Microsoft Outlook Tips to Help You Be More Productive
Operations | Connections Editor | Dec 19 2019
Just before the holiday, we sat down with Applied Net 2019 speaker Reneé Foo, of AB Solutions, Inc., to learn more about her experience and gather insight from her session “Microsoft® Outlook Advanced Tips and Tricks."
You have more than 25 years of experience working with Applied Systems products. What first brought you into the business of insurance?
During my freshman year of college, I took a job as a telemarketer for a local Allstate agent. Over the next year I obtained my P&C (property and casualty) license and began selling and servicing personal lines. In 1991, I moved to an insurance brokerage where I began working with Applied TAM to service commercial lines and surety clients.
What factors cause Microsoft Outlook to lead to lost productivity?
There are a couple of reasons that I see Outlook as an obstacle to productivity and efficiency. First, many people spend their days constantly checking Outlook for incoming emails. We have bought into the idea that we must respond as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that means we spend our days working in reaction to other people’s agendas instead of planning our own days and scheduling specific time blocks for reviewing and answering emails. This habit of checking our inbox is costly. When we switch back and forth between Outlook and other tasks, we lose focus. That loss of focus can cause an increase in errors and time spent completing tasks.
Second, too often people allow their inbox or other mail folders to work as a holding file for information that should have been processed or filed into their agency management system. If emails are kept in Outlook for any period of time, that means we are reviewing/handling them more than once. Also, items stored inside of Outlook usually cannot be seen by others in our organization. It is best to attach the email appropriately within your management system and work the item from there. I once heard someone say that you should view Outlook like an airport and emails like travelers. Your emails travel through Outlook, but it is not their destination.
Share 3-5 of the top tips from your Applied Net 2019 session that are best positioned to help agencies and brokerages master Microsoft Outlook.
- Turn off email notifications. This is my number one tip. We are bombarded daily with numerous distractions from our software systems, our cell phones and our in-office interruptions. Take control where you can. In Outlook you can turn off all the desktop alerts by going to File > Options > Mail > Message Arrival.
- Use Quick Steps to invoke multi-step actions with a single click. For example, reply to an email and move to a folder, forward an email and delete, or assign a category and reply with a meeting request.
- Use Quick Parts to store and insert reusable content, including tables and images, into an email.
- Use the Date Navigator to display custom dates in your calendar view. Selected dates can range from a single day to six weeks. Alternatively, you can select nonconsecutive dates by holding the Ctrl key when making your selections. This can be useful to check your availability when scheduling a meeting.
- Use calendar view settings to color code (categorize) appointments. I am a big fan of calendar blocking and I like to use colors to identify the different blocks. Differing colors can indicate in-office meetings, out of office meetings, webinars, conference calls, deep focus work, specific projects, etc.
Share the best advice you’ve ever received about being productive. Is there a resource you often turn to?
I can’t identify one piece of advice as the best; however, there are several tips that I have worked on incorporating over the years. In no particular order, they are:
Focus on one thing at a time; multitasking is a lie. To help with this, I block time on my calendar for deep work and use the Pomodoro Technique. This means that I work in 25- or 55-minute blocks followed by a 5-minute break. Ideally it is best to stand up and move during the break. After four sessions, it is time for a longer break.
Focus on one thing at a time; multitasking is a lie.
Focus on your health. You can’t be your most productive if you are not well rested and properly fueled. I routinely get to bed early, exercise often and eat (mostly) a healthy diet. These habits help me to keep my energy level even throughout the day.
Understand the difference between a task and a project. In the book Getting Things Done, David Allen states, “Projects are defined as outcomes that will require more than one action step to complete and that you can mark off as finished in the next 12 months.” Too often, we list projects on our daily to-do list instead of listing the next action step to move a project forward. If we simply list a project name it can be defeating because we are not completing the project in a single day. Instead, identify your next action or task and place that on your to-do list instead.
Tell us about your favorite memory from the Applied Net conference.
It was the year Terry Bradshaw was our keynote speaker. A friend of mine asked me to get Mr. Bradshaw’s signature on his dad’s Steelers baseball cap. I don’t know what made him think that I would be capable of such a feat. When I arrived at conference, I began telling people the story. Eventually, one person responded by stating that he could make it happen. He assigned the task to one of his employees and the next thing I know — I not only had his signature on the cap, but photos of him signing it as well!
Reneé Foo is a consultant, author and speaker with interests in productivity, marketing and graphic design. Reneé coaches insurance agencies on day-to-day practices and procedures, data integrity and branding as it relates to template designs for documents, proposals and summaries of insurance. Before joining AB Solutions, Inc. in 1999, Reneé held several positions in the insurance industry including Personal Lines CSR, Commercial Lines CSR, Surety Bond Specialist, Applied Systems Trainer and Agency Operations Consultant. A self-proclaimed "perpetual learner," Reneé is passionate about acquiring and sharing knowledge, and is an Applied Client Network Master Presenter, volunteering her time at local and national user group events. She is also the co-author of Applied Client Network's tool "The Fast Track Guide to Getting The Most out of TAM."
Tags: Operations , Applied Net , How To , Microsoft Outlook , Email