Take Contro of Your Email

Be Productive with Rules in MS Outlook

Automatic Email Rules help you reduce manual filing and decision-making about what to do with your regular emails. Rules can be used to automatically File, Respond, Delete or Forward messages.

The rules are always turned on and run automatically.  So it is important to set the rule up, test it out and then trust it to work.

Also it is important to proactively check up on the automated action – i.e. if you auto file lower priority emails into a sub folder in your Inbox, make sure you check this folder occasionally.

Set up a New Rule in MS Outlook

You can either setup a Rule from scratch or use a pre-existing Rule Template.

  1. Setup a Rule from Scratch
  2. Choose RulesManage Rules & Alerts from the ribbon or choose the File tab and then choose Manage Rules & Alerts.
  3. In the Rules and Alertsdialog box, on the E-mail Rules tab, choose New Rule.
  4. Under Start from a blank rule chose either: a) Apply rule on messages I receive or b) Apply rule on messages I send
  5. Choose Next, and then go to Set conditions for a rule.

Set conditions for a rule

You can now add conditions to the rule. Based on the conditions you select, the options available to edit the rule description will vary.

  • Under Step 1: Select condition(s), select the check box for the condition you want to add. Note:You can select multiple check boxes.
  • Under Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value), choose a link, complete the required actions, and when done, choose OK.
  • Choose the next link, complete the required actions, and when done, choose OK.
  • If another link is available, choose it, complete the required actions, and when done, choose OK.
  • Choose Finishwhen done.

Set Up Rules Using an Outlook Rules Template

  1. Choose Rules, Manage Rules & Alerts from the ribbon or choose the File tab and then choose Manage Rules & Alerts.
  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, on the E-mail Rules tab, choose New Rule.
  3. In the Rules Wizard, under Step 1: Select a template, pick one of the default templates under Stay Organized or Stay Up to Date.

Continue to create the rule as described above for a blank rule.


So be productive – make some changes so you can take control of your Email. Check out our other articles on Email management Be Productive – Use Smart Email Tools

When you make changes it can be hard to maintain them. If you find it hard, stop and ask yourself why you can’t maintain the change. Then tweak things to suit your work environment better. Best of luck! Let us know below how you get on.

Be Productive

Tips to Be Productive in 2018

Ever wish you had a Time Turner?

In the magical world of Harry Potter Hermione Granger used a Time Turner to turn back time. She created 3 extra hours a day to attend classes that ran concurrently allowing her to be productive and get more work done that everyone else.

Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Imagine your typical busy day. You have a plan but throughout the day lots of new thing crop up. At the end of the day you realise you hardly got to work on your planned tasks. No problem, just turn back the clock and get everything done!

But we don’t live in the magical world of Harry Potter, so we need “magical” strategies instead.

Take Control

In today’s hectic and distracted world it can be hard to stay in control of your day and be productive. The constant stream of messages, alerts and requests often cause us to work reactively. It can be frustrating. Most people make good plans and set clear goals but those plans can get side-lined as new requests and alerts arrive. Below we list 3 tips to be productive in 2018.

It can be useful to remind ourselves what we can actually control. We can proactively manage:

  • What we work on
  • How quickly we respond
  • What we prioritise
  • How often we check Email
  • Our energy levels and focus
  • Our mobile phone notifications

So if you decide to be more proactive and take control, here are 3 tips to be productive that will help you do it.

3 Tips To Be Productive

Tip 1 – Know Your Priorities

To maximise your use of time, it is important to know your priorities. Be clear about what is important for your company, your role, your clients and your targets. What are you trying to achieve; what are your long-term goals? Do some thinking and planning. Then set weekly goals and identify the tasks that will achieve these goals. Now you have your day-to-day priorities. Focus on achieving these tasks and protect your time by minimising your distractions.

Remember, if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else probably will.

 Tip 2 – Understand How You Work

The first step in CONTROLLING how you work is KNOWING how you work. Do you know what you end up working on each day? Do you know why? Are you clear about how you are prioritising your work?

You can gather this information by simply reflecting at the end of each day. Ask yourself:

  1. Did I stick to my plan?
  2. Did I end up working on unplanned things?
  3. Was the unplanned work more important?
  4. Did I make the correct decisions?
  5. What and/or who distracted me?

