October 2007 Outlook Productivity Newsletter
Welcome back to Michael Linenberger's newsletter series. The series was absent over (a long) summer but we are happy to be back. This month's newsletter will first link into a short article about solving e-mail overload, and then provide tips on Outlook and Linenberger's system usage.

By the way, if you are new to these newsletters, and you'd like to catch up on previous topics, a link to all archived newsletters is included near the very bottom of this page.

And if for some reason this complete newsletter does not load into your e-mail window, or if your system blocks html e-mail, you can see this newsletter at http://www.workdaycontrol.com/NewsletterOct2007.htm.
 


Linked Article: The Trouble with E-mail

Learning how to use e-mail smartly is essential to succeeding in the modern work environment. Why? Because e-mail is a communications medium that was supposed to improve work, but instead it actually makes us work harder. And I am not referring just to the time it takes to read or respond to e-mail. For a discussion of this problem and how you can fix its impact on you, see this short article at this link:
The Trouble with E-mail.


 

 

Contents in this Newsletter:

Food for Thought:

Four Outlook Productivity Tips:


Food for Thought:
 
The first two tips below are ideas that complement the article above by sharing simple ways to make e-mail less of a time sink.


Write Your Replies at the End of the Day, and Gain Time

One "time-zone" approach to e-mail that helps is this: save writing your long e-mail replies for the end of the day. Sure, if you can reply in less than a minute, then go ahead and write a quick reply at any time. But if 30 minutes later you are still crafting and re-crafting a carefully worded, politically-correct message, then you have just lost control of your workday.

Better is to make longer replies your last action of the day. Why? You are less likely to get carried away. Your excess energy from your morning caffeine is spent by the late afternoon. Your initial emotional response has dissipated. And since your major intent at the end of the day is to wrap up and go home, you will more likely limit your reply to the minimum business words needed before you bolt out the door. So you will spend much less time on what for many is a major time sink. This also potentially minimizes the time spent on all-day e-mail threads; instead catch up at the end of the day and have the final word!

Try waiting to the end of the day for these replies and see if it works for you. I use the Outlook Follow-up Flag tool exclusively for the purpose of marking these deferred replies (which works especially well in Outlook 2007 since that also puts an entry in the task list).

But note this: if the reason for not replying is you need to take some action first, then instead of deferring the reply with the Follow-up Flag, convert the e-mail to a full task, per the instructions in the book.


Turn off E-mail Notification, and Gain Time

Another time-saving recommendation for using e-mail is this:  I recommend that you turn off e-mail notification in Outlook at work... you know, that little window that pops up briefly every time you get an e-mail. Why? Unless you work in a customer support role where e-mail is your main connection to customers, I strongly feel e-mail should not be an instant-response medium. The beauty of e-mail when used correctly is that you can batch up your communications into distinct time blocks, and then keep your attention on uninterrupted work much of the other time in the day. Many studies have shown that it can take 5 minutes or more to reorient back to a work task after being interrupted; e-mail notification causes you to be interrupted way too often. With 50 to 100 e-mails a day, the lost time and productivity adds up. Rather, turn off notification and check e-mail only in between blocks of work. Don't worry, you will still survive being out of e-mail touch a few hours at a time, and you will enjoy the focus and time you regain.

The controls to turn off notification are buried surprisingly deep in the Outlook 2003 and 2007 menus. Go to: Tools menu-> Options-> E-mail Options button-> Advanced E-mail Options button-> Then uncheck the boxes as shown in the dialog below:


           Figure: Turning Off E-Mail Notification

Outlook 2002 users should use the same menu/button sequence, but will see a check box when they reach the second dialog (E-mail Options) called Display a Notification Message When New Mail Arrives (clear that), and then need to continue on to the Advanced E-mail Options dialog to clear three more boxes (the top three shown above).

Once this is turned off, if you have specific people you do want instant notification of when mail arrives from them (say your boss), note that you can create an Outlook Rule that will pop up a message upon arrival of their mail. Or create a similar rule to alert you upon arrival of mail with High importance. Use Tools menu-> Rules and Alerts to do this if you feel this is needed (in Outlook 2002 it's Tools menu-> Rules Wizard). Note these alerts are a different kind of alert window, one you need to dismiss with a mouse click, so use sparingly.


Four Outlook Productivity Tips:

Here are four tips related specifically to Outlook functionality that will save you some time when you create tasks or appointments.


