When was the last time you played tourist in your city, town, village, or neighborhood?
For most of us we develop clear habits and routines associated with our home areas. For instance, when I lived in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago I could tell you about all the fabulous nooks and crannies within a 10-block radius of my apartment. Ask me about the Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park or Printers Row neighborhoods and they were like foreign cities to me. I ventured there only occasionally and stayed for only a brief period of time.
Over my professional life I have lived in nine different cities, five States, one country and the world of Microsoft Outlook®. I have spent hours every day planning, working, and communicating within Outlook, sharing this experience with millions of people all over the globe.
Over the years Outlook has continued to evolve, adding new features, changing functionality, modifying the interface. Like a commuter on her way to work I would see these new elements popping up along my route to work but I was so busy trying to get to work that I rarely paused to see what those new features were or determine if there was a short-cut that I could take, eliminating my commuter stress or saving me valuable time.
A couple of years ago, when faced with putting in new processes for my business, eliminating wasted steps and minimizing my administrative burden a new thought occurred to me, “What if I approached Outlook like a tourist – with fresh eyes and wonderment?”
Outlook Through Fresh Eyes = More Time
With this new thought in mind I headed over to my local Barnes & Noble, grabbed a couple of Outlook books off the shelf, purchased a latte from the in-house Starbucks café and pulled up a chair to begin my tour of this world. Two hours later I left with a long-list of features and attractions to explore and a list of ideas about improvements, short-cuts and time-savers that I could implement immediately.
The changes I put in place improved my efficiency, increased my productivity and gave me back something that all business owners and professionals crave more of – more time. More time to work on the important things; not just urgent. More time to dream about what could be; not just what I had to do. More time to plan, prepare, and anticipate; not just react. More time to play; not just work.
What would more time mean for you? Are you willing to invest a couple hours of your time upfront in order to have more time in the future? To help get you started here are a couple of my favorite tips that I think you will find useful as you navigate the world of Outlook:
For many of us we spend the majority of time in this neighborhood. Love it or hate it, mail is a never-ending challenge and the one that we tend to have the least control over. Mail comes at us from everywhere and we feel pressure to respond, reply, review as quickly as possible.
In-coming emails: Apply rules that quickly establish priorities. For instance, I add all my clients to a rule which ensures I see these emails as soon as they come in. In your world you might create a rule for key stakeholders in your organization such as your boss, direct reports or groups where your response is time sensitive. The beauty of this approach is you save time scanning emails for those priority items. Let Outlook do that work for you and deliver the information in a way that supports you.
Out-going emails: The secret to my success with client emails is Quick Parts. You will find this handy button buried on the Insert Tab under the Text section. If you have a set of routine or regular communications that you send – to customers, vendors, suppliers, etc – I promise you this one will rock your world.
In the past what I would do is this: I would open a new mail message window. I would switch over to my sent folder. I would search for the person I sent a similar one to previously. Open it. Highlight the area I wanted to reuse. Copy it. Go back to my new email. Put the cursor in the body of the email. Hit paste. Make edits. Hit send. Depending on how hard it was to find the email that I was looking for that process could have taken me 8-10 minutes.
Quick Parts works like this. I open a new mail message window. I develop a template of a standard email with areas color coded or bolded to indicate what may need to be modified to fit a particular situation. I highlight the email contents. I click on Insert > Quick Parts > Save selection to Quick part gallery. I give the item a title and I’m done. Now anytime I have an email that fits that template I open a new message, go to my Quick Parts gallery and select the template. Done. No searching, copying or pasting required. Even if this only saves you 4-6 minutes per email it only takes 10-15 emails and you have an hour back in your day. What is an hour worth to you?
For me this also helps me address my procrastination tendencies by eliminating the need to “think” about it. I can simply rely on this powerful tool to streamline and simplify important but routine communications.
I will admit right up front that I have no internal sense of time so anything to do with schedules, time, follow-up, etc requires that I put in place clear and concise processes that minimize the risk. To facilitate this, I utilize the calendar section of Outlook to help me coordinate my time and tasks. Finding the right view for how you work is important. For me I like to see the work-week view with Tasks on the bottom. That way I can clearly see what is in front of me – what is urgent and what is important – all at the same time.
The other thing I do is go right from an email to Respond > Meeting, eliminating the need to switch over to the Calendar View. Any time you can eliminate a click, a step, a situation where you need to toggle back and forth, is time saved.
For me this neighborhood is all about keeping track of contacts and flagging them for follow-up. Say I want to be sure that I touch base with a contact in 3 months. All I do is go into their contact card, select Tags > Follow-Up > Custom and enter “3 months” in the due date. Outlook calculates the date and adds the item to my list of tasks, reminding me when it’s time to reach back out to that contact. One less piece of information I need to keep in my head. One less chance for me to drop the ball on something.
This is the section that I have historically used the least but now find myself using more robustly. It is so much more than a to-do list! When I am planning a project or initiative I use this section to create my project plan and high-level deliverables, it gives me the ability to lay out the steps needed to accomplish the goal and because it is linked directly to my calendar I can easily drag it into my schedule and assign time to work on it; making it less likely to miss an important milestone. In the past I would have used Excel to create this plan but by using the Tasks function I eliminate the redundancy of adding items to my calendar and updating an Excel file. Again, an opportunity to eliminate waste in my processes and find more time.
Your turn to explore
Where can you play tourist? Is it in one of your work systems like Outlook? Is it in another division of the organization, another department? Where can you apply the concept of “fresh eyes and wonderment” to find more time, more success, more purpose, more joy – more of whatever you want more of? Enjoy the journey!