Jan 01 2006

Improving Your Outlook

Reversing the 80/20 rule can help you get more out of Outlook.

Microsoft's Outlook is a quintessential example of the 80/20 rule about software: 80 percent of users only take advantage of 20 percent of the features. That's unfortunate when you consider that you've already paid for it.

Here are two simple ways to increase employee efficiency through better use of Outlook:

Problem 1: How many times do employees request contact information from someone else's Rolodex, or run in circles trying to schedule meetings?

Solution: Sharing calendars and contacts. In the folder list, simply left click on the calendar or contacts folder and select Sharing. You can then share with other specific users or grant everyone the right to read the folder's contents.

Individuals may elect to hide particular contacts or calendar appointments even though their contacts have been added to the Sharing folder. To do this, click the Private button on the lower right corner of the calendar appointment or contact. In the case of a calendar appointment, other employees will be able to see that there is an appointment blocking that time, but not the subject or the details.

To access another employee's calendar or contacts that have been shared, go to File/Open/Other User's Folder. In the dialog box, select the user's name and contacts or calendar in the folder type. The Name button will bring up the Global Address List.

The employee's folder will remain in the Other Contacts or Other Calendars section of Outlook until you remove the link to the folder. To remove the link, simply right click on the folder and select Remove From Other Contacts.

Problem 2: Forgetfulness. E-mails invariably get ignored. Especially when they communicate assignments that the recipient doesn't really want to tackle in the first place.

Solution: Assign tasks. With the task bar open, click on the Assign Task button on the tool bar. The individual who is assigned the task will be notified via an automatic e-mail. Once the user clicks Accept, the task will remain indefinitely in the user's and the assignee's task folder. When the user clicks the task complete, the task originator will be notified that the task is complete.

The assignee can request status reports from the task folder. The task recipient doesn't have to worry about keeping track of tasking, and once completed, both have the satisfaction of checking the task off their lists.

Problem 3: Keeping track of phone calls, faxes, messages and meetings.

Solution: Activate the Journal. The Journal lets users log phone calls, conversations and other communications and link those entries to Outlook Contacts. Journal entries are searchable using Outlook's Find feature in and can be shared with other users just like Contacts and the Calendars.


CEO Takeaway

Little productivity gains go a long way. The next time you've got a few minutes of downtime, check out the following suggestions from Barton Shulman, CEO of Volant Consulting in San Francisco, on Outlook features you should try:

File by Name. Using the Rules Wizard, automatically file e-mails from selected senders and organizations. This will ensure that no important missives get lost in an overcrowded inbox.
Mail Merge. If sending group mailings, use your Outlook contact database from within Microsoft Word.
Color Coding. Assign color-coded categories to key entries in your Outlook Address Book, so that everything comes in as red. With Outlook 2003, you can also color-code calendar entries.
Delayed Sending. The option menu on the e-mail message toolbar allows you to delay sending a message until a specified date and time. You can remind your accountant today to send the IRS a check and tell Outlook to send it on April 14.
Stop storing e-mail. Convert e-mails to tasks as they come in, and clear out your inbox.


James T. Kavanaugh is the controller at Parker Thompson Inc., a general contractor and residential remodeling firm in East Providence, R.I.