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.

How to change the proofing language in 2 clicks

If you write texts in Word, or other Office software, in various languages, you want to change to use the right dictionary for spelling and grammar checks. By default, Word detects automatically the language you are writing in and choses the right dictionary. However, if you mix languages in the same document, it may have difficulties to recognize which part is in one language and which is in another language.

Two languages in the same document

For instance, in the following screen shot, the first sentence is in French, and the second in English. Note that the second one is underlined with what Word has identified as a mistake.

However, the second sentence is correct. It’s just that Word is using the French dictionary as the beginning of the document in in French. How do you know which dictionary is used?

Choosing the right dictionary

Have a look at the bottom left of the screen shot. You will see French (France). This is the current dictionary used. If you select the second sentence and double-click on the French (France) words, the Language box will appear, allowing you to change the dictionary.

You can then select the English (United States) dictionary so Word understands this is an English text, and click OK. This dialog box can also be reached through the Review menu, by clicking Language, then Set Proofing Language. Notice the Detect language automatically check box. This option allows Word to choose the right language. On the other hand, if you check the box Do not check spelling or grammar, Word keeps your mistake unnoticed. Although, it’s not 100% fool proof, spelling and grammar checking is a very convenient feature. You can know change your language in a matter of two clicks.

The blessing and the curse of Copy and Paste

Copy and paste are probably the two most commonly used features of any software, popularized by the Apple Lisa and Macintosh in the early 80’s. It’s now so popular we do not think about it and sometimes even do not know that when you copy (or cut) a piece of information, it’s stored in a place called the clipboard. Actually nobody cares as long as it works. However, copying and pasting can get some nasty surprises because of existing themes… Let’s for instance imagine I want to copy a PowerPoint slide from the left presentation to the right one.

The Copy and Paste default behavior

The default result in PowerPoint (same can go with Word or Excel) will be the following.

You notice a change of colors and fonts because the copied slide as inherited the presentation template. In some instances, this may be what you are looking for. However, you may, in others, want to retain the existing theme, colors and fonts.

Keeping the source formatting

You will need to paste while keeping the source formatting:

The exact same slide will be copied into the second presentation

Now, have a look at the small slide on the right, in the Slide sorter bar. You notice a small clipboard with (Ctrl) and an arrow. If you click on this arrow, you will have the opportunity to select on the options available, which in our case are copying using the destination theme, using the source formatting or copying an image in the selected slide.

All Office apps allow this kind of manipulation of formatting while copying, cutting and pasting. Time to experiment!