Outlook E-mail: Tips and tricks

Are you using Outlook for your e-mail? Outlook is not only an e-mail client, but also serves as a calendaring system and task manager. The Outlook system can help attorneys boost their productivity in practice. But, alas, the benefit is only realized when the user understands and can maximize Outlook's functionality. Below are some tips and tricks that will help you to realize the full potential of Outlook in your practice  Please note that instructions may vary slightly depending upon your version of Outlook. These tips were created using Outlook 2010.

1) Using Outlook Mail Folders. Using Outlook's folder system can help you keep your practice well organized. Without the use of Outlook's folders, all your e-mail resides in your Inbox and the only way to find an e-mail is by utilizing Outlook's search function. Rather than lump all your e-mails together in your Inbox, try sorting your e-mails by folders. Folders provide easy and intuitive access to past e-mails. You might set up folders, for example, for each client/matter, contact, bar association, committee and event. 

How to set up folders:

  • Place your cursor over the Inbox folder
  • Right click and select "New Folder"
  • Label that folder and select "OK"

Once you have set up your folders, you can either manually add e-mails or set up rules to sort e-mails automatically. 

How to add e-mails to folders:

  • Manually: You can either copy an e-mail from your Inbox to a folder, or you can move the e-mail from the Inbox to a folder. (NOTE: Copying an e-mail creates another e-mail and thus will take up more space.) To copy an e-mail, you can a) right click on the e-mail you wish to move and select "Move" and then "Copy to Folder;" or b) hold the Ctrl key and drag and drop your e-mail into a folder. To move an e-mail, you can a) right click on the e-mail you wish to move, select "Move," and then select the folder you wish to move it to or select "Other Folder" and create a new folder; or b) drag and drop your e-mail into an existing folder.
  • Setting up a rule: Rather than manually moving and copying e-mails to folders, Outlook can do this automatically for you by using rules. A rule defines the actions that Outlook will take upon receiving or sending an e-mail. You can set up rules by clicking on the "File" tab and then "Manage Rules & Alerts." You can also create rules from specific e-mails by right clicking on an e-mail and selecting "Rules" and "Create a Rule." Say you would like all your e-mails from the Massachusetts Bar Association to skip the Inbox and go directly to your Massachusetts Bar Association folder. Within the "Create a Rule" dialog box, you would select those conditions that include all e-mails sent from the Massachusetts Bar Association to be moved to your Massachusetts Bar Association folder. If you click "Advanced Options" within that "Create a Rule" dialog box, there are a number of additional conditions that you can select. For example, you could also create a rule to mark every LOMAP e-mail that arrives as important.

Bonus Tip (courtesy of Reba J. Nance, Colorado Bar Association):
Outlook sorts folders in alphabetical order without providing an easy solution for custom reorganization. However, there is an easy override. Let's say you want your Massachusetts Bar Association folder to appear at the top of your folder list. All you need to do is re-label that folder "A. Massachusetts Bar Association." Now that folder will appear at the top of your folder list. Then, of course, you'll want your LOMAP folder to appear second in your folder list. Label that folder "B. LOMAP," and so on for other folders you would like to prioritize. Your remaining folders will be sorted alphabetically.

2) Scheduling E-mails. Rather than setting a reminder to send an e-mail you have drafted, Outlook allows you to schedule e-mails to be delivered at a certain time. How to schedule emails:

  • Compose a new message
  • Select the "Options" tab
  • Select "More Options"
  • Under "Delivery options", check the box "Do not deliver before:" and select the delivery date and time
  • Hit "Close"
  • When you click "Send", your e-mail will not be sent until the delivery date and time

3) Keyboard Shortcuts. As with every software program, keyboard shortcuts can boost your efficiency by cutting down the amount of time it takes to execute a certain computer task. Here are some helpful Outlook keyboard shortcuts:

  • Ctrl-Enter: Send current message
  • Ctrl-R: Reply to a message
  • Ctrl-Shift-R: Reply All to a message
  • Ctrl-Shift-A: Create a new appointment
  • Ctrl-Shift-M: Create a new message
  • Ctrl-1: Switch to Mail
  • Ctrl-2: Switch to Calendar
  • Ctrl-3: Switch to Contacts
  • Ctrl-4: Switch to Tasks

For more Outlook tips and tricks, take a look at this LOMAP blog post and Outlook's own support page.

Tip courtesy of Heidi Alexander, Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Published January 24, 2013


To learn more about the Law Practice Management Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members, contact LPM Section Chair Thomas J. Barbar or Vice Chair Cynthia E. MacCausland.
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