Microsoft Outlook is arguably one of the most popular email clients available, especially for Windows users. It sure helps that it is part of the Microsoft Office suite that is standard for most businesses.
Church offices are no exception, and while Gmail and other online email clients are becoming more commonplace, Outlook is still the standard.
In addition to standard email tools, Outlook has built-in features that help users manage their time to become more efficient. The following list are my three favorite time-saving tools.
Organizing your to-do list can seem like an unmanageable project, especially at first, and if you don’t maintain it regularly, it quickly becomes out-of-date. For me, most new tasks that are initiated by other people come through email, so having a tool that quickly converts emails to tasks is essential.
Outlook allows you to flag emails, which means mark for follow-up. This creates a new item on the Tasks list, which is easily accessed from the lower left corner of the screen along with Calendar and Contacts.
In addition to flagged emails, you can create standalone tasks, or reoccurring tasks for things you have to do on a regular basis. You can assign due dates (or not), and you can place tasks in different categories (I follow the system introduced by David Allen in Getting Things Done).
What I have found is that the easier it is to manage my to-do list, the more likely I am to use it, and the more productive I become.
One of my biggest pet peeves is doing the same thing twice. This annoyance has led me to find new and creative ways of eliminating mundane tasks. I know this is probably true for you in the church office as well.
Sometimes I find myself writing the same email to different people at different times. They’re usually pretty general and don’t require much thought, but they still take seconds or minutes out of my day.
Email signatures are commonly used to share contact information at the end of an email (after all, they are called signatures), but they can be used for other purposes too.
Do you find yourself writing the same thing over and over again? Maybe thanking someone for a schedule change, or confirming that a prayer request has been received and will be included in the bulletin? Create a signature for that and use it when necessary.
The below example (which I created for the purpose of this article) is a simple confirmation email that can be used over and over again. It is not so personal that it becomes specific, but also not so vague that it feels cold.
To access your signatures and create a new one, go to File » Options » Mail » Signatures, or when you are in the New Email screen, go to Message » Signature.
Rules and Alerts
On that same topic of repeated actions, I often find myself taking the same actions when reviewing emails. Either I will read an email and save it for reference, or I will highlight emails from certain people by putting them in a separate “Work on this first” folder, or I will file an email while keeping it marked as unread so I remember to read it later. With Rules and Alerts, I can do those actions automatically.
Rules in Outlook follow a simple “if this happens, then do this” model. You can access this by going to Home » Rules » Manage Rules and Alerts.
When creating a new rule, you may follow a template, or create your own. First, you must select a condition, like the email sender or recipients or words in the subject line. You can narrow the focus of the rule by selecting a combination of conditions.
After selecting the condition, determine the action(s) that will be taken. There are a large number of available actions, such as marking an email as read, moving it to a specific folder, replying with a template, or displaying a Desktop Alert. Again, you can use a combination of any of them.
Lastly, you can set exceptions to the rules. The list of exceptions are almost identical to the list of conditions or actions, which makes it easy to set up. Most of my rules don’t have exceptions, but I am sure there are plenty of valid reasons for using them.
When setting up rules and alerts, the possibilities are really endless, but here are a few examples:
- When the phrase “prayer request” is in the subject line, flag the email for follow-up today
- When the pastor sends an email to just you, create a desktop notification to alert about it right away
- When you receive the newsletter from your favorite ministry publication, file it in the “To Review” folder
- When you receive the notification about the latest CTS Technology & Your Ministry blog post, mark the email as having High importance
It’s important to dig into your computer applications and see what opportunities exist beyond just the primary functions. If I had thought of Microsoft Outlook being used just for reading and writing emails, I would have missed out on these great features, and would be wasting a lot more time than I should.
How do you use Microsoft Outlook? Leave a comment below with your favorite time-saving tips.
Interesting in saving time in other areas of the church office?
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