How To Manage Your Email Inbox Like a Pro: Keep a Positive Outlook


In the first two parts of our series, we learned How To Use Gmail and How to Not Use Gmail. However, Google isn't the only email service provider available. Microsoft users can also enjoy a variety of tools and applications with the Office 365 Suite.

Many corporations require employees to have a domain hosted email address to access through the Outlook application. While Outlook has more features and capabilities, it has a much higher learning curve than Gmail. If you're a Microsoft user, follow this guide to maximize your email productivity. 


Understand Microsoft Terminology

Whether you're new to Microsoft or just interested in improving your skills, it's important to understand the lingo. The services have changed a lot throughout the past two decades and it's easy to get confused. 


The Original Outlook

The most commonly known product is the original desktop email client. Normally a member of your IT department would have installed Outlook on your office computer. They created an email address similar to "yourname@company" and you access your inbox by opening the Outlook application. The data is stored locally on an Exchange server, instead of remote storage/"the cloud." If you're not at your computer, you can't access your email.

Outlook is a component of the Microsoft Office suite that includes Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Depending on when your company purchased the package, you may be using any of the following versions: Outlook 2010, 2013 or 2016. (Anything older is obsolete).

This classic Outlook application is becoming outdated altogether since storing data locally has limitations. The modern version of Outlook is a web-based portal available through the Office 365 Suite.


Office 365 and OWA

Office 365 is the web-based subscription service for the Microsoft Office Suite. With the Business Office 365 plan, you can access your Word or Excel documents, Outlook email, or calendar from any device. The online suite provides a portal that you can login into from any web browser. You can also install Microsoft productivity applications on your mobile devices.

All of the data is stored in "the cloud" on remote servers so you don't have worry about local drive space. The online suite offers the same option to use a company-sponsored domain name. Office 365 is preferable because it offers both the desktop Office Suite and the mobile app version. 

Outlook is a component of Office 365 subscription and is referred to as "Outlook Web App" or "OWA". You can login to Office 365 to access your OWA email.

All instructions and diagrams in this series refer to the Outlook Web App. 

For those who simply need a free email address, is technically the provider. (formerly Hotmail and WindowsLive) is a stand-alone email application. It is similar to Gmail in that it offers a web and mobile app.

You can also access Office Online with an account. Office Online offers the Calendar function of Outlook, but with limited functionality. For individuals needing a free email account, Gmail is far superior due to the Google Suite.  


Organize Outlook Web App

As we discovered in Part 1, the key to efficiency is prioritization. While Gmail can do the prioritizing for you, Outlook Web App can take the process to the next level. You can take control of your inbox with highly customizable settings.

Folders and Categories

Just as Gmail offers custom sorting options, Outlook allows you to create folders and assign categories. Instead of collecting all your messages in one inbox, you can categorize messages based on a variety of factors. You can create folders for different projects, clients or team members, or whatever suits your needs. You can assign categories for marketing, finance, or tech-related conversations etc.

To create a folder, hover over the right side of "Folders" in the left panel. A plus sign will appear. Select the "+" and enter the folder name in the text field that appears.

To assign a category, select "Category" from the top menu. A drop-down menu will open displaying default colors or the option to create your own.

Inbox Rules

You can rule your inbox like a queen by establishing custom parameters. The Inbox Rule feature allows you to filter incoming messages based on a variety of combinations. The function works based on the "If/Then" principle.

For instance, IF you receive a message where you are the only recipient, THEN Outlook will mark that message as important. Or IF the sender is Jerry AND the file size is more than 1MB, THEN Outlook will move the email to the trash. (Jerry is known to send videos of his new baby that no one has time to watch). On top of it all, you can add exceptions. So IF the email is from Jerry and 1MB, BUT it includes the word "Presentation" in the text, THEN Outlook won't throw it away.

To create a rule, follow these steps:

1. Click the Settings button in the top, right corner. (The sprocket)

2. Select Mail> Automatic Processing> Inbox and sweep rules

3. Select the "+" plus icon and enter a name for the rule.

4. Choose the IF parameters and THEN parameters from the drop-down menus.

5. Select "OK" to save.


Another handy feature is the Flag tool. If you start your day by reading unread emails, your goal may be to just get through them. You might read a message that you can't address at the moment, but you know will need a response by the end of the day. Marking the email as "Unread" again isn't technically appropriate, because you already know the content of the message.

Behold the the Flag option. After you read a message, you can flag it to alert you to respond to it at a later time. At the end of the day, you can sort your inbox by flagged messages so they will appear first. (Select Filter > Flagged) Once you answer a flagged message, you can remove the flag to indicate no further action is required.

To Flag an email, select the three dots "..." from the top menu. Select "Flag" to mark the message.


Send Outlook Email Efficiently

Now that your inbound messages are sorted, you can get proactive with outbound messages. Streamline the sending process with contact lists and delivery receipts

Contact Lists

If you manage several teams and projects, manually typing out each person's address is not practical. Instead, you can create contact lists to message multiple people at once. 

(You can create Groups to take collaboration to the next level, but we'll cover that tool in Part 4 next week.)

To create a Contact List, follow these steps:

1. Open the People app in Office 365.

2. Select "Directory" in the left panel.

3. Select the "v" carrot next to "New."

4. Choose "Contact List" from the drop-down menu.

5. Enter a name for the list and add members by typing their names. Select each one from the search results.

Delivery Receipts

Once you hit the send button, there's no telling what happens on the other end. The recipient may read the email and forget about it or even delete it unintentionally. If you work with unpredictable staff, Outlook helps take the guess-work out of electronic messaging.

Enter Delivery Receipts. The feature works just like the tracking feature for physical snail mail. When you compose a new message, you can choose to be notified when the email arrives in the recipients inbox and when he or she opens the message.

You can even designate the sensitivity level of the message if it contains confidential information. That way the receiver will know not to open the email if others are nearby.

To request a delivery receipt, select the three dots "..." from the top menu when you compose a message. Select "Show message options" from the drop-menu. A pop-up window will appear where you can select preferences for the particular email. 



Now that you've optimized your Outlook experience, it's time to stop using email. I repeat stop using email! Office 365 offers a variety of tools that can increase productivity and reduce the need for messaging altogether. Using cloud applications is the key to true efficiency. Tune in next week for tips on how to use the Office 365 Calendar, Groups and more.


Need more tech tips to keep up in this digital age? Sign-up for our newsletter and we'll send you weekly updates on how to stay cool, calm and connected.