Email Productivity Tips for Marketers

July 26, 2011

A recent article on LifeHacker talks about tips to get faster email responses. They talk about:

  1. Write shorter emails
  2. Write fewer emails
  3. Ask for a response
  4. Start with a deadline
  5. Only email one person at a time

Those are good, but I’d like to expand a bit on them and also put it in the perspective of a marketing manager.

Five Email Productivity Tips for Marketing Managers

Email Subject Line1. Make subject lines work for you: Use subject lines with deadlines and action verb in order to help people spot your email easily in their inbox and to get them to act. Examples of subject lines might be:

“Webinar Email – Review Copy by Wed 10am”

“eBook Copy Approved with Changes – Finalize by Thursday”

“For review and approval – deadline is Wed 9am”

I like using either a campaign name or something that will help immediately identify the task at hand. If you start showing good use of this tactic and encourage your team to do the same, spotting the useful emails from the junk or from the typical corporate communication will be much easier.

Bonus tip: Transform your email into an action item! If using MS Outlook, just click and drag the email to the Tasks panel to create a task. Or you can also flag the email for later follow up. Other email clients have similar options.

2. Write with a purpose: Short, clear, and action oriented (what do you want to happen?) emails will get faster and better responses. So cut to the chase and get down to what you want as a result of your email. Examples are:

“Here’s the revised copy for the email invitation to the July 16 webinar. Please a) edit copy; b) send to Mark for design by Wed, c) email me the final email for approval”

or

“Jen, I have reviewed the presentation for the webinar and here’s what you need to do: a) add the company logo to the master slide (upper left corner); b) replace slides 3 and 5 with the new ones I mention in my notes; c) review once more for grammar and style; d) send to John for formatting by Tues noon.”

Replace paragraphs with bullet points and you’ll get people to actually do what you asked them to do. Keep each email related to a separate subject, this way is easier for the recipient to focus on one thing at a time and for you to follow up later.

Bonus tip: Need to follow up on an email you just sent a few days later? In MS Outlook you can “flag” the message before sending so it reminds you of the message later (you can also flag the message for the recipient, so if they have Outlook as well, they will be reminded of the message until they clear the flag).

Making deadlines clear3.  Make the deadline clear: If you don’t say when you need it by, usually you won’t get it done. Make sure to add a deadline and action required (eg. Make changes and send back to me by EOD friday) in the beginning of the email. This way the first thing the person sees is the deadline and he or she can plan accordingly. For example, you can start the email like this:

“Jen, I need this by EOD Thursday! See below.”

or

“Edited and approved copy for eBook below. Please finalize by 07/15/11 at 12:00pm ET!”

Avoid using “urgent” and “ASAP” type words. They don’t mean anything. Is ASAP something due today or by tomorrow morning? Also avoid saying “send it back to me tomorrow” without giving some kind of time reference. Otherwise it becomes a debate of what “morning” means (8am or 11am?).

Assigning email to multiple people4. Assign an owner: Send the email to only one person, or make sure each person has an action. You may be tempted to email the whole team after a meeting outlining what was decided. Or, there’s a task involving two people (editing the new banner artwork and sending to the printer, for example) and you want them both to see the same message. OK, but make sure each person listed on the “to” or “cc” lines have some kind of action item associated to their names. It could, for example, be like this:

“Team, I need you all to read and add the following to your to-do lists based on our earlier meeting today:

Jen: Review web analytics and report back to me by Friday 11am;

Bob: Edit the latest spec sheet design as discussed, send reviewed design to Mary by Thursday 9am.. ”

Multiple attachments can cause confusion5. If you attach, then make it clear: At my previous company we had a policy of never attaching a file to an email if the email was being sent internally. This was to avoid two problems, the always precious server space being eaten by files attachments in our Exchange server and to keep the latest files always in the network where it would be easier to find. Whether you have a policy like that or not, if you need to add files to your email then list and describe attachments (and name them appropriately). It could be something like this:

“… and I’m attaching the following files:

7-16-Webinar-Preso.PPT: Final version of the webinar presentation

Alpha-Prod-Whitepaper-CopyV2.doc: Whitepaper draft, please review this copy ”

Especially useful if you have many attachments, it helps ensure all attachments are accounted for when you send out the email and helps the receiver sort through all the files coming towards him/her.

