8 Overlooked Productivity Hacks for Outlook

Microsoft Outlook can sometimes be weighty and complex when not used properly. Smaller features that can easily enhance day-to-day business aren’t always front and center, but when implemented together they can have a meaningful impact on your workflow.

We’ve documented the most commonly-used productivity enhancers in our Guide to Using Outlook. Mastering the productivity tips in this guide can significantly improve your Outlook experience. The following tips and tricks focus on user of rarer Outlook features and simple, one-off adjustments you can make that will have far-reaching results.

General Tools

Whether you are in sales or marketing, or work locally or globally, some Outlook tricks are universally useful. Use these tips to make navigating Outlook simpler, faster, and more visually appealing.

1: Conditional Colors and Formatting

While color-coded categories are a commonly-used trick, you can also use colors to make narrower types of emails stand out visually. Turn emails addressed exclusively to you a bright red to distinguish them from the pack, or assign messages from direct reports a different color from those of other teams or departments.

Choose View, then View Settings, then Conditional Formatting or Automatic Formatting depending on your edition of Outlook. You can then set particular conditions for specific email formats, including parameter controls regarding the sender, other targets of the email, or how you figure into the global email chain.

Combining this with other filters can quickly get you moving towards a prioritized system of email usage. If sending and receiving messages is a big part of your day, focus first on the ones that require the most immediate attention. By tackling the highest priorities first, you can use that momentum to get through what remains.

2: Quick Parts

Do you find yourself closing off lots of emails with the same reminder of your monthly schedule, or of a specific deadline? If you’re tired of typing it out, try turning it into a Quick Part. Outlooks Quick Parts are short, templated pieces of text that you can easily save and then drag and drop into an email when needed. This makes it easy to drop in the things you consistently need to remind others about while still adding in a level of personal detail. It also saves you a lot of time.

To create a Quick Part, highlight the text you want to turn into a Quick Part, click on the Insert tab of the ribbon, press the Quick Parts button, and click Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery. You will set up a name for the Quick Part in question.

To insert it, go to the Insert tab again, click Quick Parts, and right click in the gallery pane. Click Organize and Delete, then click Name to sort the Quick Parts you’ve already made by what they are called. Click the one you want, then click Insert.

Setting up multiple Quick Parts can help you create similar but distinctive emails for different types of contacts with the push of just a few buttons. Customers your CRM system identifies as a part of a given group can get only the Quick Parts which apply to their unique implementation or products.

3: Easy Search Folders

In older editions of Outlook creating folders was often a complex, multi-step process, but this task has been streamlined in recent years. Whenever you search your email for something, you can now also turn that search query into rules for a folder, making it easier to find emails of that type of later on.

Go to the Folder tab, click on New Search Folder, set your search criteria, and you’re ready to go. You can use this feature to separate internal emails out in finer detail, creating a clearer distinction in screen real estate between accounts-related contacts and internal ones.

International Business

Doing business abroad brings several new cultural and logistical concerns to a business’s operations. Simple tweaks and adjustments can help alleviate some of the more basic issues involved in international business and give you more time to focus on your core competencies.

1: Delayed Email Delivery

Want to get that email set to go right now, but don’t want it to arrive in a person’s inbox until business starts somewhere far away? Outlook can help. Delay Delivery allows you to send an email immediately but have it actually delivered at a specific later time. You can then step away from your computer certain that it went out a time optimal for the least amount of intrusion.

Go to the Options menu from a new email and choose the Delay Delivery option. You will then be prompted for a preferred time and date for the email to be sent. You can make this even easier to schedule when combined with other features like multiple time zones.

2: Public Holidays

Outlook’s Calendar function comes pre-loaded with the public holidays of dozens of countries, any of which can be added to the calendar with a few clicks. It’s easy to remember one’s own national holidays, but when doing business internationally, culturally important days can easily slip through the cracks. As you pick of international customers, consider adding a place’s holiday’s to your calendar. It may seem like a small thing now, but you’ll be glad you did if you catch yourself trying to get in touch with a client during a time when they’d normally be vacationing or celebrating.

To add another country’s holidays, go to Options, then Calendar Options, then Add Holidays. A list of countries will pop up, from which you can choose the countries you do the most business with. Outlook will then automatically populate the calendar as appropriate.

3: Multiple Time Zones

If you have a single other time zone you deal with regularly, whether it’s Eastern to your Pacific of somewhere else, having both integrated directly into your calendar is a great way to avoid waking someone up or ruining a dinner. Outlook provides the ability to add a second time zone with a minimum of clutter. Outlook can automatically convert appointments between the two zones, making it easy to stay well-scheduled. You can also keep track of when, in the other party’s business day, a given piece of mail got sent.

To add a second time zone, go to Options, then Calendar Options, and finally scroll down to Time Zones. Check the box that says display a second time zone, and make sure to provide labels for both zones, such as “US” and “AUS” to make it clear which entries line up with which time zone.

Panic Buttons

When you work repetitively in an environment like Outlook, mistakes will happen. Email has come a very long way from the days of following a mistakenly sent email with lots of apologies. A few aspects of Outlook can help alleviate some common mistakes if you accidently send a wrong email or make a mistake that you want to fix.

1: Recall Email

If you have a Microsoft Exchange account, you can use Outlook to stop delivery of an unintended email send within your organization. If you ended up attaching the wrong version of a sales report or accidently send an email to your boss from your mobile device, you can stop the delivery and correct the error.

To do this, go to Sent Items, then open the message you want to recall. In the Message tab, go to the Move area and click Actions, then Recall This Message. Finally, click “Delete unread copies of this message.” This will only work on emails sent to other users within your organization’s Microsoft Exchange.

2: Recovering Deleted Emails

If you truly deleted an email, rather than sending it to the trash, it’s usually gone for good. If you have a Microsoft Exchange account, however, there is still hope. If a customer asks for a piece of correspondence you no longer have, but you own an Exchange account, try this.

Go to the Deleted Items folder and open the Home tab. Click on Recover Deleted Items from Server, then go through the list of items and folders that pops up and find the item or folder in question. Select Restore Selected Items, then click OK. The missing item will return to the Deleted Items folder and can be restored to the inbox and dealt with appropriately.

Know Your Tools

A lot of these features go completely unused simply due to a lack of knowledge. Whether it’s because they are buried deep in menus or focus on applications that seem niche-use, they often don’t get much attention. Still, Outlook can enhance customer service, sales, and international business applications through lots of its features, can undo critical mistakes if the user has a Microsoft Exchange account.

Any unique and underused productivity hacks you’d like to share with us? Let us know!

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