Take Five: Use Outlook To Boost Productivity

IT analyst shares technology tips for staying organized

Part of the Take Five Series

For Lisa Phillips, Microsoft Outlook isn't just an email program and calendar. It's an organizational tool that helps keep her on time, on topic and ready to meet her day.

Phillips, an IT analyst with Duke Health Technology Services, presented a session on Outlook tips for PC users at Duke's fifth annual Tech Expo earlier this month.

"The best part is that you choose what works for you and what doesn't," Phillips said. "I love the 6 a.m. text message with my schedule for the day. You may love the ability to color code your schedule according to project or place."

Here are five of Phillips' top tips for using Outlook to increase productivity and stay organized:

1. Use "

Quick" features to save time.

"Quick Steps can save you 30 minutes a day moving mail to folders, and Quick Parts can save you 15 minutes composing a canned email response to routine requests," Phillips said.

Quick Steps allows users to manage their inbox by applying multiple actions -- such as reply and delete, categorize and move to a folder, or create a meeting from an email -- with one click. Quick Parts, sometimes called "Stationary" in Lotus Notes, allows users to create and reuse boilerplate snippets such as directions to a location or frequently cited policies.

"Basically, for anything you will send out more than once, it's easier than an attachment and faster to do," Phillips said.    2. Consider grouping and sorting email and calendar entries with categories.

Instead of viewing email by date, subject line or sender, Phillips uses customizable, color-coded categories. She also uses categories for her calendar: "You can tell at a glance what kind of week you are going to have by the color of your calendar entries," she said. "Everyone has a personal preference. The way that works best for you is the right way."

3. Use flags as visual reminders.

Flagged items become tasks and appear on show up on the bottom right of your main email screen. Clicking in that area creates a new "Task Tools" ribbon that allows you to sort tasks by different criteria such as date or importance.

4. Learn how to recall sent messages.

"If you send a message and realize you forgot something or decided it wasn't a good idea, recall it," Phillips said. "There are caveats: The message must be unread and sent to an internal address. You will get a message for every successfully recalled message. Then you can choose to delete the unread message or you can send a replacement email. The intended recipient gets a notification that a message was recalled, but they will have no idea why it was recalled."

5. Set up text message notifications.

Users can set up their Outlook account to notify them about missed calls and voicemail messages, calendar updates and emails that meet specific criteria.

As an early user of Outlook, Phillips said she appreciates being able to share what she’s learned with others.

"People don't always have time to learn something new because they're busy doing their jobs," she said. "If someone can just learn one thing (from the presentation) that helps in their daily life, it's a success."

Phillips' presentation, which includes specific instructions, is available for download on the Tech Expo website, along with other presentations.