Simon Hudson from Cloud2

Author: Simon Hudson
Simon is one of the founding directors at Cloud2

Email and Outlook best practice

Email is no longer the business enabler it once was. Too many people receive more email in a day than they can read. Important information is lost in the noise of irrelevant or less important emails. It becomes impossible to notice or find the critical information when you need it.

Top tips: We’ve pulled together some rules, observations, tools and good practice that seemed to help.

Mailbox management

  • Try to have no more than 100 items in your inbox. Most people can retain a sense of what’s in hundred items, but rapidly lose track of more than that. The book, Getting Things Done (David Allen), recommends finishing each day with zero items; while that may be challenging for many, having a thousand or more items is very unlikely to be productive. Here are some techniques that may help:
  • Don’t use your inbox as a filing cabinet. Copy useful information from emails and paste it in OneNote, or send the whole email to OneNote by clicking the OneNote button in the toolbar. Save important emails in project libraries etc. in SharePoint. Share useful insights with colleagues or the entire organisation in Yammer.
  • Enable the Exchange Online Clutter feature, which will automatically move low priority emails into a clutter folder for you to bulk review once or twice a week. Train your clutter folder by dragging their priority items into it and dragging more important items from it into your inbox.
  • Set up Rules to prioritise, move, delete and tag emails as they arrive. For example, set a Flag on emails from your boss.
  • Consider having subject line keywords that categorise email urgency and action. Make sure everyone understands what these mean and how you will all react to them. Set rules to colour code, flag and alert based on these. For example:
    • ASAP: which means stop what you’re doing and do this now. Shows a pop-up message on arrival.
    • SOON:which means this is important and really ought to be dealt with today. Adds a flag to the item.
    • ACTION:this email isn’t just for information
    • FYI:this email is just for information

  • Add actionable emails to your diary to turn them into scheduled calendar tasks. Use the Quick Steps buttons to do this quickly.
  • Consider moving all email that you are CC’d on into a To Read folder, which you only read once every few days. You have been copied, for information, so you don’t have an action and should be able to leave it for a while. Make sure everyone understands this rule.
  • Once a week, set aside 15 minutes to unsubscribe from emails that you never get around to reading. If it is unsolicited junk mail then always click the Junk button, rather than just deleting it as is helps train the junk mail filters.
  • Run the Clean Up tool on all your mailboxes weekly, to remove previous emails in the email thread without losing any of the detail.
  • Stop sending emails. Every email you send generates about 1.1 emails back to you. Use Skype for Business or another instant messaging tool for anything quickly answered. Use Yammer groups for general team conversations. If it’s urgent, consider a phone call or text message instead.
  • Don’t answer emails straight away, unless it’s urgent (as noted above); email is not a chat medium.
  • Use Auto-archiving to delete old emails – we suggest anything older than 1 month for your deleted mail and 3 months for sent mail.
  • If you have the Focused Inbox feature available, try it out. Not everyone likes it, but it might be exactly what you need to avoid distraction.

Email Content

  • Getting the right message across, avoiding send errors and staying on brand are obviously important.
  • Enable Check spelling as you type
  • If you add images, always use the Format, Compress image function to avoid sending unnecessarily big embedded images. Big files use up storage, take longer to send and can cause emails to be rejected.
  • Don’t add attachments to emails you send internally. Send a link to the file(s) on OneDrive or SharePoint. This way receipts have access to the latest version, they can co-author edits and you aren’t creating dozens of new copies of a file.
  • Create a standard, branded signature format for both internal and external use. We recommend that this includes your name, role, contact number (if appropriate). Have this automatically added to your emails, which will save you a few seconds every time by not needing you to add your name etc. at the bottom. You can have multiple signatures and select between them, Outlook is smart enough to automatically replace the current signature if you choose a different one.
  • Never send a sensitive or emotional email in haste. Outlook will automatically create a draft copy, so grab a cup of tea then read it again. Don’t rely on Message Recall, as most people read the message you tried to recall!
  • Outlook is a very neat feature that caches frequently used recipients. Type the first couple of letters in the To or CC Field and it presents you with a list. However, it’s really easy to pick the wrong person. Make a point of deleting people from this list from time to time by arrowing to their name and pressing delete, especially if you routinely send them things by mistake.
  • Use the @ symbol in front of someone’s name in the body of an email to automatically add them to the recipients list and to draw their attention to any actions or information relevant to them. E.g. “@davesmith you could contact @billnighy about that film role”

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