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Email Productivity Tips

Ever get into the habit of constantly checking distracting email notifications when you should be spending your time being productive at your actual job?

Feel like you have ADHD when you’re online or checking your emails?

Well, I’m here to tell you, you’re not alone…

While writing this article, I was interrupted by 15 emails. I will note that only 2 of those emails were actually of importance to my position. The other 13 were spam from websites where I have provided my contact information, spam from marketers or sales people looking to help my company be more successful, and spam… err friendly emails from coworkers/friends trying to kill time at their own positions (shh, don’t tell my boss!). I’ll also mention that those 15 emails were only from my work email. Don’t even get me started on my personal email on my phone.

According to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, the average person spends approximately 28 percent of their work week reading, deleting, sorting and sending emails. If you take the average work week of 40 hours, that’s 11.2 hours/week or 2.24 hours/day. To put this in perspective for you: if you were to binge-watch the complete first season of “Suits”, that is still less time than the average person spends per week dealing with emails. In an era where we expect and are expected to respond to emails within a matter of hours, all while completing those non-email related tasks, it’s no wonder many people complain about there not being enough hours in the day to get everything done.

The embarrassing amount of time it took to complete that article got me thinking: There has to be a better way to manage my emails so that they don’t distract too much from my day-to-day tasks. It also sparked the inspiration for this article. So, in an effort to help you get the most out of your 8 hour work day, here are some tips and tricks to increasing your email productivity.

Cleaning Your Folders

It took about 2 hours to completely clean out my inbox yesterday (and that only had emails that dated back to September 2013). So if you have been using Outlook for longer than that, prepare to spend a significant amount of time cleaning your email if you’re optimistic about getting it done in one day, like I did. A way to minimize the amount of time it will take to clean your folders is to schedule daily or weekly cleanings. Setting aside a half an hour per day on cleaning up your inbox will save you a lot of time, not to mention make your inbox a lot easier to navigate and find things you actually need.

Creating Email Rules

The 15 times I was disturbed by emails could have been significantly reduced with Email Rules. What are Email Rules, you ask? This feature was designed to filter your email in a personalized way. If you’re inbox is like mine, you receive daily emails from a lot of the same senders. For me, I have signed up to receive emails about technology news and blogs from various professional websites. Do I need to be notified of the receipt of these emails right away? Realistically no, but I do want to get to them eventually. Using an Email Rule will help to minimize the amount of visual and audio notifications, restricting them to emails that are of higher importance. I created folders specific to the senders and created rules so that whenever those emails come into my inbox, they are automatically re-routed into those designated folders, with no visual or audio notifications that will distract me from what I am currently working on.

Adding Flags

Have you ever received an email while you were working and thought I should respond to that after I finish XYZ but then it got lost in your inbox? Follow ups (or flags – since their icon looks like a flag) are an excellent way to mark those emails that you find important but that don’t need an immediate response. These follow ups can be set for the same day, tomorrow, this week, next week, a custom date or even no date (which I find is rather silly!). If you’re like me and work well with having a to-do list, follow ups work pretty well! You can even add a reminder for your follow up and mark it as complete when you’re finished it!

Searching Email

Has your boss or co-worker ever come over to your desk and asked you Can you re-send me that email you sent me yesterday/last week/last month about XYZ? and you frantically typed into your search bar at the top of the screen and hoped to god it would miraculously appear but it left you staring at your screen like a bewildered child? Ya, me too. What I didn’t know is that Outlook’s search bar can be changed to search specific places; either a specific folder, all subfolders, your current inbox or your whole email. Knowing this would have reminded me to either change the search option to Search All Outlook Items or click on Sent Items and then searched for the email, saving me face in front of my boss or co-worker. You are welcome!

Making Replying/Forwarding Easier

I don’t know about your work signature, but mine is so long that when I reply to an email I can’t even see the email I’m replying to. This usually forces me to have to scroll back down to the email to make sure that I am responding to the email correctly and not missing any key points. There has to be an easier way, I thought. Turns out, there is! When you reply or forward an email, there is an icon that says “Pop Out” at the top of your reply or forwarded message. Simple fix, right? Well what happens if you want it to always “Pop Out” and you want to save yourself a few steps? If you go File > Options > Mail > Replies and Forwards > “Check” Open replies and forwards in a new email and then click “Ok”, you will always be able to see the message you are replying to.

I hope that you have found these tips and tricks useful and that you will implement them into your own Outlook email, if you haven’t already done so. For help with other basic Outlook functions, the Outlook 2013 Quick Start Guide is really helpful. As a managed service provider, the biggest impact Intega IT can have on our clients is being able to make their organizations more productive. However, with all the time you will save, what you do with your extra time…well that’s up to you!

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