How to be more productive with Outlook

Have you ever felt being overwhelmed by the number of emails you are receiving on a daily basis. Have you already forgotten to reply to an email or to act on a request? Well, this time can be over in the next hour. I am here sharing the way I am treating emails to get my day organized and productive while staying on top of my inbox. This is adapted from the course Take back your life I took years ago. Like all methods, you need to make it work for you. I love simple things, so you will see it’s a very simple method, very effective for me, that allowed me to save an estimated two hours every working day.

The Four Concepts Of Productive Email Management

This method is based on four concepts:

  1. Disable notifications. Email is a time thief and getting a notification for each new email will lead to distraction, loss of focus and lower productivity. This has been scientifically proven. Furthermore, email is by nature asynchronous, so if you expect an urgent communication, request it by Instant Messaging or Phone.
  2. Book 2 or 3 email times a day. Book two to three 30 to 60-minute slots in your calendar to go over emails and tasks.
  3. Speed read each email. Filter on your unread emails, read object, first lines, and for each, apply step 4.
  4. Move to next, Reply or Classify. If this email is pure information that you may need (or not) later, just mark as read and move to next. If you need to reply and can do it in less than one minute, do it now. If that email requires an action that will take more than one minute, make it a task with a due date and add a verb to the object to be able to quickly classify the task: READ if I need to take some time to thoroughly read the mail, ACT if I need to take some action based on the email (that can be downloading some piece of information or do some research, for instance), REPLY if I need to think about my reply and this requires some extra work. Note that I do not delete anything. I keep all and archive.

How to make a task from a mail

While your mail is selected, click on Create a tack with attachment in the Quick Steps box on the Home Menu.

In the above task, the original email is attached, I added the verb READ in the subject so I can and chose Today in the Due Date dropdown. Note that I am not including Start Date or other flags. I just now have to click on Save & Close to save this new tasks. It all took less than five seconds.

Normally, reading, replying and classifying email should take ten to fifteen minutes of your slots booked at step 2, and your inbox will be totally “Read”.

Acting on tasks

Now, with the remaining of the booked time, you go to your Tasks list and go over the tasks that need to be done today. Some may require more work than the remaining time and you can therefore book a specific slot for this task in your calendar. Execute others based on the verb you indicated. I usually start with the REPLY tasks, as the recipient expects an answer, then ACT, then READ. When your time is over, move to your next item on the agenda, leaving unfinished task in your Tasks list.

In the task list, it’s very easy to go over each task, open the attached item and once done, click on Mark Complete! If you still have time before the end of the allotted time, you can act on the next day tasks, getting ahead on your schedule.

On the last time slot of the day, if there are any unfinished tasks in your tasks list, decide either to move them to the next day or to extend, if possible, the slot so you can finish. The ultimate goal is to finish the day with no email left untouched and your tasks list for the day empty. My last task of the day is to archive my inbox so it’s totally empty. I can now close Outlook and start the next day totally fresh.

4 Comments on “How to be more productive with Outlook”

  1. Having just had an overpowering email day, this post is very timely. Thank-you for writing this helpful information, I love the Reply, Act, Read simplicity of it, I’m on Outlook for mac and categorise, but I have too many categories now to handle daily, I must now investigate task and category together.

    1. Thank you for your comment Vicky. Much appreciated.
      I used categories in the past, mostly for meetings in my calendar, but dropped them as it was not bringing any additional useful information.

  2. It’s been years since I last used Outlook, but as a program coordinator with many bosses, I once managed my time utilizing Outlook and a method much as you describe. Every one of my bosses could input into my schedule as well, which made things tricky sometimes, but at least I knew how many places I was expected to be at any given moment!

    1. Thanks for this feedback Kathryn. It’s true that having others updating your day or tasks make things tricky, however, it may make life more… unexpected!

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