Good email management requires regular attention to your inbox and sent items as well as lots of dragging, dropping, and deleting. Some of the tasks you perform regularly in Outlook can easily be automated, thus saving you time.
This post reviews two methods of automating repetitive actions in Outlook.
When you create Outlook Rules, you are essentially “programming” Outlook to routinely perform certain actions for you. The most popular use of Outlook Rules is to automatically folder incoming emails based on sender, subject, or a combination of the two.
I recommend using Outlook Rules to automatically folder your developmental reading, eNewsletters, and professional association notifications that arrive via email. I don’t recommend automatically foldering substantive, business-related emails because of the risk of neglecting time-sensitive communications with colleagues and/or clients.
Here’s how to set up an Outlook Rule for your reading materials:
- Create a folder (such as “Newsletters” or “Reading”) for non-urgent items you regularly receive as a result of a subscription or distribution list.
- Pick “prototypical” emails that represent what you would like Outlook to automatically sort into your folder.
- Right-click on that email
- Highlight “Rules” and click “Create Rule…”
- Select the appropriate Condition from the options at the top of the window
- Select “Move e-mail to folder” in the bottom part of the window
- Click the “Select Folder…” button to choose the appropriate folder
- Click OK
- Check the box to “Run this rule now” if you want Outlook to sort all existing emails as well as the new ones into that folder
Grouping your reading together can help you stay abreast of industry news on a regular basis. A reading folder will also help you delete older, unread newsletters more easily. Set a goal to keep no more than one month’s worth of newsletters in your reading folder. You may also want to put a recurring appointment on your calendar to read the articles you’ve collected.
Outlook Rules, once set up, run on their own. Quick Steps, by contrast require your intervention to work – you have to click something to activate them. The Quick Steps menu is located in the middle of the Home tab in your Outlook Mail window. If you commonly forward emails to certain individuals, or file emails in particular folders, Quick Steps may be helpful for you.
I recommend that you create no more than six Quick Steps, to perform the following types of actions:
- Move to Folder – In the image above, you’ll see a Quick Steps that says “Speakers.” I can click any email, click Speakers, and the email will be moved to my Speakers folder.
- Forward to Person (or People) – Notice the “To Manager” Quick Step above? That button can be customized to forward to anyone – your manager, your assistant, or a group of people. Click it to customize it.
- Reply & Delete – This is my favorite Quick Step of all. Instead of clicking the Reply button, click Reply & Delete! This moves the received email to the Deleted Items folder and simultaneously opens up a reply window. This is a great way to reduce duplication in your mailbox.
- Create New – If you are feeling ambitious, you can create customized, multi-step Quick Steps as needed. Here is a 3-minute video that can help.
Note: The first time you click a Quick Step button (with the exception of Reply & Delete), you will be asked to set it up.
Try these two tips out and see if automating routine tasks in Outlook will help you be more efficient with managing your email.
These tips and much, much more are available in my Organizing with Outlook seminar. This seminar helps participants not only learn how to use Outlook but also when and why to make use of certain features. Contact me to inquire about bringing this seminar to your conference or workplace.
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Dr. Melissa Gratias (pronounced "Gracious") is a work psychologist who helps overwhelmed and underappreciated businesspeople be more focused and effective. Since 2007, thousands of people have graduated with honors from her onsite sessions, distance coaching, productivity seminars, and corporate consulting projects. Based in Savannah, Georgia, Melissa is available for nationwide consulting and speaking engagements. Contact her via email at email@example.com or call 912-417-2505. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter or visit her website, melissagratias.com.