Inbox Zero? You don’t need something new; just learn how to use Outlook

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Who among us isn’t tortured by that nagging mail icon with the red badge of horror above it? Is it possible to have 1,600 unread messages? Or no unread messages but an overflowing inbox of unhandled messages?

Email is one of those tools that we just assume everyone knows how to use. So employees get little, if any, training on it. That probably explains why most of us use only the most basic functions of email.

Here are four functions that have been in Outlook for years that can help you on your road to Inbox Zero and get better productivity from the app we love to hate.

Rules

While you may know that rules exist, you may not realize how full-featured they are.

An easy-to-write rule could test email as it arrives for anything from a word in the subject line to a sending domain, and move the email to a read-later folder. Want to know what came in even if you don’t want to see it? Add a step to the rule to send you a desktop notification. A big step to a slimmed-down email is to prevent messages that don’t require your action or immediate attention from reaching your inbox in the first place.

Carbon copy cleanup

How many emails in your inbox aren’t even for you? CC emails can be significantly inflating your inbox and blocking your path to clarity. Create a CC-Inbox folder. Under Rules, there’s an advanced option where you can select “where my name is not in the To box.” Then direct those emails to your CC-Inbox folder.

Reply and delete

Lots of emails filling up the inbox have already been dealt with. Outlook has a solution for that called Reply and Delete. With the incoming message open, go to Quick Steps, then Reply and Delete. Your response is sent and the original is deleted.

Convert emails to actions

Tasks and Appointments are a part of Outlook, yet you see many users typing information from email into an appointment or task list. It’s so much easier than that. Click on a message and drag it to the calendar or task tab. The message text is automatically copied over; then you can add others to a meeting and send the appointment to them, add a task due date, or — better yet — assign it to another staffer.

Cool, right? There are a lot of these not-so-hidden gems in Outlook. What’s your favorite?

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