Assigning Tasks Marketing Technology for Workflow and Productivity

Unless you have a system like what my company offers [shameless plug!] for Marketing Resource Management or Marketing Project Management, odds are you rely on email to keep your team in check. You use email to exchange files, to communicate, and get things done. That’s ok, and by using some productivity tips I hope you can at least make good use of the tools at your disposal and spend less time chasing down people and deadlines, and more time actually doing marketing.

Additional Outlook Productivity Tips

Additional outlook tipsIf you’re using MS Outlook, then check out additional productivity tips I have for Outlook users in this other blog post.


The Enemy of Productivity

November 4, 2009

Did you get anything done today? OK, maybe is still too early in the morning, but how about yesterday? If you are anything like the typical worker, you can probably list a few things you’ve accomplished such as:

  • read emails
  • responded to emails
  • sent emails
  • deleted emails

See a trend here? If sometimes it feels like email is running your day, then you are not alone. The BBC reported that one third of office workers suffer from email stress, which I find interesting because email doesn’t really cause stress. It is how you deal with it that is the root cause.

On a previous post, I discussed some productivity boosters for those trying to manage the daily flood of emails, and this amusing chart (below) from HR Management reminded me of the constant struggle we all have when it comes to increasing our productivity while keeping our stress level low.

Email Stress and Productivity

Stress vs. Productivity from http://www.hrmreport.com

If your office is anything like mine, your colleagues send you Youtube videos, web links, and other stuff that although very entertaining doesn’t help you get your projects done on time. Have you ever tried simply not checking email? The chart above shows in a funny way that you sometimes feel more productive when you are checking email, and that you may turn to it if you get bored, and from personal experience I have felt the same way.

Think back to your daily activities. When are you usually checking email? Is it the first thing you do in the morning? Right after lunch before you decide to finally tackle that week-old project? Are you using email to get your adrenaline up like a junkie?

Just close, shut down, disconnect and ignore your email for about 1 hour. If you are feeling extremely brave, then try going for 2 straight hours. That’s right, and no peaking! Ignore the email and focus on work. I bet you can get some stuff done today.

Some of my favorite tips on email productivity are:

What is your stress level today? Close the email and ask yourself again in 1 hour.


Better Time Management with Smart Calendars

March 12, 2009

Use your calendar to your advantage

Smart calendar done right

Using calendar the smart way

I’ve noticed throughout the years that if something is not on my task list it won’t get done. Yes, I may remember the task from time to time and I write it down in a yellow sticky note, but getting it into my task list (be it in Outlook where I centralize everything, or in a paper notebook that I used back in the day) triggers some type of psychological commitment that is not the case otherwise. And besides, once is in my task list (I use MS Outlook to manage my tasks, see my post on Task Management with Outlook), I can then prioritize and classify accordingly.

But the other side of getting stuff done and being effective at managing your time has to do with meetings.  Seth Godin says there are three types of meetings: 

  • Information: designed to inform
  • Discussion: where the leader wants feedback
  • Permission: where the other side has the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’

 

Although I think he simplified a bit (I can think of at least 3 other types that are not covered there, but that’s a post for another time), I get his point. Unless you know what the meeting if for, you won’t be prepared for it, and you won’t have a very productive meeting. Unproductive meetings are a drag on your time and therefore on your ability to be a better manager. The subject of running effective meetings has been discussed in several other blogs so I’ll focus at the narrower topic I outlined in the beginning, which is managing your time via smart use of your calendar.

 

The Five Rules of Effective Meeting Scheduling

For those of us networked and connected to a calendar system such as MS Outlook, we have the advantage of being able to share our calendars with the rest of the company. That is also, of course, a drawback in some cases because everyone with access to your calendar can now see when you are available and when you are out playing golf, I mean, when you are in an important meeting.

