Email productivity thread

Gaining proficiency with MS Outlook has been really important in helping me accomplish as much as I have.

Now, I can usually process 200-300 emails in about 30 minutes. I’m asked frequently how I do it - I will try to explain in this thread.

It starts with being able to search efficiently and accurately. For many many years, I didn’t know how to do this. I would type a few words in the search bar and then scroll the myriad of hits till I found what I was looking for.

There is a better way.

First, go to options within the file menu and change your search setting to search all outlook items, not just the current folder. This will save you from having to tell outlook you do it with each individual search

Next, pay attention to your ribbon once you click into the search bar. Numerous modifiers appear: from, to, subject, attachments etc. instead of free form searching, I find it much more efficient to put in the keywords by modifier first. This narrows my searches down to ~10

When our team had people do simulated searches within their email without the modifiers, people took between 5-30 mins to find their email and many didn’t find it at all. With the modifiers, very consistent 1-3 mins.

If you are not already fascile with this, I highly recommend start by forcing yourself to use the search modifiers for every search for a few weeks (even when you know where your target is).

Why is this so important?

Because this next step usually causes people the most anxiety. I didn’t complete this step overnight, so take your time with it.

This step is about reducing the amount of time and mental energy needed to process email. This step is about reducing folders

The more folders u have, the more decisions u need to make to process emails. Each email consumes a little more energy & a little more time. This adds up though when u have hundreds of emails a day, day after day, year after year.

Other than inbox, How many do I have? One

I have a reference folder. Anything that I need to save gets put into that folder. Everything else is deleted (and I rarely delete anything). So, it’s a very easy decision where to put things. They almost all go to reference folder.

I don’t leave anything in my inbox.

You’re probably wondering what happens if I need to find an email? Well, that’s why I stress the importance of searching. It’s the key to reducing folders, reducing decisions, reducing stress, reducing time.

What about when there are actions to get done?

When there is an action to be done in the email, if I can do it in a minute or two and have all needed information to get it done, I do it right away.

If not, I send it to my omnifocus todo list. This is about processing incoming communications quickly to understand it all.

Once there, I then file the email into reference for review later if needed.

Now how do I do this even faster? I use MS Outlook tools, like rules, quick steps, and quick parts.

Let’s briefly go over them...

First, rules.

These are powerful. Rules tell outlook to do things automatically when some conditions you set are met. If done right, they can reduce the number of emails you need to think about.

When done poorly...?

Imagine a rule that automatically sends all emails from spouse to trash...HUGE problem!

So I suggest be careful. Test it out, and maybe alert your spouse early that your tinkering with a rule (just in case).

Let’s talk about my favorite outlook optimization - Quicksteps!

Quick steps allow u to create a custom button that when you push it, outlook performs many actions immediately.

These sit right in the middle of ur ribbon and U probably scanned right over them many times

I have one that sends the email selected to omnifocus, and files the original in reference automatically. This makes it even easier to process. I have another that moves the email into reference. Finally I have one that deletes the email.

Why is this magical?

Well, now I can leave my mouse in the quicksteps box and move it a couple millimeters between buttons and process emails where they need to go. Quickly, accurately.

But you may be wondering...what if you need to type a response?

This is where quickparts comes in. If I have to type the same message frequently (ex don’t forget to get your vacation requests in!) then create a quick part (Outlook version of a macro). This makes it quicker to insert the same text into emails frequently.

Yes, of course, sometimes I need to just type a response. But these tips and tricks make it so much easier.

Fewer folders, fewer decisions, easy retrieval, rules to handle some things automatically, system optimized to process quickly, common responses programmed as macros.

All of this helps me process about 7-10 emails per minute. That’s 200-300 emails in 20-30 minutes. Then this allows me to block off a couple 30 minute times daily to do this processing and then save the rest of the time to go through omnifocus and get things done.

As with anything, this takes practice and patience. Sometimes it’s going well, other times you’ll fall off the wagon. Don’t worry, just get back on and try again. I have much more I can share, please invite me out to talk to your team about email happiness.

Thank you for reading this far! Thank you to @TessaRDavis for inviting me to talk with her and @M_Lin @srrezaie @marco_propersi and others. It was fun!

#medtwitter #nursetwitter #medstudenttwitter #email #inboxzero #productivity #efficiency #processimprovement


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More from @VenkBellamkonda

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