In its early days, email was novel—it enabled us to connect with colleagues quickly and, as we saw it, supercharge our productivity. But email swiftly become an albatross, delivering anxiety and inefficiency instead of increased productivity.
Still, email continues to be the primary means of communication in business. Despite the growing adoption of collaboration apps like Teams and Slack, studies suggest that daily email traffic has increased by 5 percent each year since 2015 .
But that doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of distended inboxes, unwieldy attachments, missed conversations, and never-ending email threads. Outlook, which you most likely use for work, has matured in recent years, and Microsoft continues to add new features and functionality on a regular basis.
Daily email traffic may be increasing, but that doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of distended inboxes, unwieldy attachments, missed conversations, and never-ending email threads.
Many of the recent changes to Outlook are designed to simplify communication and collaboration. Here are five tools—both recently added and long available—that, if used correctly, can increase your productivity and change how you work:
- @Mentions: Interruptions like switching between apps can reduce your productivity—an often-cited University of California Irvine study found that it takes about 23 minutes and 15 seconds to resume work after an interruption. Office 365’s @Mentions feature, which is available in Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and Teams—is aimed at reducing interruptions and context-switching. To get someone’s attention in an email or meeting request, simply type the @ symbol followed by the person’s name in the message body or meeting invitation details. Outlook will automatically highlight the mention, plus include the person in the To line of the message or the meeting invite. Recipients will see an @ symbol next to the message in their inbox and can use @Mentions as search/filter criteria.
- Attachments: Collaborating and co-authoring via attachments is quickly becoming a relic, and thankfully so. Because each person would work on a separate document, the editing process was usually slow, inefficient, and confusing. Microsoft has been steadily improving Outlook’s attachment functionality—the ability to attach links to files saved in OneDrive or SharePoint has radically transformed the editing and collaboration process. Files are also easier to find—when you click Attach File, a dropdown list shows a dozen of your recent items.
- Send availability: If you work with external colleagues, it’s critical for you to be able to view their calendars when setting up meetings. With Outlook’s Send Availability feature, you can send a copy of your calendar to external colleagues and vice versa. You can specify date range, level of detail, layout, and other options. Your calendar is sent to the recipient as an .ics file, which they can open in Outlook or another program to view it side-by-side with their own calendars.
- Rules: This feature has been available in Outlook for years, and it’s still one of the most useful for automatically categorizing and sorting mail. A rule is a condition or action set by you to organize sent or received messages. For example, if you want to make sure you don’t miss emails from your company’s CEO, you can create a rule that alerts you with a pop-up and a ding when you receive one. Your rule can also include other actions such as marking the message as important and moving it to a specific folder, for example.
- Quick steps: The Quick Steps feature is similar to Rules, except Quick Steps don’t run automatically like Rules do. Quick Steps enables you to apply multiple actions at the same time to your messages—for example, if you often move messages to the same folder, you can set up a Quick Step to move them with one click. Outlook includes default Quick Steps, and the ability to create your own from scratch.
These tools are just a few among many Outlook features that are aimed at improving collaboration and communication. Plus, with every update, Microsoft adds new or changed functionality. The key for you, as a business user, is to stay on top of the changes. While your employer naturally bears some of the training responsibility, you are also duty-bound.
Ask what kind of training your organization provides and sign up promptly. Find out if your company provides other learning resources, such as self-help, web-based and other options. After all, it’s you who receives more than 125 emails per day and spends a quarter of your work week reading or responding to emails .
IMAGE: Lionel Walter Rothschild (photo) Book Cornish, C. J. (Charles John), 1858-1906, Selous, Frederick Courteney, 1851-1917 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.