But seriously, I think that the networked calendar has more advantages than disadvantages if you know how to use it. Try following these simple rules:

 

1.       Make your calendar available to your direct reports and your peers: companies differ on their network policies and who has access to what, so you may not need to do this but just in case your company locks down access to other people’s calendar you should proactively let your direct reports (those who work for you) and your peers see your schedule. This will help you in two ways. For one, your staff can now see your availability and schedule necessary meetings directly into your calendar without having to keep asking you, which saves you time once you let them know of your particular preferences (i.e. don’t schedule meetings in the morning, or whether you prefer to leave at least 1 hour after lunch before any meeting, etc.) and secondly, if your peers have access to your calendar, you can also avoid calls and emails back and forth asking “hey, are you available at 2pm tomorrow to discuss Project X? If not, give me a couple of days and times….”. Let them see your availability and let them Mischedule the meeting accordingly. This is a GREAT time saver.

In order to give other people access to your calendar in outlook, do the following (Outlook 2003 and 2007):

  • Go to “tools – options”
  • Click on “Calendar Options”
  • Click on “Resource Scheduling”
  • Click on “Set Permissions”
  • Click on the “Permissions” tab
  • Click on the “Add” button, the contacts list will open upAdding Permissions to Your Calendar
  • Select the person you’d like to add to your permissions list and select from the drop down list of ‘Permission Level’ the type of role that user will have. As you click each role, you will see different options below being checked off. You can also customize yourself the role if the default ones don’t fit. For people to be able to view your calendar items they need to have “read items” checked. If you want to give people the ability to create calendar items (meetings) directly into your calendar, they also need “create items”. I usually only let my staff with “read” permission because I want them to send me a meeting invitation before they schedule something directly to my calendar. 

2.       Don’t simply ask people to come to a meeting by calling or emailing, send them a meeting invitation: Most calendar programs have this option, which emails the person with a meeting request that they need to reply to with “yes”, “no” or “propose another time” (those are the standard options in MS Outlook). This way you ensure they accept the meeting (which will automatically add it to their own calendars), and you can track who responded (I know this works well in Outlook but not sure in other platforms).

3.       Use the body of the ‘meeting request’ invite to add agenda items, links to documents, and other notes so that people can be prepared prior to the meeting.

4.       In your calendar, ensure you have some time blocked prior and after the meeting: This may vary depending on the type of meeting, but you may have to prepare or read the agenda or even collect information. As soon as you invite or accept a meeting invitation, decide whether you need some extra 15 minutes (or more) to prepare. The more prepared you are, the more productive your meeting will be especially if you’re running the show. Block that time prior to the meeting in your calendar as if it was another meeting adjacent to it. The same applies for the ‘after meeting’ time… if you were taking notes and have to prepare meeting minutes or if you know the meeting will give you a bunch of action items, you should allocate some time right after the meeting to transcribe your notes or assign tasks.

5.       Label the meeting appropriately in your calendar: MS Outlook users have some nice options here that few people bother to configure, which is a mistake. Lotus notes users can do the same thing and I bet other platforms have similar functions. In MS Outlook 2003 and 2007 you can color code your calendar items so that you can visually identify types of meetings scheduled throughout your week or month. I like this feature because when planning my week I can easily spot a day in which I have several conference calls and may want to schedule an extra call at another day (we all need a break from conference calls, right?) or vice versa. And here’s where I think you need to go a bit deeper than what Seth Godin recommended as types of meetings, because you will want to clearly see stuff such as:

a.       Off site meetings: for these you will need to allocate travel time before and after the meeting (going to and coming back to the office).

b.      Meetings that involve a conference room or other facility: my company has a video conferencing room, so I know that if have a meeting that will use that room I need to be 10 minutes early to ensure the system is turned on and working, so I like to see these types of meetings with a different color.

c.       Meetings involving your boss: you want to continue climbing the corporate ladder and so you should know not to arrive late at these and ensure you are prepared.

d.      Project specific meetings: you could have a category for specific project types (webinars, advertising campaigns, creative brainstorming, etc.) if those represent different preparations, time, or energy level required.

Want to start labeling your meetings? If using MS Outlook 2003…

a) Open your calendar

b) Right-click on any meeting and in the contextual menu that opens up click on “Label”.

Labeling meetings in MS Outlook 2003

Labeling meetings in MS Outlook 2003

c) You’ll see the default labels with colors showing up. At the very bottom of the labels list, there’s an “Edit Labels…” option.

d) Click there and a window will pop up showing all labels and allowing you to edit each entry.


