10 Outlook Hacks, Tips and Tricks to Improve Productivity and Time Management

Microsoft Outlook is mainly known as an email and calendar system, but with a few tweaks you can improve your personal productivity, improve your time management and even perform time tracking. In this article we explore 10 Microsoft Outlook hacks, tips and tricks to help you use Outlook more effectively.

Is it worth the effort?

Yes it is! From research we undertook, people that do this report benefits and improvements, including:

  • Improved productiveness
  • Improved time management
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved focus on tasks
  • Better in office reputation
  • More free time

Tip 1) Improve productivity – turn OFF notifications

This may seem counter intuitive, but turning off notifications will actually improve your productivity. Notifications are distractions, they kill your productivity by taking your mind off what you are doing, and sap time when you restart what you were previously doing.

It depends on your role at work, but if you can turn notifications off and can instead look at your email, chat or other systems at regular intervals, your productivity and effectiveness will improve.

  1. Go to the File Menu and choose Options > Mail
  2. Go to the Message Arrival section, and uncheck the ‘Display a Desktop Alert’
Outlook Hacks - Turn off notifications

Tip 2) Improve your time management – use Tasks and the To-Do list

Most of use a to-do list in some form or another to manage our time, and there are many ways to do this in Outlook.

From research we undertook, we found that 23% of respondents use their calendar as a to-do list, 13% use their inbox, 38% use an actual to-do list. As Microsoft Outlook has all of these functions, at least 74% of us can use Outlook for time management.

New Outlook Menu

The latest version of Microsoft 365 adds a vertical menu on the left hand side of the screen, which makes accessing the To-Do list much easier. This is a much welcomed enhancement.

The naming convention is still a bit confusing, but to overcome this, think of it like this: just as your Inbox has emails and your Calendar shows appointments, your To-Do list is made up of important Tasks that you need to do.

Tip 3) Stay on top of your daily Tasks – display your To-Do list in your Inbox

In a busy working environment, it is easy to get distracted, overlook Tasks and fall behind. A good way to avoid this is to make your To-do list visible in your Inbox:

  1. Click on the ‘View’ tab. In the ‘Layout’ section of the Ribbon menu
  2. Now click on ‘To-Do Bar’, and set it to show ‘Tasks’ (ignore the other options for now)

The Task pane will now be displayed to the right of your email list and will remain visible at all times, which is perfect for managing your To-Do list.

Email to do bar

Tip 4) Add your To-Do list to your Calendar

You can also add your To-Do list to your diary. To do this:

  1. Go to the ‘View’ Tab and in the ‘Layout’ area, choose ‘To-Do Bar’
  2. Choose ‘Tasks’.

You’ll now see your full To-Do list to the right of your screen.

Outlook calendar To-Do bar

Instead of having to go back and forth from your Inbox or Calendar to your To-Do list, adding your To-Do list to your Inbox and Calendar saves time, and helps you keep on top of your Tasks.

You’ll now see your full To-Do list to the right of your screen.

Instead of having to go back and forth from your Inbox or Calendar to your To-Do list, adding your To-Do list to your Inbox and Calendar saves time, and helps you keep on top of your Tasks.

You’ll have to get used to glancing over to check your To-Do list, adding Tasks and marking them as complete once done. However, making the effort to form this habit, you’ll soon see, is worth the effort.

Showing your To-Do list in your Calendar and Inbox helps you manage your time better.

Tip 5) Display a daily To-Do list on each date in your Calendar

Although the diary To-Do list shows all tasks in your list, if you use the Start date (or End date) for Tasks and want to be reminded of tasks on the day they start or end, you can turn on the daily task view.

This is actually very handy if you use start or end dates and you should at least try it:

  1. Go to the ‘View’ tab
  2. In the ‘Layout’ area, choose ‘Daily Task List’
  3. Choose the ‘Normal’ option
Outlook calendar daily task view

You’ll now see a daily task list at the bottom of each day. As a default, the Daily Task List arranges tasks by Due Date.

This might be fine for you, but if you have a Task which is due next Monday, you won’t see it until you get into next week. When using the daily task list and the full to do list, it can be more helpful to arrange daily Tasks by start date. To change the this:

  1. From the ‘Daily Task’ area at the bottom of your screen, right click on the ‘Show Tasks on: Due Date’
  2. Now choose ‘By Start Date’

Tip 6) Adding Tasks to your To-Do list

Now that you have your To-Do list visible in your Inbox and Calendar, it’s time to start adding tasks.

You can create tasks (to-do items) manually, by moving your mouse over a blank area in the To-Do list and double clicking in the blank space, or by right clicking and choosing ‘New Task’). However, you can also create tasks from emails.

Create Outlook Tasks from To-Do list

Tip 7) Turn emails into To-Do list items

Tasks often start from emails that you receive, and when they do, they can be quickly turned into Tasks, which is much easier than setting them up manually.

To create a Task from an email:

  1. Hover over the email
  2. Notice the red flag icon that appears on the far right of the email
  3. By clicking on the flag, the email is added as a Task and the flag turns red. A single click sets the email to ‘Follow up Today’, and another click sets it to ‘Completed’
Turn an Outlook email into a Task

It is all too easy to be interrupted by emails and get side tracked.

Now we can see how these tips work together. If you turn off email notifications (as we showed in 1 above), but check your emails every hour or so, you can review them, and turn important ones into Tasks.

