In a pool of ‘time management’ hacks, there’s obviously no silver bullet, but mastering your Outlook diary might be the silver lining you need. As such, we’re constantly faced with the dilemma of maximising productivity and efficiency at work while also showing up for life’s other demands. Being productive at work isn’t rocket science – you just need to be more intentional about how you manage your time. Without wasting any more time, we’ve put together these simple tips to help you master Outlook diary management and take your productivity to the next level.


Book focus time on your calendar

Think about the last time you tried to do multiple tasks at once. Like simultaneously trying to work while responding to emails or handling other admin. How many of these tasks did you actually perfect as opposed to trying to get them out of the way? You may think you’re being efficient at that moment but research suggests otherwise.

A research article in Forbes, suggests that juggling two (or more) tasks usually means somewhat neglecting all of them. Which makes sense, because it’s not really possible to apply yourself to more than one task. Some people report spending over 80% of their day either collaborating with coworkers, attending meetings or responding to emails, and research has shown that it can take over 20 minutes to refocus after checking just one email. As David Sanbonmatsu, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah aptly stated, “the more you switch, the more you backtrack – the more time you waste.” 

Staying focused on challenging work is hard if you constantly have to switch between meetings, incoming emails and chats. Blocking a few hours every day on your calendar improves your concentration and allows you to focus on doing what you do best! But remember, blocking focus time on your calendar works best if you are intentional about maintaining this time slot as your focus time and as such, avoid meetings that overlap with it. Here’s how you can create your focus times using the Insights Outlook add-in.


Please, schedule breaks and take them!

Ever heard of the saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup?” This is a gentle reminder to take care of your health (mentally, physically, psychologically etc.) so you can continue to give your best at work. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of chasing deadlines and constantly trying to play catch up. Burnout is real and it can negatively impact your productivity.

Sometimes we get so carried away with the day’s work that we forget to take a break to reset, replenish and reactivate. It’s vital to maintain a healthy balance between work and rest – we promise you won’t rust.

Prioritise your health the same way you do all those meetings and deadlines – schedule it in! Studies show that those who give in to some kind of diversion once an hour perform better than those who just keep going without a break. Believe it or not, the world won’t end if you don’t respond to that email now.

This might also be the creative fuel you need to keep going. So open up your Outlook diary and book some time out for a break, and most importantly, TAKE IT!


Take advantage of Outlook’s email templates

Sending emails can also be quite time consuming, it’s the part of the day’s admin that can take up a lot of time, ultimately stealing from the time you could have used for other tasks. If you usually compose the same kind of message multiple times then save it as a template so you can quickly access it when you need it without having to redraft all the contents.

You can also use templates to send messages that include information that frequently changes from message to message and new information can be added the template is sent to the intended recipient. Follow these simple steps.

You can also use this time to draft and schedule emails you want to send later. Outlook makes it easy, all you need to do is write your email then click on Options > Delay Delivery > Do not deliver before and state the time you would like the email to go out. This will also help you stay on the pulse of responding to emails timeously – especially if you will be out of office or offline for a bit.


Streamline your inbox

Going through an overflowing inbox of emails can be quite a daunting tasking. So if you want to streamline your inbox, organising your emails into folders would be a good place to start. This creates a working system that’s easy to navigate and limits the number of hours spent searching for that old email and piling through thousands of others as well.

Hack: Saving important emails, calendar events and notes as files on your desk can also help you attend to important emails quicker. Displaying your emails as conversations is another easy way to digest long email threads as it shows all the emails connected to the thread. Simply click View > Show as Conversations.


Set check-in reminders

While deadlines are the nature of the game for many of us – sometimes things can happen all at once and that leaves your head spinning. Racing to meet a major deadline last-minute can be stressful and often takes away from giving the project your best. While working under pressure is hailed as a great skill to have, there are smarter ways to dodge the stress it brings so you can also leave room for agility to deal with other work curveballs.

As major deadlines approach, schedule check-ins with reminders along the way. This avoids end-of-project stress and ensures you’re checking off tasks before they’ve passed. If you’re a believer in ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ then you can also include team members on your calendar reminders to encourage team check-ins as well.

Hack: get Outlook’s sticky notes for quick reminders. Do you have an urgent task that needs to be completed by the end of the day or in a few hours? Create a sticky note by pressing Ctrl + Shift + N from anywhere in the Outlook interface and a new note will pop up. You can drag the note around your screen.


If all else fails, extra help is here

Having digital tools like Microsoft Outlook is a lifesaver when it comes to boosting productivity, however, there’s no shame in asking for extra help. While we hope these tips can put you on the right track towards managing your time and maximising productivity, we are also aware that sometimes you just need extra hands on deck – that’s where Virtual Assistants come in. If you feel you are still under pressure and could use extra help, we have an experienced team that’s ready to serve. Contact us today and we’ll take care of the rest.

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