John Filcher had a problem with Outlook.  He realised that it was running him, not the other way around.

“I’d get into the office with the best of intentions, with plans for the day but Outlook had a way of interrupting, I just wasn’t being proactive”.

John managed a team of people; his team was a part of a larger organisation and that organisation collaborated with hundreds of partners around the world so eMail was a big part of their day.

“It was huge” said John “we’d tried other software like Slack or Teams but given the volume of connections it simply wasn’t possible to migrate everyone. Everyone had eMail”.

It wasn’t ideal but it was a fact of life.  eMail was there to stay and each day John and his team were losing time. “The problem with most eMails is that they require you to react and while you’re reacting you’re not being proactive.”

Each morning John would head in to the office with a well-rounded plan of action but, by the end of the day, an eMail from the CEO, a support request from a colleague or the re-animation of a project long thought completed would interrupt his day.  The ‘Can you just’ and the ‘It will only take a minute’ would drain his time. Mostly they’d look & sound like they were urgent & important but, in truth, they rarely were.  “I needed to act!”

If John was losing time to his eMail then so were his team, “I knew that even an hour a day, per person could make a big difference.”

There isn’t a cure all to this, no silver bullet to managing your eMail but it became a discipline in itself. Rules were developed around what would get an immediate response and what could wait (always what, never who).  eMails that waited were graded and coded so they were never lost but entered a burndown list which could be actioned.

“It turns out we were using around 15% of what Outlook could do”. There are literally hundreds of features to help and thousands of blogs, videos and tutorials available to demonstrate what it can really do.  “It’s a genuinely impressive piece of software but I think because most of us have grown up with it it’s become part of the furniture the few people notice anymore.”

John spent time exploring the best features or Outlook looking for those that would really benefit his team. Shortcuts are great, snippets are really useful but alone they wouldn’t allow John to turn the tables and manage a pro-active inbox where he felt like he was calling the shots.  That’s what he wanted. That’s what we all want so I asked him how he did it “It’s not easy but there are lot of tools to help you, perhaps too many” and he’s not wrong, a quick Google search will yield thousands of results so – he started testing.

Each team member would test a feature, determine the benefits and report back on the features worth sharing.  And here are the best of the best, listed in no particular order but all extremely powerful and all proven to help you boss your Outlook and stay pro-active throughout the day.

Outlook tip 1: Categorise your eMails

Your inbox can be a busy place and when an eMail arrives that isn’t actioned straight away it needs somewhere to go. Categories are the answer. You can set up any number of pre-set categories relating to jobs, clients, colleagues, urgent tasks or whatever you like. The categories appear as a column on your inbox which colour codes your eMail.

You can search, sort and group by category too which lets you see all the relevant eMails together and uncluttered. I tend to group by client or by job which allows me to review all the tasks required for that project and quickly schedule the work accordingly.

It’s one of the simplest and most effective ways of tidying your inbox. I recommend you do it today and, because I don’t make ‘how to videos’ by trade I’ve linked to someone who does, you can see how to do it here. Their version of Outlook is a little older than mine but it’s a good way to see how it works.

Outlook tip 2: Subject Lines are your friend

My favourite Outlook tip. If you take nothing else from this make sure you remember this. I used to get frustrated with eMail because by the time it bounced between people several times the content of the eMail can bear little to no resemblance to the subject line making searching for it more difficult.

A case in point today I had to reply to an eMail about invoices which arrived with the title “Muffins in reception” – no joke.
You should update your subject lines regularly or, even better, start new conversations as new topics arise.

To be fair, this is a discipline, not a feature of Outlook and as such it’s hard to implement. The people you eMail may not ‘get it’ straight away but if you preserver you’ll find that without fail your team will be more efficient, more effective and ultimately less frustrated.

Outlook tip 3: Creating Calendar entries from eMails

This one’s easy but it still surprises me how many people don’t know about this cool feature. If you have an eMail that contains information relevant to a meeting or action for next week, simply drag the eMail to the calendar icon (usually in the bottom left of the window) and, hey presto, Outlook will create a calendar appointment including the contents of the eMail so when your meeting comes around, it’s all there waiting for you. No copy, no paste.

Outlook tip 4: Thesaurus

Words don’t always come easily and shift + F7 is one of my favourite short cuts! If you’re stuck for words then highlight the questionable entry, hit shift + F7 together to get obtain acquire find search see a range of alternatives.

Outlook tip 5: Out of Office (absolute Power Move)

This is a power move. Controversial, yes but awesome. I was sitting in my office when a colleague received my out of office, she looked over and told me my OOO was on. I said, “Thanks, I know” and she replied, “But you’re in the office?”.
The reason was I was busy but, I didn’t want clients thinking I was ignoring them. It seemed obvious to me but after similar conversations with other colleagues it suddenly didn’t seem like it was that obvious. It’s one of my top tips and when you’re in the middle of a deep dive into complex data sets.  It will save you time, focus and help prevent mistakes. Combine it with the Close Outlook & apply headphones option and you’re on to a winner. Just make sure to check in if you’re expecting something urgent!

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