If using MS Outlook 2007, you are lucky! In Outlook 2007 they got smarter and merged the labels from the Calendar with the categories from the Tasks. This means you can now share the same categories between meetings and tasks. Simply…

a)Open the calendar

b) Right click on a meeting

Creating meeting categories in Outlook 2007

Creating meeting categories in Outlook 2007

c)Select the “Categorize” option

d) A list will show up and you can click on “All Categories” which will bring up a window with all categories, colors, and options to add or modify existing categories.

6.       Bonus rule! When you get an email asking for you to go to a meeting (someone who clearly doesn’t know how to use the meeting invitation feature), simply click on that email and drag it to your Calendar icon (works in MS Outlook 2003 / 2007) and voila! A new meeting window will open with that email’s info in the body of the appointment details. Right after you do this, delete the email.

 

 

Know What Your Meeting is About

Labeling or categorizing your meetings can help tremendously in managing your time effectively. The types of categories will depend on the types of projects you’re involved in, the energy required in each type of meeting, and basically what you think will make sense. Start with a couple and you’ll see really quickly if you need more. My meeting types are:

  • Off site meeting: I like to know if the meeting will require me to drive to it, so I can plan accordingly and not schedule something right after it
  • On site meeting: for regular meetings held with my staff or in / around my office
  • Conference call / video conference meeting: for meetings that will require some setup and more preparation
  • Travel required: this means air travel and I use this to allocate my time going to and from the airport as well as time that I’m on the plane (this way no one will schedule a meeting for me while I’m 10,000 feet in the air and wonder why I didn’t show up)
  • Webinar: I have to personally oversee the setup of webinars we conduct so I need to tag these meetings accordingly
  • Work time: for certain projects, tasks and even working meetings with my staff I like to block some time to ensure we’ll get to it, so I created a category for “work time”.
  • Personal: going to the doctor, picking my son up from daycare and other chores that are not work related

Be smart at scheduling meetings and use your calendar to your advantage.

If you’re looking for some more tips (especially MS Outlook users) on meeting scheduling and best practices, check out this blog: http://www.theproductivitypro.com/blog/?cat=23

Of course, if you still have too many meeting to manage and that is what you think is killing your productivity, then you may want to read this interesting blog from Lifehack about killing your meetings

 

Enjoy life!


Getting Stuff Done with MS Outlook

February 25, 2009

 

Note: the tips I give below work in MS Outlook 2003 as well as 2007 version. Outlook 2007 has even more features for helping you categorize stuff, but we’ll keep it simple for now and focus on the features available in both versions.

An Effective Marketer gets things done. He is known for his ability to complete tasks, get campaigns back on track, measure and make course corrections in a timely fashion and still handle responsibilities that are not even in his job description.  How does he do it? With focus and by tackling one thing at a time. 

 

If there is any one “secret” of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.

  Peter F. Drucker, “The Effective Executive”

 

If we could just create our plans for the year and stick to them without having any additional requests or emergencies come up after that, life would be perfect. But no! Stuff keeps happening. Meetings here, there and everywhere taking up precious time, emails that keep coming, voice mails that keep getting through, and those pesky employees that just can’t function without direction. Life could be good, indeed, if you lived in an island alone. But since you’re reading this, odds are the life in an isolated island is out of your reach. So let’s at least try to get some stuff done, shall we?

Concentration is the main thing, as Peter Drucker said, but in order to focus you need to know what to focus on. Should you check out that email from the CEO that just came in and stop revising the ad copy? Or should you get to the action items discussed during the last staff meeting? Aha! So many things taking your time and attention that you can’t focus, huh? The answer is to first get organized.

 

Organizing your tasks Outlook Task Manager

 

There are several methods of organization being one of the most popular with technology folks the GTD (Getting Things Done) system. But whether you subscribe to GTD, to Autofocus, ZTD, Covey’s 7 Habits, or any other system you need to have a way of organizing and creating action items/tasks. That’s the core of getting stuff done and being productive. Some people like paper and pencil and carry notebooks around with them, pages filled with meeting notes, reminders, etc. Others use PDA’s , their iPhone, or a computer.   What most don’t realize is that they probably already have a pretty good tool for helping them organize their tasks, prioritize, and take action. That’s MS Outlook, used in most corporate settings to handle email but not fully understood from a task management perspective.

