A dog called Outlook?!

Sometimes when you see a dog-owner walking in the park, the question arises who is in the lead. Especially children and elderly people can find themselves in challenging situations. Despite the fact that they hold the leash they have only limited impact on the direction chosen by the animal on the other end.

Dogs are quite smart in keeping out of trouble. And usually find their way back to their home, this is not really a problem. But in a figurative speech many of us own a pet they can’t control. It is called Outlook…

When twenty years ago we started sending each other emails we could not imagine the impact this medium would have on our day-to-day lives. Many modern-day office workers start and end the day with email. In some cases only shortly interrupted by coffee breaks and lunch. For those and everyone else who thinks email takes too prominent a place in their lives, please find some suggestions below.

Avoid unnecessary interruptions

A good start is to kill any notifications. Pop-ups or sounds distract and are real productivity killers. Any interruption takes you out of your line of thought and modern brain research shows it takes you about two minutes to regain focus. Every time! It is therefore important that you decide when to spend time on email and not Outlook. So go to Tools | Options and on the Preferences tab choose Email Options | Advanced Email Options and un-check any disturbing sounds and animation. Feels good right? Now the dog is walking next to you instead of a-leash-and-a-half in front of you. Let’s take the next step in training this puppy…

What Outlook is very good at is store and retrieval of information. There are great search options that you should use and trust. So there is no need to create an extensive structure with folders and sub-folders and sub-sub-folders… . Having an Inbox, an Archive and an Awaiting Reply folder is more than sufficient. Heavy users may want to create a separate Archive folder for each running Project or active Client but that’s basically it. With more than 10 active folders you are probably losing efficiency. You are wasting time sorting stuff out during archiving while Outlook is well-trained in search techniques: fetch dog!

Search results improve easily when the Subject covers the actual topic of the email. Which is easier if any email covers only one topic. For the messages you initiate, this is simple. For the ones you receive or respond to, Outlook allows you to edit the subject line before archiving it. Personally I add // after the original subject line and add my own remarks prior to archiving. Subject lines can be so much more meaningful than “Re: Fwd: Re: about your memo”.


A lot has been said and written about productivity of the knowledge worker and how to handle email. The must-read in this category is Getting Things Done by David Allen. The web is full of tools and apps to implement this system but even if that’s not for you make sure you get your hands on GTD in Outlook to tailor your pet just the way you want it. The end result: every day an empty Inbox, an empty Send Items folder and a complete insight in all outstanding tasks sorted by priority and deadline. Office life doesn’t get any better than this…