Consider what time of day you are most productive and when you concentrate best. Then plan the important work for these times.

Tip 3 – Control Your Distractions

Take steps to minimise your distractions now that you are aware of them. It may be phone calls, social media notifications, unimportant message alerts or other people’s requests.

We often let ourselves be distracted if it’s a welcome change from a tough (priority) task we are working on. And a change of task can refresh and help you regain focus. The challenge is to control the time you spend on the unplanned task by using a timer to remind you to tune back into your original plan.

To help minimise digital distractions you can do the following:

  • Analyse all the notifications you receive on your phone, tablet of PC.
  • Are you giving them all the same priority?
  • Are you letting a low priority Twitter interaction distract you as much as the alert for an important business Email?
  • Turn off notifications from low priority apps or Email accounts
  • Check Email at a set frequency, as often as you need to stay in touch for your role or business.

Be Productive in 2018

These changes may require a different way of working. It may not be possible to stick to it every day. But on a day that you have an important piece of work to complete and you need some deep-thinking time, take control and protect your precious time.

Try something new in the New Year and you have every chance of making 2018 your most productive year ever.

Stay productive by staying in touch with beproductive.ie  on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram  @beproductive_ie . And checking our website for regular articles and tips. We want to help you be productive all year round not just the first few weeks in January!

Happy New Year.

Productivity Tips Business Owners

Productivity Tips Business Owners

As a business owner you are used to working hard. But is your hard work focused on the correct goals for your business? Are you clear about what your goals should be? And even with clear goals, how can you stick to those goals while responding to your customer’s needs? Read on to learn about our productivity tips business owners.

Productivity Tips for Business owners

The challenge is to work smart and be productive. There are simple but effective changes you can make to achieve this. So here are some ideas to get you started.

1)Decide You Want to Take Control

The first step in any change process is the commitment to do things differently. Aim to protect your time for productive work. Be prepared to challenge yourself and your team. This can mean saying no to enjoyable distractions like social media alerts. It can mean pushing yourself to spend more time on the tougher tasks you sometimes avoid.

2)Know Your Environment

And to optimise how you work you need to know how you work. Understand your environment, your challenges and your distractions. What work gets priority, which customers get the most attention, what response time is expected? What percentage of work can be anticipated and therefore planned? When do you work most productively? Is it the same time every day?

You can do this by simply reflecting at the end of each day. But by using a more structured approach, like keeping a TimeLog every day for a week, you can gain further insights. The data you gather will help you decide what needs to change to improve your productivity. Here is a link to our Be Productive TimeLog template.

3)Set Priorities for Your Business

To be truly productive, you need to be clear about what is important for your business. What are you trying to achieve; what are the priorities? Does everything link back to the overall vision and strategy?

By using the SMART approach to objective setting you can ensure that all planned work is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. This can provide a purpose for every task list or project plan and clarity for everyone on your team. Read more about prioritising here.

4)Get Organised and Plan Your Week

Once you are clear about what needs to be done, develop a plan to achieve it. Have a yearly plan which feeds into the monthly, weekly and daily plans. Make your weekly plan on a Friday afternoon or first thing Monday morning. Use a “To Do” list if you find it useful but make sure it connects to your schedule so that tasks on the list are actioned and most importantly, completed.

Schedule the week using a structured approach that best suits your business and your customers. Different techniques such as batch working or timed working can help to maximise efficiency and productivity. Here is a link to our Be Productive Weekly Planner template.

5)Manage Email, Meetings and Distractions

Your TimeLog data will identify the activities that consume most time in your week.  Emails and meetings tend to be top of most lists while interruptions from colleagues can also eat into your time.

So here are some e-mail productivity tips to consider:

  • Working with email notification constantly switched on can result in the day being controlled by other people’s priorities. There will be days when you need to be constantly in touch. But ask yourself are there other days or time blocks when you can check your emails at planned intervals only.
  • Actively manage your meetings to increase the chance of productive outcomes by using a meeting process. This can include: 1) preparation beforehand, 2) use of a timed agenda during the meeting and 3) post meeting follow-up of actions agreed
  • Eliminate or reduce as many distractions as possible, even if sometimes those distractions are a welcome change from tougher tasks. But remember to be diplomatic when colleagues or clients are involved!

