Knowledge Pack: Outlook

Outlook is great. But our outlook towards Outlook is not! That is why we waste lot of our precious time in doing the wrong things in and around Outlook. I have covered many aspects of effective Outlook usage. Here is a comprehensive list, in recommended order of reading.

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Photo credit: simondavies57 / Foter / CC BY-SA

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How to combine multiple calendars in Outlook

Primary calendar is your personal calendar. But in addition you may have additional calendars for specific teams. Usually there is also a Company Calendar and / or Training Calendar. How do we keep track of multiple calendars? Because time is common. No problem. It is a ONE CLICK solution!

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Beyond Task List – Add a duration column

The Need

We have already seen that work is best executed using the Task folder. But just making a list of tasks with deadlines is not enough. We need more information – how much time will each task ACTUALLY REQUIRE to execute. Duration can then be used to sort / filter pending tasks and choosing the right task depending upon time available at hand.

Here is how you do it…

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Arrange meetings with yourself = Time Management

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Thank you all for your support.

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This article is a part of a series about proactive work management. Please read the following articles before reading this article so that you understand the context clearly.

  1. The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?
  2. Tasks folder is your best friend!
  3. Never delegate work using email: Use Outlook Tasks
  4. DO NOT flag mails for follow up. There is a better way…

Recap

  • You must proactively plan and execute your own work
  • The best way to keep track of your work is to create tasks in Outlook
  • Delegation and monitoring is best performed using Assigned Tasks
  • Work sent to you by others by mail should also be converted to Tasks
  • Finally, we have a long list of tasks which is clearly demarcated

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Now you clearly KNOW what is the pending work. This is a great start.

The next step is to ensure that the work is done on time. Let us see how…

The problem: lot of work but no time to do it!

Time is already blocked in meetings – most of them called for by others Steaming mad

Solution? Find time to do the work.

Exactly how?

Tasks + Calendar = Execution

Very easy…

Open Calendar – ideally weekly or work week view

Right click on Task folder and choose Open in New Window. Change the view to Active Tasks.

Make the Tasks window smaller so that you can see the tasks and the calendar together.

Drag a task and drop it on the calendar. Choose the date and time which you feel is convenient.

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We know the expected duration of each task (we created a special column for it). Adjust the duration accordingly in the calendar. If you do not see the Duration column in this view, go to Field Chooser and drag-drop the column once. See this article for details.

Good news: Now everyone knows that you are busy Smile

Do this for as many tasks as you can…

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This is called Time Management!

Few more things

When you drag and drop the task to calendar, there is NO linkage between them.

Just creating a meeting request does NOT mean that you have finished the task in the allocated time.

When you finish the task, you must mark it as complete MANUALLY.

This method works! Try it! Share it
Let me know your thoughts…

The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?

This article assumes that you are using Outlook (and Exchange server) for managing mails. However, the concepts explained here are applicable to any mail / messaging system. However, the remedies mentioned are specific to Outlook-Exchange only and may not work with other products.

Here are some (obvious) facts

  1. We spend a lot of time handling mails (replying to mails)
  2. We also spend a lot of time attending meetings
  3. Most of us are running against time – there is always significant backlog of pending work
  4. Even though we are capable of doing all the pending work, we simply do not seem to have enough time to execute it
  5. Due to this, our capability is not fully actualized – it hinders your growth

Here are some – not so obvious – facts

    1. Everything in Outlook requires at least two parties (sender and recipient)
    2. It is an interaction between YOU and OTHERS (everyone else who can interact with you including all your staff as well as external people like customers, vendors, etc.)
    3. You send mails and others send mails to you. Naturally, the number of mails you mails you RECEIVE are going to be more than mails you SEND.

When you send a mail you are trying to do YOUR WORK. When you reply to someone else’s mail, you are helping OTHERS do their work.

  1. Similarly, the number of meeting requests you SEND are bound to be much lesser than the number of meeting requests you RECEIVE.When you arrange a meeting, you are trying to get YOUR WORK done. When you attend a meeting called by someone else, you are helping OTHERS get their work done!
  2. When you say I spend so much time cleaning inbox, do you realize that you are spending that time helping helping OTHERS ?

Question: When do you do your work?

Very important question. The answer is surprisingly depressing.. the answer is…

Whenever I get time!

And whatever time you have you are literally WASTING in helping others!

Of course, I am not against you helping others. Everything we do is teamwork. But this is a highly skewed version of teamwork.

You are helping others at the cost of your own work!

This is what I call Outlook Paradox

Now let us try to pin down the root cause.

Root cause: false sense of “free” time

When you or others look at your calendar, the time which is not blocked for formal meetings is considered as FREE.

Others are free to request a meeting with you during the FREE time!

The question is – are you really FREE during that time? Is it not the time you get to do your own work?

But somehow, your actual work is never visible in the calendar. That is the root cause of Outlook paradox.

It is surprising that this simple and obvious fact is ignored by billions of people every day.

What is the solution?

The solution is simple. Stop using Outlook the way you currently are.

Turn the tables. Be focused.

Do your work first and then help others!

That is the concept. In reality we have to follow more specific steps. We will cover these steps in detail in upcoming articles. Here are the steps:

  1. Realize that TASK folder is the most important one!
  2. Focus on your work
    1. List down all the work (personal as well as professional)
    2. Specify the estimated time you will need for each work item
  3. Even if others ask you to do some work, monitor it in Task folder (not in Inbox)
  4. Find time to do your work
    1. Allocate time for your work in the calendar
  5. Delegate work in an efficient and effective manner
    1. Use Task delegation features of Outlook
    2. Use SharePoint Task list
    3. Use Microsoft Project for complex projects
    4. Use OneNote to capture and delegate tasks DURING meetings rather than AFTER meetings
  6. Prioritize mails which you respond to – don’t read and respond to every mail which arrives
  7. Learn to manage mails and tasks across multiple devices

Next article

In the next few articles, we will learn these steps in detail.

For now, just go to your task folder, create a new task and see all the options! Get ready for action…