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5 Outlook Tricks to Improve Efficiency

Outlooks appears to be the de-facto email and scheduling suite used by offices around the United States, for better or worse. Unfortunately, the program is enormous and it's impractical to learn all that there is to learn. Then again, you're selling Outlook short if you use it for nothing but the basics.

Here are a few quick and dirty tricks that you should find useful to increase your efficiency in Outlook.

Use Quick Parts

Quick parts is essentially Outlook's auto-fill beefed up. If your practice requires you to repeatedly use the same line of text, it's useful to save that text in Outlook's Quick Part so you can append it easily in your emails and scheduler. Type out the desired text, highlight it in the composer, and then save the selection to "Quick Parts gallery." This little trick will insert your phrase into Outlook's auto-fill dictionary, in which case you quickly select it, just like many search engine auto-suggest algorithms.

Redefine What "Read" Means

You're getting slammed with countless emails in a day. You'll inadvertently click on a seemingly random message that floats across your screen. An hour passes. Suddenly, you're on the receiving end of your boss's spittle because you've "read" her message -- but you didn't.

How do you keep track of what you read? The default for most programs is to mark an email as read just as soon as you open it. In Outlook, the time is 5 seconds; the color of the font changes as well. However, you can change the default settings so that the default time is extended, so an email will not get marked as read until enough time has passed. Find the Mail menu under Options and then click the Reading Pane button. Check box the "mark items as read when viewed in the reading pane box." 20 seconds should be a good default.

New Search Folders

This is related somewhat to the tip above. It's very easy to get buried in messages and to miss important material. Sometimes you'll want to search for message from specific persons because their messages are just more pressing. Find the Folder tab in Outlook click New Search Folder.

You will see a long list of options, but the most important are the "mail from and to specific people" and "create a custom Search Folder" options. Once you've entered your groups, the new folders will appear along the bottom left plane. Check it throughout the day and the messages from those specific parties will be partitioned away from the noise. Again, this has most use for people who see up to several hundred messages a day.

Sync Google Calendar With Outlook

Google Calendar allows a syncing feature with Outlook. If you're on a PC, select Calendar Settings in Google Calendar's dropdown and click private address, then ICAL to obtain the URL of your calendar's iCal feed. Now, in Outlook, go to File; Account Settings; Account Settings. Select the Internet Calendar's tab and insert the entire URL into the dialogue window that opens. In about 30 minutes your Google Calendar events should have synced up and it will be up in Outlook. Be mindful that the entire group will be able to see these events.

Of course, you have to be mindful about letting Google peak into yet another aspect of your private life (read PRISM).

Ignore Useless Threads

This happens on Facebook and it can happen at work. If you find yourself somehow intertwined in a very active thread that pings you throughout the day, mute the darn thing and delete it. Highlight the thread that you want to ignore. If you're a PC user, this will mean right-click to you. You will get the option to ignore the thread. If you confirm, you will delete any present and past communications having to do with that thread; and you will not receive any future updates.

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