowly implementing these tips to your inboxes you will notice a huge difference.
As always, I hope you all have found these tips helpful! Thanks for reading and until next time, keep on keeping on.