Microsoft outlook is an application I love but also hate. Only I am part of the “Outlook Generation”. I grew up with it, I used it from version Outlook 97. In the early days I started Outlook as my first application in the morning, and it is the last I close. From a productivity perspective it is not the best way to have it always open.
In this article I will give some tips regarding settings and options that give you some productivity.

Tip 1: Try to close outlook more often

Outlook is developed as a Personal Information Manager (PIM). And if you work with colleges which do not have a productive mindset and expects that email still is the first communication method. Then should you be aware that they expect a reply. From my experience this is only in the morning. I open Outlook around lunch and review my inbox. Move items to the @action folder.

Tip 2: Try outlook mobile

On my iPhone and iPad, I have installed the portable versions of Outlook. There are not as completed as the desktop version, but good enough for a simple calendar check, accept meeting requests. In this case it is not needed to open your desktop version directly from a company and Security policy it could be required to use Outlook instead of the default email app.

Tip 3: Keep outlook in Sync

With the latest version of Outlook 365 it is possible to sync your outlook settings to the cloud.
You can enable this option under File > Options > General > enable “ Store my Outlook settings in the cloud”
The follow settings will be synced:

  • Advanced
  • Calendar
  • Ease of Access
  • General
  • Groups
  • Mail
  • People
  • Search
  • Tasks

The following settings cannot be roamed:

  • Add-ins
  • Customize Ribbon
  • Language
  • Quick Access Toolbar
  • Trust Center

Tip 4: Shorten your Calendar appointments

Meeting always take too much time… Or you do not have time to prepare your upcoming meeting or archive your notes before you go in another meeting. With a simple tick at the option …… your meeting invites will be shorter.
It is up to you to hold your time.

Tip 5: Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are developed to make you productive. Only everyone stays using the mouse. My commonly used Keyboard shortcuts are: (The only work on Windows 10)

             Action                        Combination          
Create New message Ctrl+Shift+M
Send Message Alt+S
Create new task Ctrl+Shift+K
Calendar Ctrl+2
Create appointment Ctrl+Shift+A
Contacts Ctrl+3
Tasks Ctrl+4
Email Ctrl+1
create meeting request Ctrl+shift+Q
Mark as unread Ctrl+U

Tip 6: Action and Waiting For folders

For my own productivity I have created 2 folders in my Inbox. The names are “@Action” and “@Waiting” for. Using the @ symbol is a trick to push these folders to the top of your email structure for easy access.
A visual cue to remind you that there are emails stored in these two critical folders is to right-click on each of the folders and change the Properties for them both from “Show number of unread items” to “Show total number of items.”

Tip 7: BCC and CC rules

A useful rule you may want to create is one that sends a copy of your sent items that you want to track as a waiting for automatically into you @Waiting For folder. What this rule does is eliminate the step of having to dig through your Sent folder to find emails for which you are waiting on a response by simply adding yourself to the Bcc: fields of any email you want to track as a waiting for. So essentially, it works by sending a copy of an email you send to you @Waiting For folder in email. Before you start these steps, be sure you have created yourself as a contact, using your Outlook email address, in your address book.

  1. Select Rules from the Home tab
  2. Click Create Rule
  3. Click Advanced Options button
  4. Check off from: and where my name is not in the To box. In the Step 2 box in this same window, click on the from name that is underlined and choose yourself from your address book in the next dialog box that appears. If you had another sender highlighted when you created the rule, be sure to delete that sender so only your name appears in the from setting. Click OK to return to the previous window and click Next to move to next setting.

Also create a rule and folder for your CC emails. When someone send me a message where I am placed on the CC, the email is for me a message “for your information”. This means that I will read these messages on a later moment or once a week. This keeps your inbox cleaner and you get only the important messages in your inbox.

Tip 8: Disable New email notifications

Every time you get interrupted, it affects your workflow. Some of the biggest interruptions that can easily be changed are the new mail notifications that are set by default in Outlook. Just try to ignore them—you cannot. You are inevitably stopping what you are doing to scan the preview of the email that appears in the envelope or chase after the new mail sound to switch your focus to that item. We are not saying to not check email as often as you need to be effective. But turning off these nearly constant reminders is a great way to regain your focus and put yourself back in the driver’s seat by checking email when it works for your focus, flow, and priorities—not when it arrives. Those may be very different things.

To turn off new mail notifications, go to File > Options > Mail and uncheck all boxes under Message Arrival.

Tip 9: Configure the build in Calendar

From this tip you can think why… The only reason is not to get interrupted. I check my calendar regularly. More to check when I have my meetings or plan new appointments. I do not what to open outlook for this. Outlook starts always in the mail layout. So, you will see directly if you have new email. And from that point you will be interrupted.

On my iPhone and iPad, I like the native calendar app and integration. I always add the address in my appointments. This works better in the native apps than in Outlook. In my car I have Apple CarPlay. There I Can select my appointment and let me navigate to address. This option is in the Netherlands not available from the Outlook app.

Tip 10: Focused Inbox

Focused Inbox separates your inbox into two tabs—Focused and Other. Your most important email messages are on the Focused tab while the rest remain easily accessible—but out of the way—on the Other tab.

In Outlook for Windows, Focused Inbox is available only for Microsoft 365, Exchange, and accounts.

Change how your messages get organized

From your inbox, select the Focused or Other tab, and then right-click the message you want to move.

To move a message from Focused to Other, select Move > Move to Other inbox. Select Always move to Other inbox if you want all future messages from the sender to be delivered to the Other tab.

If you are moving a single message from Other to Focused, select Move > Move to Focused inbox. Select Always move to Focused inbox if you want all future messages from the sender to be delivered to the Focused tab.

Bonus tip: Enable task view

If you are using Microsoft ToDo as your application for managing your Getting Things Done Tasks. Then I can suggest enabling the Task view in Outlook. This will give you a direct overview from all your tasks. You can directly manage your tasks. If you flag an email, it will also be showing in the task list and you can manage an email like a task.
It will also be presented in ToDo 🙂