Typing "today" in the Task Due Date Field

When you manually create a new task in the TaskPad (Outlook 2003 or older), the Due Date field is by default none (see below).

This is too bad since in most cases you are creating a dated task; in fact, usually you want to set it to today. So you are forced to manually enter a date. While you cannot change this default behavior, you can use a shortcut: After typing the subject, tab over to the date field and type the word "today" (see below) and then hit the Enter key. Outlook then converts this to a real date.

This saves a little time and may avoid selecting the wrong date. By the way, in Outlook 2007 Microsoft fixed this and made today's date the default entry in that field.



Tasks vs. Appointments

I usually recommend that you place your next-step (daily) tasks as tasks on your task list, not as appointments on your calendar. Why? Because these small tasks are usually best worked opportunistically off a list, as the appropriate situation arises. And they are usually not day specific. It is silly to block out a specific time for a task that may only take 10 minutes to do, when its best moment to act may come spontaneously. And even if you just put it at the top of your calendar without a time, if you forget to do the task by end of day, when tomorrow comes you may not see it on yesterday's calendar, and so you may drop it. Since the task list retains all tasks from day to day until you complete them, learn to use the Outlook task list effectively, per my Outlook system, for tasks that can slip (and for even those that can't).

However, there are times when scheduling a task as an appointment is the best approach. For example, once you realize that you cannot decompose a task to a smaller next step, and if the remaining action still represents more than hour or so of work, now is a good time to schedule it as an appointment on your calendar. That way you are more likely to do the task because time is already blocked out. Especially if the deadline is upon you: this is the other time to use the calendar for tasks. If a deadline is coming up, mark that deadline and any last action time needed towards completion with an appointment on your calendar. That way you lock in time to meet the deadline. But keep the item also on your task list, in case you need to blow off the appointment, so you do not lose sight of the task when you return to work the next workday.


Converting Tasks to Create Appointments

To accomplish creating task-appointments as described above, note that you can convert a TaskPad/To-Do Bar task to an Outlook calendar appointment by simply dragging the task out of the task list onto the adjacent calendar (see below). When you drag and drop, an appointment window will open and you'll need to adjust some details on the item: time, perhaps date, and maybe a reminder. Now you have your large action step locked in.



Dragging Documents (Files) to Create Tasks

If you have read my book, you know you can drag e-mail to the Tasks icon or banner button in Outlook to create a task from that e-mail. But did you know you can do the same with a file or document? From Windows Explorer (file window), just drag a document icon into the Outlook application window and drop it on the Tasks icon or banner button. Once done, a new task window opens up with the document attached to it as a file.

Why would you want to do this? One example is if you need to e-mail a doc to somebody and are not ready to compose the supporting e-mail yet, but you do not want to forget to send it. Create a task now to write the cover e-mail and to send later; with the file attached to that task, you won't need to search for it again when you act on the task out of your task list.
 
Workshops, Talks, and Executive Coaching
by Michael Linenberger: Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook


The above tips are just that, small suggestions to help you succeed with Outlook. But if you want to transform your team, there is no better way than an on-site workshop or coaching session on the complete Linenberger system. Boost productivity 25% and more by learning how to get full control of your e-mail and tasks. Keynote speaking is also available for your corporate gatherings. See the workshops page for information on the full and half-day seminars. Or better, call 888-216-7041 to hear about all presentation options, and to discuss the best approaches for your organization. If you cannot get all your staff to read and use Michael's book, a workshop is a good solution.

Here's a quote from the CIO of an organization that has had Michael train nearly all the company's employees on his system:

Ive tried them all and the thing about Michael's approach is that it not only works with a product I'm already familiar with and use extensively every day (Outlook) but it's also a system I can use without major disruptions to my work life - it just works. By implementing this approach I've gone from well over 1,000 emails in my in box to the point where I can now leave at the end of the day with less than 10. I'm also much more relaxed knowing that I have a handle on all the items I need to work on... In short, this approach has transformed my work life, so much so that we arranged to have Michael come in for 2 days and train our entire staff. Those who have embraced the system report similar gains in productivity and reductions in stress."
K.V., CIO, VP Knowledge Management, Washington, D.C.
 


That's all for now. Good luck with all your endeavors, and please do this: commit today to getting your e-mail and tasks under control. Once you do, it will change your whole attitude about work.

Michael Linenberger

PS: Remember to forward this e-mail newsletter on to a friend if you think they could benefit from it.


 

Copyright 2007 Michael Linenberger