 

Getting to Know MS Outlook

First time I tried to use Outlook for more than email and calendar, I really didn’t like it. But I also had no idea of how to use it properly, I was just creating tasks and forgetting to check back on them and spent more time looking for a particular task than actually doing work. Well, those days are over because I realized that if you want to use Outlook for task management, it can actually be very effective. You can even incorporate GTD characteristics to make it more functional.

First: create categories

A light bulb went on in my head when I read Getting Things Done and he talked about creating a tickler folder and different categories for stuff. Common sense, obviously, but it just helped me see my workload in a different way. 

New Task Categories

So now in Outlook I have multiple task categories such as “Action” for things I need to personally work on, “Follow-up” for items that need to be checked upon later, “Calls” for calls I need to make, etc.  I also have categories for the type of work that needs to be done, for example “Collateral” for all work related to marketing collateral, “Website” for all

 website related stuff, and so on. This helps me because I can either check on all “Action” tasks and then check on all “website” related tasks and prioritize.

The default task categories in Outlook are OK but you need to create your own set of categories. When you create a new task, click on the ‘categories’ button at the bottom of the new task screen and then click on the “Master Category List” button. You will now see the ‘master’ list and will be able to edit, add, or delete categories.

Second: Decide on top categories

OK, now that you have categories you will be able to get all stuff you need to work or get done assigned to a category, or even multiple categories. Let’s say I need to review the copy for a new spec sheet. I will assign this task as “Action” (because is something I need to work on) and also assign it to “Collateral” (because is related to collateral materials). I like this ability to multi-tag or assign multiple categories to tasks, it can come really handy.

Task List in Outlook

But wait, there is more! Simply creating categories is not enough. Decide on your top categories, the most important ones. These are the action-related categories, such as “Action”, “Follow-up”, “Call”, etc. those generic but action-oriented categories (and not the specific “Collateral” or “website”, etc.) are the ones that will help you get stuff done. If 

a task is under “Website”, you don’t know whether is something that requires you to work on, to follow-up on, etc. but if a task is under “Follow-up” then the goal is clear. And you want these action-oriented categories to appear first on your Task Manager screen. Simply edit the category name and start it with an @ symbol. This will make it come first when you sort your tasks by categories (which you should always do). This way you have displayed first the action items in their respective categories.

Third: Create VDP Lists

After leaving voice mails for another manager for a week, he finally calls me back to see what I needed and I only have 10 minutes before he jumps on another call, and I have to scramble to go through the emails I sent him or look back at some notes I took to get the list of things we needed to discuss. And usually I forget one or two items. By creating the “@Follow-Up” task category I was then able to add tasks to follow up with that manager on a number of different items and be more prepared for when I finally was able to catch up with him, but still that required to browse through a list that contained not only follow-ups with him but with other people as well. That’s when I started creating VDP lists (for “very difficult people” to get a hold off). These are categories that have that person’s name, like “Jonn’s List” or “Mary’s Lists”, etc. When there’s an action item that requires me to check with them or follow-up with them, I can add that task to that person’s specific list and when I am finally able to get a hold off them, I open that category in Outlook and go through the task items.

Instead of the VDP list, you can also create one for different projects (Tasks associated with Project ABC that need to be discussed during the status meeting every other week) or for a specific meeting that’s held every month. Let’s say you have a staff meeting or a management meeting where managers of all departments get together to discuss several items. Well, as you wait for the next month’s meeting, you can start allocating items in task manager for that specific category, let’s say “Monthly Management Meetings”.  Now, before GTD zealots and the like start picking this idea apart, remember that sometimes the action you need to take is simply “bring up idea about xyz during next management meeting”. So if you can capture that item and properly categorize it, you will be ready when time comes.

Fourth: Prioritize Your Tasks

Where some of the productivity systems fall apart is on the prioritization part. Simple to-do lists fail because you never seem to be able to get through all those items on the list, in fact at the end of the day the list has grown even more! And for all good that GTD, Covey, and other systems give you they never get into too much detail about how do you decide what you should do first. Yes, that’s where YOU have to start making decisions based on your goals, your availability, your resources, and on what’s important to you. Deciding what’s important and what’s urgent (as Covey likes to put it) is a critical thing if you want to become effective, but is also subject for another post. Let’s just assume for now that you know what needs to be higher and lower priority, so you need to get your tasks in Outlook to reflect that.