For more detailed advice on this check out our Email, Meetings & Managing Distractions productivity articles here:

Take Control of Your Inbox

Productive Meeting Skills

Tips to Maintain Your Focus

6)Develop New Skills and Techniques

Keep improving to make sure you stay productive in this ever changing world. Nowadays there are lots of free apps available that promote efficiency and collaboration such as Microsoft OneNote. Do some research or talk to colleagues and peers to get recommendations. Make sure you are using your desktop applications as efficiently as possible by learning relevant time-saving functionality and features.

7)Review, Analyse and Repeat

To maintain control of your time and sustain any improvement in productivity, it is important to review and analyse what you have achieved. Return to the Timelog to track what worked and what didn’t. Compare back to the baseline data you collected at the start. Improvements gained from protected blocks of time and fewer distractions can include: reduced email processing, shorter meeting times, higher task completion, increased output and productivity.

Be Productive

In conclusion, these business owner productivity tips won’t work every day or in every business. But I encourage you to take the ideas and develop improvements that will work for you. Send us some feedback in the Comments and keep checking this blog for more detailed articles over the coming months on many of the topics discussed above.

Smart Email Tools

Be Productive – Use Smart Email Tools

The Email Problem

When I ask people in business what stops them being productive they mostly say, “Dealing with all my EMAIL!”  It’s reassuring to know that Email is a shared problem but how can businesses get on top of it?

In a previous article we looked at ways to “Take Control of Your Inbox” by: 1) choosing when to check Email and 2) using a process to sort messages quickly.

But why stop there? Let’s look at some of smart Email tools available in Microsoft Outlook that can help businesses work smarter. This article takes a look at Rules, Colour Coding and Quick Parts.

We also look at smarter Email structure and practices that can reduce the time employees spend processing Email. There is no magic solution but with some effort and imagination teams can use these ideas to collectively come up with ways to use their time more productively.

Smart Email Tools

1. Use Rules for Decision Making and Filing

Use the Rules functionality to automatically process Emails. If you set the conditions that an Email meets, a certain action is taken. That may sound complex but with a little practice and testing, you can master rules. Most rules either: 1) organise messages or 2) notify you of their arrival. An sample rule is “to move messages from a Newsletter subscription into a Newsletter folder”.

These Emails don’t require immediate action but their arrival can often interrupt our focus on priority tasks. By using a rule you ignore them until you chose to read them. The rule helps you take control and use your time productively. Schedule this low priority task into a short gap in your calendar or when your energy levels are low.

Create rules to suit how you work. Here are some ideas:

  • Identify Emails from your most important clients and send them to the top of your Inbox.
  • Move all meeting invitations to a “Meeting Invites” folder for easy retrieval
  • Email from certain people stays in your Inbox while all other mail is moved to specified folders (this rule is not for the faint hearted, but a version of it could work for you)

Top Tip: Don’t forget about Emails that have been filed automatically. Check regularly.

2. Use Colour Coding to Prioritise

Categorise Emails using colour coding to help visually sort and prioritise them. This ensures that important Emails stand out and don’t get overlooked. Assign a  colour based on The Sender or text in the Subject line. Also colour code based on the location of your name i.e. in the To, Cc or Bcc field.

Top Tip: Don’t overuse this tool or your Inbox can look like a rainbow!

3. Use Quick Parts to Save Time

Quick Parts in Microsoft Outlook is a simple tool that allows you reuse a standard block of text, This could text that is used repeatedly such as a project scope statement, a product description or a Company Mission statement.

Save the text from within an existing Email. To retrieve the saved text in a new Email simply type the first few words of the block and press enter to accept the suggested text.

Smart Email tools

A lot of time is lost reading through Emails to decide how to respond. If you make changes that effect a team of people it is important to get together and brainstorm the best approach. By using these smart Email tools to work smarter together your outcomes and results are more beneficial to the business.

1. Email Structure – Clarify Actions

Rounds of clarification Emails can be avoided by clarifying what you want your readers to do. By using the simple checklist of what, why, who and when you can structure longer complex messages in a way that removes any uncertainty.

Top Tip: Avoid offending colleagues by using language that is too instructional. Involve them in agreeing the new Email structure.