By implementing tips 3, 4 & 5, your tasks are visible from your Inbox and calendar, so you can more easily review your Tasks to make sure you focus on the most important and urgent items.

Try it! If you’ve turned your task pane in emails on already, when you click on the flag the email is flagged as a follow up item and added to your to-do list. If you right mouse click in the flag column, you can choose other follow up dates.

Tip 8) Turn emails into follow-up actions in your calendar

Sometimes rather than creating an important follow up as a Task, it may be best to schedule it as an actual appointment. This could be a follow up call, a meeting, or something that you need to do which needs to occur at a specific date and time. In this case create it as an Outlook appointment.

Try It Now! Turn an email into a Task and schedule it as an appointment:

Drag the email onto the Calendar icon in the left menu (or bottom menu for older versions) . In a few seconds a new appointment window with the email as the body text will load. Specify the follow-up date and time, then click Save & Close.

Emails can be turned into tasks and appointments, and when you do, the email shows the following message in it’s heading to show that this email appears in both your calendar and your To-Do list.

Schedule Outlook email as an appointment

Tip 9) Improve your Time Management use Outlook

Research shows that around 90% of us use some of to-do list at work. We’ve shown you the mechanics of how to make your To-Do list visible in your Inbox and Calendar. Additionally, we’ve shown you how to quickly and easily turn emails into Tasks and appointments. Now it’s time to look at how you can use these tools to help you become more effective and productive, by using Outlook as a time management system.

There are many Time Management techniques (time blocking, eisenhower matrix, pomodoro, eat the frog and more). Time blocking can be used with the Outlook calendar, but the Eisenhower matrix works really well with your Inbox and.

What is the Eisenhower Time Management Matrix?

The idea of the Eisenhower Matrix is that by categorizing your tasks by importance and urgency, you can more easily focus on the priority items, and not get held back on less important or urgent items.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower Matrix Quadrants

Quadrant 1 – Urgent and Important.
These need to be done as soon as possible – put them in your To-Do list for today.

Quadrant 2 – Important, but less Urgent.
These can be scheduled for later – add them to your calendar or create them as a Task in your To-Do list to do later.

Quadrant 3 – Urgent, but not Important.
These are important and need to be done, but you have more important items to do, so delegate these to someone else to do.

Quadrant 4 – Not Important and not Urgent either.
Do these really need to be done? If they don’t, delete them. If they do need to be done, then they are either more important or more urgent than you think – delegate them to someone else or schedule them to do later.

Try it! See if it works for you

As emails arrive, ask yourself “is it urgent?” and “is it important” and take action accordingly. Create tasks from emails for Quadrant 1 items, schedule Quadrant 2 items in your calendar (or as tasks with an end date). You’ll quickly see the value of adding your To-Do list to your Inbox (Tip 3) and Calendar (Tip 4). By doing this you’ll have a shorter, more precise and more focussed To-Do list of important and urgent items, and you’ll have scheduled reminders for the less urgent items, but most importantly, there are huge benefits from improved time managements.

Benefits of the Eisenhower technique

From research we undertook, these are the benefits people say they get from time management, and you have to admit, these are pretty good returns on investment!

Tip 10) Use your Scheduled Tasks in Time Tracking

If you need to track the time you spend at work, you can use our time tracking Outlook app. This Outlook hack turns appointments into timesheets and gives you an Outlook time tracking system.

If you give the Eisenhower Matrix a try, you’ll see that your quadrant 2 items  (important but not urgent items) flow directly into your timesheet, but you can also track time for non appointment or task items directly.

By turning appointments into timesheets, Timewatch’s Outlook time tracking system saves people hours each week. It works with all versions of Outlook, and there is a plugin for Outlook  for Windows that adds this functionality inside Outlook so you can track time without ever leaving Outlook.

Outlook Calendar With Time Tracking
Users can enter manual timesheet entries, which are shown in the bar at the top of the calendar.
These blue Outlook appointments are in the timesheet already and are included in the total time for the day and week.
Total per day are shown at the bottom of the screen. They are colored red for days that do not meet minimum hours, and green for days that do.
These appointments don’t have enough information to be added to the timesheet yet. They need a customer / project, or a category that has a customer / project assigned. Either takes seconds, and once done, the time is added to the timesheet.
Users can configure their timesheets in various formats: – Work Week – Full Week – Bi-weekly – Monthly
The timesheet is designed to look and feel like Outlook, with the same ribbon menu and calendar, but with timesheet functionality.

Appointments in this Outlook calendar, are automatically added to the timesheet on the right.

Timewatch’s OutlookTime system turns Outlook appointments into timesheets, saving users hours each week and making timesheets more accurate. It also works with Teams and Google.

So who is Timewatch?

Timewatch are specialists in managing time in business, from scheduling and planning time, to tracking, billing and analytics of project time. Timewatch develop resource scheduling, time tracking and professional services automation systems, as well as analytics / reporting, time tracking and scheduling solutions for Outlook and Teams. We work closely with our customers to overcome the limits they come up against in Outlook so that they can continue to use Outlook as a core business tool, but seamlessly integrated with our solutions.

Want to Learn More About These Outlook Hacks?

Even if you find one of these Outlook hacks of interest, have any questions or want to see how you could use any of these Outlook hacks in your organization, please contact us. You can contact us via chat, you can also request a call with a product specialist or book a free consultancy call with a systems implementer.

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Learn more about Timewatch Outlook hacks.

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