Outlook Email Tips: Taming the Inbox Monster

Microsoft Outlook Tips & Tricks

Email Tips to Keep Email from Zapping Your Productivityemail overload, email tips, Outlook tips and tricks

According to Microsoft research, the average Outlook user reads 1800 emails & deletes an average of 1500 emails per month. Other studies tell us that many corporate email users handle more than 200 messages a day. It’s no wonder it can be tempting to commit email bankruptcy and just delete it all! How do you manage this volume of messages without coming down with EMAIL OCD, that is, the temptation to constantly check your email? What are the best practices to get you closer to a Zero Inbox? What email tips will help you increase your email productivity and start tackling email overload?

Microsoft Outlook, and other email programs, are tools to help you manage not only your email but also your calendar, contacts, and tasks. As such, it is at the center of not only your communications but also your time management. To get the most out of Outlook for handling your incoming email, let’s look at some best practices. (Although some of the features mentioned are specific to Outlook, most of these ideas can help you manage your email and time regardless of the program you use).

Establish a Routine

Every time you move away from your work to check email, you lose focus and productivity. When should you check your email? There are a variety of viewpoints, although most time management and productivity experts agree that one of the keys is to have a schedule or plan on how and when you handle your email. One approach is to check your messages first thing in the morning, sometime around lunch, and then near the end of your workday. Some people shut down Outlook during other periods of their day just to avoid the temptation. You may find that a different strategy works better for you. Most important is to set a routine you can follow through on so incoming email stops being a big distraction and energy drain. Forget multi-tasking! There is no such thing–you’re actually switching between tasks that require a shift in focus every time you move to a different task.

Tame Your Inbox with the Four Ds

One drag on productivity is touching a message many times over. When reading your email, decide whether to:

  • Delete it. If it isn’t important, delete it immediately.
  • Do it (respond, file, call, etc.). If it can be done in two minutes or less, do it.
  • Delegate it (forward). If it isn’t for you or if you can, delegate (forward) it.
  • Defer it (using color categories and flags) for a second review in your task list. If you need to do it, but it takes longer than two minutes (including reading), defer or hold off on it. Another approach is to move the message to a Parking Lot folder for your review at the end of the day.

Choose Your Response

Has this ever happened to you—you get a phone call or direct message from someone asking if you received the email they just sent out 15 minutes ago? Apparently, they are waiting impatiently in front of their computer, expecting you to respond immediately regardless of what you may be doing at the time. Maybe they should have just called you at the start! Still, some messages may require a quick response even if you have limited time, while others can wait.

  • Acknowledge messages that require a more extensive response. If you are too busy to respond with a full answer right away, let the sender know you are looking into the issue and will respond by a certain time or date. Flag the message with a reminder to do it later.
  • Disable automatic alerts. Turn off automatic sounds and visual alerts, so you are not so easily pulled back into your Inbox every time a new message arrives. Unless you are working with some critical deadlines requiring email communication or are pressed to respond ASAP, stick with your chosen schedule for checking and responding to your messages. If you are concerned about missing critical messages, create a rule in Outlook that sounds an alert when an email comes in from your boss or a key client.

Email Tips to Eliminate the Clutter in Your Inbox

In addition to initiating fewer email messages, look at other ways to reduce the messages in your Inbox:

  • For outside contacts, publish frequently requested information on your company website and make sure the website is quickly updated when changes occur.
  • For internal communications, share commonly requested data on Microsoft Teams, where it can be easily searched and updated.
  • When you are sending out informational messages that do not require feedback, discourage unnecessary responses by using formal language and begin and end messages with No Reply Needed or FYI Only. And look for opportunities to move these messages to Teams or Yammer.
  • Unsubscribe to electronic newsletters you don’t read and move others out of your Inbox to folders for reading during travel or other downtimes. Don’t unsubscribe to mailings you never initiated, or you may further open the flow of junk mail.
  • If you are running Outlook on Microsoft Exchange or through Microsoft 365, set up the Automatic Replies (also known as Out of Office) feature to respond to incoming messages when you are not available to answer your email. Clearly state your response time, when you will return, and who can be contacted during your absence.

Apply these best practices and time management strategies to free you up from your Inbox and begin taming the Inbox monster.

Discover more Outlook email tips and shortcuts here.

© Dawn Bjork, MCT, MOSM, CSP®, The Software Pro®
Microsoft Certified Trainer, Productivity Speaker, Certified Speaking Professional

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