If you’re looking for a way to streamline day-to-day tasks, combine multiple workflows into one application, and increase productivity, your email inbox is an obvious place to start.
So far, in 2020, the world’s four billion email users are sending an average of 306.4 billion emails per day—a 5% increase over 2019. Much of that growth can be chalked up to the rise of remote work in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But much of it is also perfectly normal, according to data specialists at Statista, who have been compiling email usage numbers for years. In fact, by 2024, the average amount of emails sent per day is forecasted to rise another 20% to 361.6 billion.
Anyone with a functioning email account will tell you they see that deluge every day, too. Political campaigns, promotional newsletters, sales alerts, and spam attempts wreak havoc on our organizational capabilities, cluttering up inboxes minute by minute.
But that communication chaos can be mitigated—particularly if you use Microsoft Outlook, the most popular business email application in the world. Outlook serves as the core of the cloud-based Microsoft 365 service, a productivity suite that boasts nearly 260 million users. With a few time-savers and plug-ins, cleaning up your Outlook inbox can enhance efficiency, increase productivity, and help you stay sane in the face of today’s mail overload.
1. Use the Focused Inbox option.
One of Outlook’s most impressive recent improvements is Focused Inbox, which streamlines the emails that you receive based on sender, subject, and message. Messages sent by contacts within your organization will usually be the first to populate in Focused Inbox; addresses you interact with on a regular basis will typically come next, along with emails that are flagged for importance. Promotional messages or those that come from generic info@ mail addresses will show up in your Other mailbox. And if you ever want to move a particular email from one mailbox to the other, it’s as easy as dragging and dropping or checking the “Always Move to Focused” box. The best part? The more you interact with your Focused Inbox, the smarter it becomes. This is particularly helpful on mobile, where clutter can be overwhelming to scroll through.
2. Take advantage of online meeting plug-ins.
Depending on your version of the application, Microsoft Outlook comes with built-in options for setting up online meetings in either Skype or Microsoft Teams, allowing you to easily create a calendar invite and its accompanying dial-in information. Other popular teleconferencing platforms like Cisco WebEx and Zoom also have integration options for Outlook, transforming the hassle of setting up a meeting in one online ecosystem and sending it in another as easy as one click. Combining this capability with Outlook’s built-in Scheduling Assistant tool can make meeting management with multiple attendees a breeze.
3. Get someone’s attention with mentions in email (and chat apps like Teams).
With remote work shifting from an unusual anomaly to a regular occurrence, one thing we’ve all lost is the ability to say, “Hey, Jane!” when you want to ask someone a question. Luckily, you can achieve a similar thing with Outlook’s @ mentions, which allow you to @Jane in an email, automatically adding your colleague to an email conversation without manually entering her email in the CC field. Even better, when other people use @ to mention you within Outlook, your inbox will show the relevant sentences around that mention in your message preview. This feature works great in Microsoft Teams’ chat function, as well.
4. Carve out focused work time by using “do not disturb.”
If there’s one thing email has achieved completely, it’s connecting colleagues across time zones, physical locations, and virtual offices. That can lead to an overwhelming “always on” sensation, however, taking away from valuable work time when incoming email notifications never stop pinging. Luckily, Outlook has a robust “do not disturb” setting that turns off notifications and let’s you focus on your tasks. Schedule a “do not disturb” in Outlook for the same time every day—maybe after lunch or at the end of the day—or begin a timed session when a to-do list turns into a must-finish list.
5. Organize your inbox with folders—then implement a “deal with it now” rule.
If you need a quick fix for an overflowing inbox, don’t skip this step. Creating folders that live within your inbox can help apply a simple organizational structure to a formerly unruly space. Match the naming system of those folders to your day-to-day work for extra improvement… and then stick to it as new emails arrive by either filing them, flagging them, responding to them, or deleting them. If you need to set aside specific times each day to achieve this, go for it—it could help you finally get a handle on the hundreds of messages you receive every day.
At CMIT Solutions, we understand how email communication can keep a business running—and how it can hinder even the most organized employees. We help clients across North America reduce inbox-related stress and improve productivity by making Microsoft Outlook easier to use.
Have questions about the specific inbox tips listed above? Looking for more ways to streamline your message management? Need help improving employee efficiency or enhancing email security? CMIT Solutions can help. Contact us today so we can make apps like Microsoft Outlook work for your business, not against it.