2. Email Structure – Use Purposeful Subjects

If a message is very short you can actually type it in the Subject line itself! This saves a couple of extra clicks to open and close the message. As above, I recommend discussing this in advance with your colleagues so they don’t find your new approach annoying!

Here are some examples where the Subject line can be used for a short message:

  • Action: Review attached report by Friday
  • Project Y: Meeting 1pm tomorrow, Board Room
  • FYI on Project X: No Response Req.

Some people also use acronyms like NRR “no reply required” to make expectations really clear. Try to come up with acronyms related to your own business to save Email processing time.

Other things to consider

Generally the more Emails we send the more we receive. To reduce your Email volumes consider other options. While Email is invaluable for sharing facts, reports or group updates, sometimes a phone call or a desk visit is a better option, particularly if you need to exchange opinions, feelings or thoughts.

Some companies have gone as far as introducing Email free times to give their employees uninterrupted time slots for deep concentrated work. Can you and your team come up with some ideas to collectively reduce Email processing time.

Be Productive

I hope you find a way of applying these ideas within your business. It is never easy to adopt new ways but try to persist until the changes stick. Let us know what work and what doesn’t. And of course please share any of your own tips in the comments below.

For more information or details about our Email Management workshops please contact me at moiradunne@beproductive.ie

Take Control of Your Inbox

Be Productive – Take Control of Your Inbox

The Email Problem

It happens to us all. We arrive in the office and make a plan for the day. But first we check our email and the next thing we know its lunchtime. Sound familiar? Our intentions are good, “I’ll just clear some emails so I can really focus on my plan for the day”. But of course those messages keep arriving because most emails we send prompt a response.

Our email work may have cleared key items off our task list but it may not. That is the first problem – working on email this way is reactive rather than planned. We can become slaves to our email accounts and often end up working on other people’s priorities instead of our own.

The second problem is that unless we actively manage our emails they accumulate so that we end up with thousands in our Inbox. Important information can get lost and the constant arrival of new messages can result in missed deadlines or actions contained in previous messages.

New Approach to Email

So how can we develop some good email habits, take control and reduce some of that email management stress? The first step is to change the way we view our Inbox.

Reading email without making decisions is not a productive use of time. Email management requires a workflow and a process.  The Inbox should be viewed as a conveyer belt.  As new emails arrive aim to read them quickly so that a decision can be made on what action needs to be taken.

3 Steps to Take Control of Your Inbox

Then follow these three steps:

  1. Organise your Inbox
  2. Use a Process to Manage your Email
  3. Control When You Work on Email
  1. Organise Your Inbox

It is important to get organised before you adopt a new approach. Set up folders so you have a place to move your messages as you make decisions.  You can create Reference Folders for messages you wish to keep and Working folders for messages that require further action or follow up.

The Working Folders can include folders like Scheduled, Delegated or Awaiting Information. The Reference folders should reflect the way you work (i.e. key projects or customers). But don’t over complicate this, many people just work with one Reference or Archive folder and avail of the powerful Search and Sort functionality in Microsoft Outlook to find their messages.

  1. Use a Process to Manage your Email

Actively manage your emails as you read each one and decide what action is required. Then move each message to the correct folder. The process is Read, Decide and Move.

Read and Decide

Read the email quickly to decide whether it requires further action or not.


Then move the email as follows:

  1. No Further Action required – Delete it or File it

2) Further Action required – Do It, Task It or Pass It On

  1. Do It – If a response will takes 2 minutes or less
  2. Convert to a Task – If more than 2 minutes is estimated, schedule a task in your calendar or task list to complete at a later time
  3. Pass it On – Forward messages to others if the request is something you are unable to do or it is something you can delegate. Include your reasons for passing the message on.

Guidelines for Processing Email

  • Aim to process each email once only
  • Work through your messages systematically in the order they arrive
  • Don’t cherry pick the interesting ones as other important messages may get overlooked

 Control When You Work on Email

To do this you need to switch off your email notifications.  This can enhance productivity because every switch away from what you are working on to check an email interrupts focus. And it can take up to four minutes to regain that focus.  So if you eliminate even 15 email interruptions a day, you can gain an hour of focussed time. If you do this for a week, you can gain five extra hours.