If you simply create a new task and give it a category, let’s say “@Actions”, you will have a bunch of tasks under that category. Which one do you do first? Well, if you follow GTD or 7 Habits you will (and should!) stop at some point during the week to evaluate your tasks, your state of mind, your soul and what you need to do in the next few days. This is when you stop ‘doing stuff’ and go to ‘processing stuff’, which also means that at the end you need to 

Outlook Task Priority

prioritize.

So either you do this each time you create a task or when you stop to evaluate your time and open each task and assign it a priority. Outlook gives you “low”, “medium” and “high”. Now you not only have tasks associated with different action-items (follow up, call, etc.) but you have prioritized them.


Go to “View” menu, select “Arrange by”, “Current View”, select “Customize Current View”. Make sure that “Group by” is “Categories (ascending)” and in the “Sort by” click and select it to be “Priority (descending)”. This way your Task Manager view in Outlook will show all tasks grouped by categories with higher priority tasks showing first within the categories.

Outlook Custom Task View

Get Stuff Done This Week

If you need another yet another layer of prioritization, you can also create a category called “@@This Week” (the @@ signs will guarantee it will show up on top as the first category, make sure to configure the “view” to group by categories though) and as you go through your task list on a Friday afternoon or before you start work on Monday, you can look at the high priority tasks in each category and also assign it to the “@@This Week” category. When you’re done with one task you can simply go back to MS Outlook Task Manager, look at the next task listed under your This Week category and get it done.

Capture Tasks All the Time

As I explained in a previous post, you can simply drag email messages to your Task Manager icon in Outlook (works for Outlook 2003 and 2007) and that email will become a new Task Item. Easy, simple, and efficient! Also don’t forget the killer CTRL+SHIFT+K keyboard combination that will create a new task item wherever you are in Outlook. As you get emails, make sure you process them and if there’s an action that needs to be taken, use the proper categories and prioritization.

If you want to know more about processing emails, getting your inbox empty, and working more productively you should definitely check out 43Folders and their “inbox zero” series of articles and a great Primer on the GTD system is the blog post at 7Productions.

Next: Is your calendar working for or against you? Some simple tips for MS Outlook Calendar that will help you become more productive.

 

 

 

 


Outlook Productivity Tips

February 12, 2009

How to use MS Outlook to become more productive

Most people have MS outlook as their business email client, but very few really know how to take full advantage of all the options Outlook offers. MS Outlook is also a great productivity tool when used correctly, and so I decided to share some productivity tips for those using this program. You will realize that the more you use it, the more you will like it. Below are some of the main options you should know exist in Outlook, I will cover some more specifics about using Tasks and time management tips on another post. I hope at least one of these tips can help you get more from Outlook.Outlook Productivity

1.       Turn emails into appointments: we all get emails asking us to schedule a meeting or asking us to participate in one. The easiest way to ensure you won’t forget to add the meeting to your calendar and at the same time get all the detailed information that came in the email right there when you need it is to transform the email itself in the outlook calendar item. Simply click on the email message, and drag it to the calendar icon on the left panel. Pronto! An outlook calendar item will open up on the window and the body will contain the same text as the email had. When you’re ready for the meeting, simply open the calendar item and check the content in the body.

 

2.       Turn emails into tasks: outlook is a great task management tool if you know how to use it. There are several ways in which you can flag emails with different colors and priorities, but I don’t like to keep them in my inbox (time management and productivity gurus all agree that you should try to empty your inbox, but this is another discussion) and so I simply drag the email to the task icon on the left panel and a task item will pop up containing in the body the whole of your email! Is that simple… now for those emails that require an action or follow-up, simply drag them to create a new task.

3.       Create tasks quickly: on the phone with the boss and he assigns a new project to you? In a meeting with your staff and want to ensure you follow-up on the activities you just delegated? Simply press CTRL+SHIFT+K. A new task window will open up waiting for your input.

