Bishop Mueller Library

Get the Most Out of Outlook

In notes on February 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm

On February 8th we had an excellent whirlwind look at getting organized in Outlook. Everyone who came had great questions and helpful tips for the rest of the group.

The library just added the book Take back your life: using Microsoft Outlook to get organized and stay organized.  This book was written with examples from Outlook 2007, but almost all of the recommendations apply just as well to Outlook 2010.  Many of the methods described are inspired by David Allen’s classic book Getting things done: the art of stress-free productivity.

This is oversimplifying, but the basic recommendation for handing your inbox is this…

Step 1: Identify all of your “in buckets” — email, voicemail, papermail, newspapers, etc. — and consolidate where you can.  For example, cancel catalogs or subscriptions you don’t use and receive news updates in your email, if that works for you.

Step 2: When you’re dealing with your in buckets, make the following decisions quickly and immediately so that you don’t deal with the same items repeatedly and unnecessarily:

Decision 1:  Do I need to take action on this?

  • If No = trash it or file it right away.
  • If Yes = see Decision 2.

Decision 2:  Can I do this action in less than 2 minutes?

  • If Yes = do it right away.
  • If No = delegate it to someone else or schedule it on your calendar… right away!

By forming these habits, you can get into a flow when sifting through the demands on your attention and, hopefully, reduce the amount of time needed to control the info tide.

How can Outlook help in this process?   Prof. Hazlett had a great recommendation — using Rules on your email.  When looking at your inbox in Outlook 2007, go to the Tools menu and select “Rules and Alerts” then click on “New Rule…”.  In the window that opens, you’ll see suggestions for creating rules – or filters – that will automatically sort your email into folders, or flag messages from certain people, or delete email from retailers.

If you’re already using Outlook 2010, make sure you’re looking at the Home ribbon, then click on Rules.  The email message you have highlighted at the moment will serve as a template for the new rule you’re creating, or you can select “Create from scratch…”.

Another important element of the “Getting Things Done” system is having a filing system in which you can easily and quickly retrieve archived items.  The key is knowing how to search your mail. Outlook does have excellent searching tools but they’re not intuitive.  See these tips on searching Outlook 2007, or browse through these search guides for Outlook 2010 and perhaps you’ll be able to whittle your Outlook folders down to just one archive folder.

Last but not least, one of the most frequently asked questions about Outlook is “Can I see my mail and my calendar at the same time?” And the answer is … Yes!  Just right-click on either Mail or Calendar in the left sidebar and choose “Open in New Window” … especially helpful if you have two monitors to work on.

Do you have tips you’d like to share?  Are you a whiz with the Tasks, Notes, and Journal features in Outlook?  Let’s hear all about it in the comments!

using Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 to get organized and stay organized

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