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Our team recently participated in a webinar detailing how to save yourself an hour every day using various tools in Outlook. It inspired me to review my very first blog post and see what else I’m doing to save myself time every day. I came up with these Dos and Don’ts to make sure you are saving time and not wasting it in Outlook.

DON’T duplicate efforts. There are so many great tools in Outlook—Inbox, Task List, Calendar—just make sure you aren’t over-using them. An example of overuse: keeping an item in your inbox, flagging it for follow up in your task list, and adding a calendar reminder to attend to the item. One of these methods will suffice on its own. Do you need to respond to the email? Keep it in your inbox. Is it something that needs action from you but not a response to that email? Copy it on to your calendar and delete it out of your inbox.

DO sort by date/conversation. This one is an absolute must. It keeps your inbox tidy by collapsing all messages from a single conversation in to a single item, keeping the most recent item on top, regardless of the sender. Bonus: it spares you from the embarrassment of not responding to the most recent email in a conversation. To set your inbox up to sort this way, select View > Date (Conversations) > check “Show as Conversations.”

Wiseman - Sorty by Date-Conversation

DON’T be afraid to delete emails. Guess what? When you delete an email, it does not go in to some deep, dark black hole of forgotten emails. Keep your inbox tidy so it can be your to-do list! Delete emails that you’ve attended to—you can always search through your “Deleted” folder later on if you need it.

DO use the “recurring” feature on your Calendar. There are so many tasks that I only need to do once a month or even once a year that I would completely forget about if they were not on my calendar. To speed things up, I use the “recurring” feature (Appointment > Recurrence). You can set it to recur daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. Within the weekly option, you can specify certain days of the week (MWF? Tues-Thurs?). For monthly, you can select a specific date (10th of the month) or week (second Friday of the month). Yearly has the same options.

Wiseman - Calendar Recurrence

DO use “Drafts” to save time. I find myself sending the same emails over and over: responding to questions about a specific event, detailing steps on how to access a certain portion of a website, etc. When I notice this happening, I save a draft of the email: open a new message, type or paste the message, close out, hit “Yes” to save changes —this saves it as a draft. The email is now in my draft folder for quick copy-and-paste access when I’m responding to an email.

Wiseman - Save changes

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Working with several different clients means working with several different inboxes. More inboxes means more emails. More emails means more tasks to keep track of! Over time, I’ve learned how to make my inbox work for me and not against me.

My number one rule: I use my inbox as a to-do list and don’t let items pile up. I’ve heard several time management gurus talk about closing your inbox and only checking emails at specific times. I don’t believe in this. Members want answers and they want answers now. This doesn’t mean I constantly have my inbox open reading and responding to emails, it means that I monitor the subject lines as they pop up at the bottom of my screen. If it looks like something that A) I can easily respond to in under two minutes or B) needs immediate attention, I take care of it and then delete it. The remaining emails are on my “to-do” list, whether they are items that I need more time to take care of or those that just didn’t need an immediate response.

Secondly, “Waiting for Response” folders are lifesavers. If I’m sending an email that requires the person to respond as part of an important task, I blind copy myself. When it comes back to me, I drop it into my “Waiting for Response” folder for the appropriate client (to save a step, I could even set up a rule that says, “If I’m blind copied on an email that I send, go to this folder”). This way, I have one folder with everything that I am waiting on people for—much easier than searching through my sent/deleted items or trying to remember it all. It also keeps things out of my inbox/to-do list. When I’ve received a sufficient answer, I delete it from the folder. If something is hanging around in the folder for more than a few days, I know exactly who I need to follow up with.

To ensure that I don’t forget about items in my “Waiting for Response” folders, I change the settings so that it shows how many total messages are in the folder and not just how many are unread.

Lastly, Outlook inboxes have standard columns such as “From,” “Subject,” Received,” and “Categories.” For the items that are left in my actual inbox/to-do list, I add a column for “Notes” to keep track of the status of the task or important things I need to remember. For example, a board member might send me a lengthy email, but there is really only one task I need to complete. I call that task out in my “Notes” column rather than having to re-read the entire email to remember what it was.

These are just some of the tips I use to keep my inbox squeaky clean and manageable. What tricks do you use?

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