That sounds fantastic but it can be hard to work without ongoing email alerts or checks. We can feel uncomfortable because we are used to being in touch. In fact our work environment and culture may demand it. But use your judgement. Are there routine days when you could try this new approach even for specific blocks of time?

3 times a day works well for lots of people. Spend 15 minutes maximum checking first thing in the morning. Then schedule time to process your email before lunch and again towards the end of the day.  If that doesn’t seem frequent enough, add in a short timed mid-morning and mid-afternoon check.


When you introduce a change to your work practice it is important to measure any improvement. So before you start, track how much time you spend managing your email. Then try your new approach for 30 days and measure your email management time again. Try also to note improved productivity due to the reduced distraction from email.

 Don’t Stop There

Once you have reduced your email management time you can further increase your productivity by using email tools and techniques available in Microsoft Outlook such as:

  1. Rules to Reduce Decisions and Filing
  2. Colour Coding and Flags to Prioritise
  3. Auto text and Templates to automate routine text entry
  4. Purposeful Actions and Subject lines

Here is the link to our article about these topics – Smart Email Tools

Be Productive

These tips may not suit everyone’s style or every work place. But be productive, take the ideas and modify them to suit your own environment. Let me know how it goes and of course I would love to hear any other techniques and tips that have worked for you.

How Can You Measure Productivity

Productivity – How Can We Measure It?

Productivity is a hot topic these days. At  beproductive.ie we deal with lots of people and companies all striving to be more productive.  At a personal level most people discuss their productivity in terms of getting more done in the time available.  Keeping up with things. But let’s dive in a bit deeper and examine what productivity really means and how it can be measured.

Definition of PRODUCTIVITY

Collins dictionary defines Productivity as “the rate at which goods are produced”.  This definition is quite narrow and is expanded in the Merriam-Webster dictionary to “the rate at which goods are produced or work is completed”

When I chat to clients about what productivity means to them in today’s ever changing world of work their responses include:

  • Do more in less time
  • Do my most important work, with the least amount of effort, so I can spend more time doing what I love.
  • Achieve my goals and spend more time with my family
  • Make money while helping others, working with people I like, and not working overtime

So ask yourself the same question: what does productivity mean to you? What is a productive return on your time? What constitutes valuable work done?

inputs vs outputs

At the simplest level, productivity is a measure of Inputs vs Outputs. For example, in a small company that manufactures products, it can be easy to measure how many people are required to produce a certain number of products. We don’t all manufacture products but even at a personal level we all have “Inputs” and we all have “Outputs”. The challenge is to define what the Inputs and Outputs are in your role. Then you need a practical way of measuring them.

Email Example

One of the simplest things to measure is your Emails. Every day you receive a certain number of new emails (Inputs) and then you process a certain number of those Emails (Outputs). Of course by process I mean actively managing those messages not simply reading them. To be productive each message needs to be processed so that a decision is made and the email does not need to be reprocessed.  There are generally 5 things you should do with your emails:

  • Delete, File, Do, Delegate, Schedule a Task

If you want to learn more about this process click here to read our previous article on the topic on beproductive.ie

Measuring Productivity

The rate at which you clear your Inbox every day can be a simple measure of one aspect of your productivity. Some other measures could include the number of:

  • Customer calls answered
  • Tweets sent
  • Application forms processed
  • Reports written
  • Problems solved
  • Invoices sent

Can you think of other tasks you can clearly measure?

Work Place Productivity

When measuring productivity within a business, volume measures are seldom sufficient on their own. Output measures must also take into account the quality of the output, its timeliness, its cost and also how many people were involved in the production. The effectiveness of the outputs is what matters, rather than the efficiency with which they were produced.

The choice of productivity measures must also be related to the purpose and objectives of the department and organisation as well as the needs of customers.

Your Productivity

So start thinking about what being productive means to you, your team or your business. What do you produce? What outputs are important?

I will be delving into this topic further in coming articles; looking at productivity measurement for different types of roles in different businesses. So keep checking our website beproductive.ie and Twitter feed @beproductive_ie over the coming weeks. In the meantime please share this article and add your own thoughts in the Comments below.

be productive

New Year, New Habits, New You?

Want to be productive in 2017?