4.       Create custom views to find emails quickly: let’s say you want to see all emails in your inbox that were sent by a particular person. You can quickly sort your emails by sender when you click the ‘from’ column at the top of your inbox screen but then the emails are not ordered by date anymore. If you need to see all emails sent by a particular person and still keep them sorted by date, you should create a custom view. This is an awesome way to quickly find messages from different people while still keeping the sorting by date active. Go to “view”, select “current view” and then select “define views”. Click “new” and type in a new name for this view (e.g. Messages from John). Leave ‘type of view’ as table and hit OK. On the next screen click on the “filter” button and in the filter dialog box click on the “from” button and select the person’s name from the contact list.  Hit OK and exit back to your inbox. This new view will be listed under the “View” menu, “Current View”. When you click on the new view it will be applied to your inbox and you can then easily locate the message(s) from that person. If you are like me and have a ton of messages sitting in your inbox, this is the quickest way to find a message or a message thread, create multiple views and save some time finding emails.

5.       Use favorite folders for quick access: most people I know end up creating multiple folders in order to archive messages and discussions relating to a particular project or subject. Eventually you end up with a lengthy tree structure with subfolders as well. You, however, are likely to be working more frequently with only a couple folders and have to keep browsing your folder tree searching for them. Well, stop that! Right click on that folder(s) you use most and select “Add to Favorites folder”. Now that folder will show up at the top of the left panel, easily accessible any time you want.

6.       Find emails quickly alternate method: if you don’t like the idea of creating custom views to find messages in your inbox, you have an alternate method that is very powerful; you can create “Search Folders”. Go to “File”, select “new” and the “search folder” option. The dialog window that pops up will have standard options like unread mail, mail from someone, etc. Once you customize the search folder, it will show up right next to “unread mail” and “sent items” that usually show up at the top of the left panel. You can create several search folders and when you need to find specific emails (e.g. all messages flagged high priority or all messages sent to a specific distribution list, etc.) you simply click on that search folder.

7.       Disable the reading pane: the reading pane can be customized to show up at the bottom of the screen or the right. I liked the reading pane but it always bothered me for the space it used up even when I resized it… so I decided to work smarter and remove it completely. What I do instead is I selected my “view” option (under “view” menu, “current view”) to be “messages with auto-preview”. This way messages I haven’t read show up with a summary right below them. I can easily scan incoming messages and decide if I need to open them right at that moment. And messages I have read don’t display the summary anymore so it gives me a quick visual representation of read and unread messages. It took me a while to get used to this view but it helped me so much that is now my standard view for Outlook.

8.       Group messages by conversation: this is a big shift if you are used to simply listing messages by their received date because it changes the way messages are displayed, but helps a lot when there are emails going back and forth about a specific subject that you need to keep track of. In addition to my previous suggestion of disabling the reading pane and using the ‘messages with auto-preview’ option, I went to “View – current view – customize current view” menu and set the “Group by” to be “Conversation (ascending)”. By doing this, all messages in my inbox are grouped by conversation (meaning similar subjects), allowing me to see all threads related to a particular subject grouped together on the screen. When I’m copied in messages that go back and forth between other people in my company, I can see the whole discussion without having to search for messages and decide whether someone has already replied to the last email or not. Very easy and fast way to keep track of conversations about the same subject.

9.       Color code important emails: need to respond to your boss’ emails before you do anything else? Want to ensure that email about the bonus plan doesn’t get lost among all your other messages? Use color! Go to “View”, choose “Current View”, and select “customize current view”. Click on the “automatic formatting” button on the window that pops-up and click on “add” button. Type in a name for the new formatting rule (e.g. Messages from Charlie) and click on the Font button to choose a different font size, type, or color then click on Condition and select the criteria you want (e.g. if you want all of Charlie’s messages to appear in bold red, click the “from” button and choose him from the contact list, then in the Formatting option select bold red). If you want all your unread emails to appear blue instead of the default black bold, that’s where you can change it. Play around and choose wisely. Colorful messages help you distinguish them from all others, but use it sparingly otherwise the carnival of colors will only confuse you.

10.   Create new emails without your mouse: this is a quick and easy one. Instead of clicking on the “new” icon at the top, just press CTRL+N to create a new email message. It saves you a few seconds, but at the end of the day those seconds add up!

Stay tuned for additional tips related to how to use Outlook Tasks for better time management and to get things done.

P.S.: I will be uploading a document with some screenshots illustrating the tips above to make it easier for you to understand and do it yourself.


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