5 Ways to Improve Your Use of Microsoft Outlook
For many of us, we use Microsoft Outlook more than any other software. yet we rarely take the time to brush up on our Outlook skills. Bad habits are ingrained, and our knowledge of Outlook largely is based on when we first started using Outlook. Most of us never took a class and probably haven’t read a blog on Outlook until today.
Be aware that I tend to I keep my blogs short because most of us have low attention spans (Squirrel!), so there likely will be additional information you will want/need from me. Good news, I answer all comments on this blog and I welcome your additional tips/suggestions.
These tips are based on Microsoft Office 365 (version 16) for Windows, although most tips work with previous versions (as well as Outlook for Mac). I highly recommend buying Office 365 for $99 per year for all the reasons I outlined in a previous blog.
1. Create Rules to Process/Manage Repetitive Email
This is the most useful tip to improving your overall productivity. It also is the most complicated to set up. Do not skip this tip! We all receive email that we rarely read, but we feel like we need to read it at some point. So, it lands in our inbox and distracts us until we read it. Yet, we rarely need the email. Here is how to solve this challenge once and for all:
- Open the email.
- Click the "Rules" button in the ribbon.
- Choose “Always move messages from.”
- Choose the folder you want to move the messages to.
- First time only, click "Create new"
- Name the folder something, like "Read later"
From this point on, those messages will show up in your "Read Later" folder, and you can read them when time allows. This one tip can help reduce your overall inbox clutter and make you much more productive.
2. Rely on the Search Box and Search Tab
Folders are important, but not nearly as important as they were before the search function became so powerful. At the top of your emails (below the ribbon), you will see a search box. You can use this from within any folder, including your inbox.
- Type anything into this search box to find any email (other than in "deleted items." To search deleted items you have to go into the deleted folder)
- Use the ribbon (which automatically changed for you) to further refine your search by date, subject, attachments, sender, etc.
I use the search box dozens of times each day, and the more you use it, the better you get. For advanced users, you can create “search folders.”
3. Create and Use the '@Reference' Folder
This is the simplest tip of all, and involves moving any emails you may want to look at into a folder called "@Reference" ("@" is so it shows up at the top of your folders). Using the search bar with the refine options, you can find any email you want. This avoids having countless folders for all sorts of miscellaneous reasons. I do still have other folders, but have reduced them significantly. Move reports, important emails, travel plans and whatever else you don’t really want to delete into your "@Reference" folder.
4. Use the Quick Access Toolbar and Customize It
Outlook and all Office tools now offer the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT), which gives you constant access to your favorite commands.
- Click the down arrow to customize the QAT. (It’s at the top of the Outlook window.)
- Click the items to add them to your QAT. Unclick the ones you won’t or don’t use.
5. Create and Use Quick Steps
This tip is similar to rules, but instead of automatically applying to a message, you click the step when you want the action to occur. This is useful for anything you find yourself doing more than two or three times a week. For example, I save important messages from Gene Geiger in a folder called "Gene." Since I only save emails from Gene I might want to look at later, I use the quick step instead of a rule. A single click marks the message as "read" and moves it to the "Gene" folder.
- From any message, click the down arrow next to quick steps in the ribbon, and choose "New Quick Step."
- Choose the appropriate option. I most frequently use the "Move to folder" option. In the next screen, you get the option to "Mark as read," which I do in case I’m just moving something without opening.
- Click the quick step at the middle of the ribbon to execute the Quick Step.
Take your time and work through these tips. Leave a comment if you are having trouble.
To view my full Outlook tips presentation, click here.