Microsoft Outlook is an indispensable email platform for businesses, but it can also be a productivity killer if not used efficiently. How much time do you spend on email per week? 30 minutes? Two hours? According to several reports, the average Australian worker spends 28% of their week reading and sending emails. That’s around 11 hours per week!

Avoid spending hours of excruciatingly tedious work by optimising your Outlook and utilising these lesser known features.

Set mailbox rules 

One of the best ways to organise your inbox is to use Outlook’s built-in automation tool Rules. Rather than sorting emails manually, you can use Rules to automate routine actions when certain pre-programmed conditions are met. For example, you can create a rule to route all incoming company-wide updates to a folder named “HR announcements.”

To access this feature, click on Options under the Settings menu and go to Organise email > Inbox rules > New. There are generally two types of rules: updates and process-based rules. The former lets you set notification sounds and SMS alerts when you receive messages from a particular person. Meanwhile, process-based rules instantly move, delete, or modify the importance level of messages based on certain criteria. 

Once you’ve picked a template, edit the conditions so emails are organised in a logical way. This reduces the backlog of emails in your main inbox and keeps you laser-focused on your tasks.

Tame your inbox

Another way to deal with an overflowing inbox is to enable Focused Inbox. This feature uses machine learning technology to sort your messages into two tabs: Focused and Other. Emails that are deemed important are sent directly to your Focused tab, while lower-priority messages are left in Other. Go to the View tab and click Show Focused Inbox to automatically categorise your messages. 

Keep in mind that the feature may make mistakes and will need to be trained to improve its accuracy. If new emails are sorted incorrectly, all you have to do is right-click the message and select either the Move to Other or Move to Focused option. You can also choose Always move to Focused/Other if you want future emails from the same address to appear in the respective tabs. Eventually, Outlook recognises the messages you value most so you never have to sift through mountains of less pressing emails.

Create to-do lists with Tasks

If you find it difficult to stay on top of your tasks, Outlook allows you to create quick to-do-lists. Simply hover over messages in your inbox and click on the flag icon. This marks the message as a to-do item. From there, right-click the flag icon and set a due date or reminder to follow-up queries and requests.

To view all your flagged tasks, open the Task page by pressing the check mark (✔) at the bottom of the navigation pane. This page allows you to organise your to-do list, cross off items, and make notes for more detailed instructions. You can even attach files on each task item and share task lists with team members for better collaboration.

Use email templates

Templates are particularly useful when you need to keep your company message and formatting consistent across all outgoing emails. Instead of repetitively composing similar-looking emails from scratch, you can create custom templates to speed up the process. First, create a new email with the subject and body filled in. Then, click the File tab and save it as an Outlook template. Finally, go to New Items > More Items > Choose Form, select the appropriate template, and personalise the email before sending it.

Dictate emails

Not fond of typing emails? Use Outlook’s Dictate feature for Office 365 subscribers. Just turn on your microphone, click on Dictate under the Message tab, and start talking. You can insert punctuation by saying the name of the punctuation mark (Outlook will correct this after you stop recording). Note that Dictate works with the editing language you’ve set in Office 365. If the default language is English (US), for instance, Dictate will transcribe US-spelled words instead of Australian.  

Fact-check with Smart Lookup

Smart Lookup is powered by a cutting-edge search engine to give accurate search results without leaving Outlook. If you spot any confusing terms or phrases, right-click them and open Smart Lookup. This feature will provide dictionary definitions, Wikipedia entries, and top Bing results. You can also make specific queries at any time by going to Review > Smart Lookup.

These features can significantly increase your productivity, but they don’t cover all of Outlook’s powerful capabilities. Microsoft is known for releasing dozens of time-saving features every month, so you’re bound to get even more robust Outlook updates. If you want to know about the latest game-changing Microsoft developments, connect with Empower IT Solutions today.

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