Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2011

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Planning on taking a vacation? Just returning from vacation? Dreading getting back to an inbox that never takes a day off? Well, here are some tips to sort through everything as quickly as possible.

This article describes several features of Microsoft Outlook 2007. Most of these features are available in other web and desktop-based e-mail programs. The names and where to find them will most likely differ, but the Help pages should give you the information you need to put some of these ideas into practice.

Out of Office

Your first thought will be to turn on your Out of Office notice. That invaluable little assistant that lets everyone know that you are somewhere else having a wonderful time as well as when you will be back to read their messages. This is a good place to start. You can find it nestled up under the Tools link on the File Menu.

In the text box you can let people know when you will be returning and whom to contact for immediate assistance. Below this box is a place for creating rules. Rules are mail filters that will identify certain types of mail and then do something with it. These rules will only be used while your Out of Office feature is in use.

I use the following tip together with my personal web-based e-mail account (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail).The first rule we are going to create will apply to messages you might actually need to see while on vacation. Click Add Rule and then click the Advanced button. Put a check mark next to Importance (high) and then OK. Next, click the checkbox next to Forward and enter your personal e-mail address. Click OK and then create another new rule. This time add the e-mail addresses of your boss or persons likely to know that you are out of the office and only contact you for less than normal circumstances. These go to your personal e-mail box for a reason. Even if you can access your work e-mail while you are away, once that door is open it is very tempting to start working. Donít. Even if you manage to shut the door without digging into your work you might develop a lingering distraction after seeing the number of messages.

The last rule we will create is for any e-mail discussion lists to which you belong. Create a rule, add the list names and click the checkbox next to ďDo not process subsequent rules.Ē This will keep your out of office message away from mass distribution lists. Your colleagues will thank you.

Preemptive Out of Office Message

A friend of mine put his out of office message in their E-mail Signature line weeks before he left. This let everyone know beforehand when he would be out of the office.

When You Return

Have a plan. Know what you are going to do before you sit down at your desk. Before you login, talk to the people in the office to see if anything has happened while you were away. This will keep the surprises to a minimum once you login.

Unless you keep your inbox meticulously clean, you might find it easier to create a new folder and move all your messages there. This would enable you to view and sort by sender or subject without including messages received before you were away.

Do some quick sorting. First, delete anything you know you can delete (spam). You probably have some method of filing already in place for sorting messages. You can use these folders or create new ones for your vacation messages. Now, go after everything in groups. You will be tempted to pop open messages not part of the group you are sorting, but donít Ė it can lead to working on things that will keep you from finishing the task at hand. Even if all it needs is a quick reply, leave it for later and take care of it all at once.

Handle the easy ones first. Move low-priority messages from family and friends out of the way. Move any newsletters out of the list. Now, look for messages marked as High Importance or from people like your supervisor. Open them and take care of anything that needs immediate attention. Sort the remaining messages by necessary response time, whether itís a five-minute job or requires more detailed work. I reply to the long-term project folks first, letting them know I am back and that Iíve received their file. I work on priority projects (quick or detailed) first, move on to the small quick items and finish off with the larger ones, taking care of the older items first.

Sorting with Colors

One method of quickly sorting through messages is a handy visual aid found under the Tools link of the File Menu bar called Organize. The icon looks a bit like a partially disassembled Rubikís Cube. (Not that Iíve ever taken apart a Rubikís Cube Ė that would be cheating.) Select a message in your inbox that you want to stand out, then go to Tools > Organize and select ďUsing Colors.Ē This will fill in the form with some of the details you need. You can assign 16 different colors to people or groups. Assign the color Teal to all people in your office. Important clients get Blue. The boss? Red, definitely. Now you can pick and choose which messages need your attention before even reading the subject line.

Finally, get up for a quick face-to-face visit colleagues around the building, even if itís just a quick hello.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June 2011

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