Here are our top tips for making changes in the New Year:

  1. Get to know your work patterns, your environment and challenges
  2. When you need to really focus switch off email & social media notifications
  3. Use a process to manage your email (see Article on www.beproductive.ie)
  4. Do things in batches: social media updates, invoicing, emails
  5. Monitor your use of time so you know where it goes
  6. Identify your distractions or time wasters
  7. Understand the difference between important and urgent
  8. Learn how to set SMART goals
  9. Realise that being busy is different to being productive
  10. Automate and delegate tasks that don’t require your expertise

But don’t stop there, being productive means being healthy, fit and positive too.

Be Productive…contact us today to discuss the best training & consultancy options for you.

Be Productive – Take Control of Your Inbox

The Email Problem

It has happened to us all. We have a plan for the day, we check our email first and the next thing we know its mid-morning or worse still lunchtime!

Our intentions are good, “I’ll just clear my Inbox before I start and then I will feel more organised”. But of course those emails just keep arriving as every reply we send can prompt another one! And our plan for the day? Well our email processing may have cleared some items but it may not. And that’s the problem, it’s reactive and in fact we are often responding to someone else’s priorities, not ours.

So how can we take control of our email, develop some good habits and be more productive? Well it is not easy. But spending hours on email every day isn’t easy either so maybe it’s time to try something new.  Here are my 4 tips:

  1. Chose when you check in
  2. Have a process
  3. Use other ways
  4. Spread the word

Chose When You Check

To do this you need to close your email programme or email app and proactively chose when you check in. I know it’s a scary concept isn’t it? Why, because we like to be in touch all the time and often we our job requires us to be in touch all of the time. And that’s ok. But figure out if there are times in your week when you can switch off your notifications even for an hour or a morning. Could you check first thing in the morning, after lunch and near the end of the day?  If that seems too little, add in a mid-morning and mid-afternoon check.

Most things can wait an hour or two – think about the day you are caught in a 2 hour meeting and you can’t check mail, the world doesn’t stop.  So try to go 2 hours without checking your mail, even at your desk.

Why? Because statistics show that when an email interrupts us, even only for a minute, it can take another four minutes to get back to what we were doing. So if you eliminate 15 interruptions, you could be creating about an hour of uninterrupted time. And this is time you can use to concentrate and be you’re most productive.

Use a Process

We can lose a lot of time trying to decide what to do with our emails. So be focussed when you are checking. Try to quickly distinguish between the important and non-important ones. Develop a way of categorising your emails as you read them. Try the approach described below and modify it to suit your way of working as necessary.

Control Email

Control Email

The first question is whether the email requires further action or not?

No further action – you have 2 options:

  1. Delete it
  2. File it for reference

Further Action – you have 3 options:

  1. Do It now
  2. Plan It -convert to a task now
  3. Pass it on
  1. Do it now? This should only be a response that will take 2 minutes maximum

2. Plan It ? For something that will take longer don’t get caught up in it now. But make sure to schedule when you will do this – put a task in your calendar.

3. Pass it on? For something you can’t do or someone else can definitely do. Forward the message on with a covering note

For tasks you create think cleverly about when it really needs to be done.  If something is not due until next week, don’t do it this week, put a reminder in your calendar for a day before the deadline.

To make this work you firstly need to and set up folders in your Inbox to file the Email you want to keep. These folders should represent the way you work –create one per project or per client or per area of responsibility.

Use Other Ways

Don’t always default to email. How about a phone call or a desk visit? Remember, every email you send can prompt a response that you will have to process later.  Email is great for facts, figures, reports, group updates and traceability but maybe the situation in hand calls for a chat or an exchange of opinions, feelings, thoughts. So challenge yourself, do I always need to send an email?

Spread the Word

So if you find some of these ideas help you be more productive then ask if others on your team will try it too. Maybe you can agree a particular morning or day where you agree not to send emails to each other. Have a brainstorm with your team and come up with ideas that will best suit the way you all need to work.

So be productive and take control of your Inbox. These tips may not suit everyone’s style or every work place. But take these ideas and modify them to suit your own environment. Let me know how it goes and of course I would love to hear any other ideas, tips or even email tools that have worked for you in the Comments.

And if you find this useful share it with your colleagues. Thanks!