Most of us use Outlook every day, all day. While email is awesome, I believe we can make it better. I remember in the early days of my career (pre-BlackBerry devices) when we would leave a meeting and rush back to the office or to the hotel so that we could ‘do email’. Then BlackBerry devices came along and we could just do email all the time. It was great, right? For a while, yes, but then I began to miss the days when I could just focus on the task at hand.
1) Turn off notifications. This is my number one rule. Do you open Outlook first thing in the morning, close it in the evening, and try to triage email between tasks throughout the day? You can turn off all those distractions with less than 5 clicks. (These steps are for Outlook 2013.
Choose mail in the left hand panel and go down to Message arrival – I uncheck them all (no distractions!)
Psychology Today says you can lose up to 40% of your productivity in a day by multitasking. (For the non-math types, that’s 3.2 hours!)
2) How many times have you been cc’ed on an email that you really didn’t care about? “Cake in the conference room!” You can now safely ignore those emails with a single click. By choosing ‘Ignore’, any future emails with the same subject line will go straight to your deleted items. Don’t worry – the sender won’t know that you are ignoring the emails.
3) You can work offline to triage large amounts of email. This is a great way to clean up your inbox without having more mail come in. If you go to Send/Receive in the Ribbon and Choose “Work Offline” – Outlook will drop the connection to your Exchange Server, keeping new mail from coming in/out. I use this feature most frequently when I have been out of the office for a few days and really need to get caught up. Since my colleagues often know I am back – that’s when they will start with the heavy emails…meaning that I can’t get caught up on my older emails because the new ones are coming in.
Any emails that you ‘send’ while you are working offline will stay in your outbox and will flow out once you go back online (by reversing the steps above).
4) Set an Out Of Office to set expectations. This is another one of my favorites. When I am going to be out of the office for a week, I will clearly state in my out of office that I will not be responding to any mail that comes in during that time period. I also clearly state who the sender can re-direct their message to in my absence. When I return – I literally delete all messages from that week. It’s a bit risky, I admit, but it works. I’ve found that if it’s important enough – people will find the right person to escalate their issue to or will just pick up the phone. The key here is to make sure you make it clear that you will not be responding to any mail that comes in during that time period. (Try it, it’s very liberating to delete 1000 emails in a single clip!)