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Ten Microsoft Outlook tips: work smarter, reduce stress!

Posted by Dan Felix on May 11th 2021

Microsoft Outlook is used by millions of us every day and for most, it remains our primary communications platform.

But few of us are making use of all of Outlook’s features, which can help us filter the ‘noise’, organise our time better, and work smarter.

Here are ten little known Outlook features which can help streamline your inbox and work more efficiently:

1. Limit email notifications based on importance

Seeing endless email notifications pop up whilst you’re in meetings or trying to have some quite time for focused time can kill productivity and pull you away from priority tasks.

In Outlook you can adjust your settings you only receive notifications for important messages, leaving you free from unnecessary pop up distractions.

2. Schedule blocks of time for ‘focus work’

Meetings are one of the biggest zappers of productivity in the workplace.  Although meetings are important, they can often eat into valuable time that could be spent actioning or working on more important priorities.

Squeezing focused work into slots between meetings can be unproductive, frustrating and a cause of stress. How often have you got to the end of the day and feel like you’ve been unproductive? Maybe you had four hours of ‘meeting free’ time but because it was spread over small blocks of time it less productive.

Be proactive at blocking out ‘focus work time’ in your Outlook calendar. This way you can ringfence vital time that’s needed to do your job, complete your projects and hit your deadlines.  This will increase your productivity immeasurably and also reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm.

3. Use “Inbox CC” folder to filter emails not sent directly to you

It happens to us all: we get cc’d in on lots of emails that are for information rather than action.  They are important but not necessarily a priority.

To help you work smarter use a special “Inbox – CC” folder to automatically gather emails that aren’t sent to you directly. That way your inbox only contains the most important messages and those that require action.

Earmarking time once or twice a day to check and read “cc” emails is a more productive use of time.

To set this up, go to File > Manage Rules & Alerts > check the box “Apply a rule on a message I receive” > click Next > check the box “where my name is in the cc box” > click Next > Check the box > “move it to a specified folder” > select folder.

4. Compare calendars to find available slots

We all know how long-winded it can be to find an available slot when everyone required for a meeting is available.

When scheduling a meeting in Outlook, assuming you are sharing calendars with your colleagues, you can check the box next to each person you require in the meeting, which appears in the left-hand column of the Outlook calendar tab:

You can then see everyone’s availability and schedule a meeting accordingly:

Scheduling meetings on your Outlook mobile app is easy too.  Watch this video for a run through:

5. Use Focused In Box

Another great way to declutter your emails is to use Focused Inbox, which automatically sorts your emails into two folders. Important emails are stored in “Focused”, whereas junk mail is saved in “Other.”

It is easy to move emails between folders and select “Always Move to Focused.” To activate this simply go to Settings and toggle on ‘Focused Inbox.”

6. View conversations in a single email

To make conversation threads easier to follow, you have the option to view messages in a single conversation. Simply click View, then check the box that says, “Show as Conversations”.

7. Delay the Delivery of an Email

We live in an always-on environment. Digital technology means we can always be connected. However, to minimise ‘work creep’ into the personal lives of our colleagues and clients we can delay delivery of emails sent out of work hours.

After you’ve drafted an email message, go to ‘Options” and select “Delay Delivery.” Then, check the box that says, “Do not deliver before”. From here you can select the date and time for delivery. Once you hit this it will automatically schedule the delivery.

8. Use Conversation Clean Up to sort old emails

Let’s face it, who has time to manually sort through old emails and get our inbox looking ship shape?!

With Microsoft’s Conversation Clean Up feature this laborious tasks can be done in seconds.  It analyses emails and works out which can be sent to the deleted folder.  Simply click Home > Delete > Clean Up.

9. Handy keyboard shortcuts

Who doesn’t love a shortcut! To help you work faster, there are a number of handy shortcuts you can use in Outlook. Some of the most helpful ones are:

  • Ctrl + Shift + M to write a new email
  • Ctrl + Shift + Enter to send an email
  • Ctrl + Shift + Q to create a meeting
  • Ctrl + Shift + C to add a contact
  • Ctrl + B to access your address book
  • Ctrl + 2 to open your calendar

10. Receive your daily briefing from Cortana

At the start of each day most of us check our calendar and take some time to prepare for the day ahead.  The Cortana briefing email helps you prepare for your day. It’s like having your very own virtual assistant!

Through AI it compiles data from across your Microsoft 365 applications and delivers pertinent insights, reminders and suggestions to help you better prepare for the day ahead and stay in control of your calendar.

The Briefing email includes:

  • Documents relating to meetings you might want to review ahead of your meeting.
  • Suggested focus time based on gaps in your diary to help you work productively, plan regular breaks away from your desk, or earmark time for professional development learning.
  • Summary of outstanding commitments, pending replies and follow ups that you or your colleagues may have forgotten about.

You can take action directly from the Briefing email without having to go into the relevant application separately.

Cortana daily briefing email: block time our for quiet time

The Cortana daily Briefing remind you of commitments and outstanding follow-ups

 If you’re already a Microsoft 365 subscriber, the Cortana daily Briefing email should already be available to you.

If you’re not receiving it, just speak to your administrator who can enable this for you – either as an individual or for the entire organisation.

Getting the most out of Microsoft 365 – more insights

We hope you’ve discovered some time saving, productivity boosting tips and hacks to help you work smarter using Outlook.

We share further insights, tips and advice on Getting the best out of Microsoft 365 in our 3-part blog series.

You may also find some of these guides useful (further resources are available on our website):

Closing words

If you have Microsoft 365, chances are you are only using a fraction of its capabilities.  This world leading communication and productivity platform provides you with the ability to transform how you work, for the better.

We understand that adopting new ways of working and transforming into a truly “modern workplace”, to coin a Microsoft term, can be overwhelming.

As a Microsoft Direct Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP) and Gold partner, BCN Group specialise in helping organisations transform by taking advantage of the Microsoft cloud offering.

If your organisation is wanting support, guidance and practical solutions in cloud transformation please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’d be delighted to help you.