Use Outlook to Improve your Productivity

Do you receive hundreds of emails a day?  Have you got a few thousand emails in your Inbox?  Did you ever miss critical email or important meeting?  Do you spend too much time looking for an email?  This article would empower you to regain control of your Inbox.

The key to effective management of your email is to organize and prioritize them.  Microsoft Outlook 2007 has many simple but powerful features to let you re-gain control of your Inbox and productivity. 

4 Ds

Delete it – it is simple to delete email but you may want to consider why you receive it at the first place.  If it is from a distribution list that you are not longer interested, then unsubscribe from it.  If it is a junk mail, then add the sender to blocked senders list.

Delegate it – make sure you add a task to follow up.

Do it – but don’t spend too much time.  If it takes more than 2 minutes, then defer it.  Once you processed the email, then you can either delete it or file it to your folders.

Defer it – you can easily defer an email by flagging it.  Once an item is flagged, you would see it in your To-Do Bar.  You may also want to add appropriate categories. 


If you store all your email in a single folder, i.e. your Inbox, very soon it would have over a thousand or even ten thousand emails!  So much that you don’t even want to open your Inbox.  Outlook allows you to create extra folders to organize your email.  However, there is no universal guideline on how you should build your folders structure but I recommend a few folders to start with:

  • Distribution List (DL) / Social Media (SM) Folders – you have joined different social media or subscribed to multiple distribution lists which send you emails frequently.  These emails do not require immediate attention; you should move them away to the corresponding DL / SMs folder and read them later.
  • Reference Folders – store emails that you receive or article on web which contains information that can be used in future.
  • Favorite Folders – some folders are more important than others, e.g. Inbox, Boss, Clients, Current Projects….  You may want to put all your important folders under Favorite Folders.
  • Search Folders – Outlook give you a number of options to choose from, e.g. mail with attachments, mail from specified people and you can also create your customized search criteria.


Now you have all your folders ready.  But it would still consume a lot of time to move your emails from the Inbox to the necessary folders.  Rules help you manage your e-mail by performing actions on messages that match a specific set of conditions.  Rules fall into two general categories: notification and organization.  Notification rules alert you in some way when you receive a particular message.  Organization rules perform one or more actions on a message, e.g. moving to another folder.
*Rules can run automatically or manually.


I disable email notification so that I can focus on my works.  However, if I am expecting an important email from my clients, then I would use Rules to notify me automatically when such email arrives, e.g. from Mr. John Smith of XYZ company.

Color Categories

Color categories allow you to easily identify and group associated items, such as messages, contacts, and appointments so that you can quickly track and organize them.

You can also assign more than one color category to items. You can rename the color categories to something more meaningful to you or choose different colors for the categories. This flexibility enables you to design a color category system that fits your personal work style.

  • 1:1 Boss
  • @Tomorrow, @This Week, @Next Week, @This Month
  • @Email, @Go Train, @Home, @Team Meeting, @Offline
  • @May Be


A task is automatically created when you flag an email; you may like to change the name of the task or add more information to it.  You can also create a new task at the top of Tasks List or in the To-Do Bar.
You should always review your tasks for the day and week ahead and make any necessary adjustment;.  It is also a good practice to add appointment to your calendar to make time to get your tasks done.  Make sure you reserve time for unexpected tasks.
You should add categories to tasks so you can group similar tasks together and process them in a batch.
Learn how to say "NO"!

To-Do Bar

The To-Do Bar is new to Outlook 2007, and it enables you to track your time and tasks wherever you are in Outlook.  The To-Do Bar shows a small monthly calendar, upcoming appointments, and a list of tasks on the side of the screen. In the To-Do Bar, you can accept/decline meetings, quickly access the full Calendar, add new tasks, categorize, rearrange, and change the dates of your tasks all while responding to e-mail.


There is always more to do than the time to do it.  You must set aside time to deal with your e-mail, manage your appointments and tasks, and reflect on what you have to do on your calendar; then commit to it.

Searching Effectively

Below is a list of examples on how you can build more effective searching criteria.

  • From:Andrew
  • Bcc:Andrew
  • Hasattachments:yes
  • Andrew NOT Chan
  • received:>=10/1/06 AND received:<=10/5/06
  • received:lastweek

If you have any further questions on how to use Microsoft Outlook to increase your productivity or manage your Inbox, please email me at

Andrew Chan is the owner and founder of ALG Inc.

We help you to make better and faster decisions!

About Andrew Chan
Andrew Chan is an Business Consultant who gives you accurate, consistent and timely information so that you can make better and faster decisions. He is an Associate of Society of Actuaries with over 20 years of IT experience. Apart from strong analytical skills and proven technical background, he was also a former system director at Manulife who had extensive project management experience. If you are looking for someone to gather, consolidate, validate, visualize and analyze data, look no further! Andrew can provide the most cost effective business analytics solution so that you can explore, optimize, predict and visualize your business. Don’t guess on any decision, no matter it is finance, operation, marketing or sales! Always ask for evidence!

3 Responses to Use Outlook to Improve your Productivity

  1. Paul J. Calleri says:

    Hi Andrew:




  2. Pingback: How much time have I spent on blogging? « Technologies and your business

  3. GaryFPatton says:

    Your tips above are very helpful, Andrew! I note that most and the really powerful ones apply to my e-mail client, g-Mail within the Google Apps Suite.


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