5 Hacks to Turn Outlook into a Project Management Tool
Is the constant flow of emails, backwards and forwards, slowly strangling your project’s momentum?
If you’re struggling with email overload and can’t find the right project management software to streamline your processes, consider fine tuning MS Outlook, the world’s most popular email program, into a supercharged project management platform.
Top five Outlook hacks:
1. It wasn’t me it was my alias
Emails have a voracious appetite for your time and attention and can quickly eat through your day. Using project aliases within MS Outlook is a great first step to controlling your email flow and immediately takes some of the stress out of the insurmountable mountain of daily traffic.
Aliases can help massively in keeping track of developments as they happen. Without them, it’s very easy for new project requests or status updates to get mixed up with unrelated traffic and for key information to get lost. Aliases allow you to manage your rules and automatically push traffic into specific project folders, letting you decide when to read or deal with them.
Don’t be afraid of splitting your workload into compartments that suit you: sub-folders are your friends. Consider them as separate departments, each handling specific parts of the project with specific responsibilities. Obviously, you can sub-divide your emails forever, but in general splitting up by project, key deliverable, responsibility, short-term/long-term goal and by process is a good place to start.
2. Pimp my in-box
One of the most powerful features of Outlook is the huge number of plug-ins available.
Utilising the full capabilities of MS Outlook plug-ins is a must-do if you are serious about repurposing it into a project management tool. There are some serious applications that mean business, everything from email de-dupers, message recovery, auto-schedulers, alerts, print tools and more!
Why email someone when you can video conference them on Google Hangouts and chat face-to-face from your desk?
3. Take responsibility
MS Outlook allows you to be your own project manager. Grab your email traffic by the horns and take responsibility yourself.
If you pay attention to current opinion and attend to the constant and immediate needs of your inbox like you would a new-born baby, then guess what? It grows to take up more and more of your time and doesn’t stop, ever.
I’ll say it once and loudly, Mailbox-Zero status DOES NOT WORK!!! It will destroy your day and take over your life. Don’t subscribe to the other theory that if you quickly rush through your inbox for one hour each day, you will somehow magically re-discover your productivity. You won’t.
Don’t treat your inbox like a task list, responding tersely because every email is a disruption. And don’t constantly share the responsibility of emails with other people involved in the project either. You dilute the responsibility of ‘actioning’ anything by shifting the burden onto someone else, and they may not have the same clarity of vision or worse may not even care. By responding yourself you’re propelling the project forwards and have far more control. Trust me, your emails can wait an hour. If they can’t, then email is perhaps not the right communication tool to use.
4. Regain your productivity
A huge part of the overall stress of a project, apart from meeting deadlines, is the fear of losing business-critical data and significantly setting yourself back.
It’s tempting to make MS Exchange an integral part of your life, sharing updates, data and project notes. Many people rely on this collective responsibility to back-up vital data.
However, it’s a mistake to rely on other people having what you need if you accidentally delete it. Instead, introduce your project to a back-up email server and wave goodbye to that headache.
Mail servers work by archiving your inbox at the end of every day, soothing all your troubles away. That’s not the only thing they do, of course, but it’s a good enough reason to start using one.
Safely backing-up all of your project data is like parking your new car in the garage, secured by a tamper-evident audit trail, leaving you to focus on the task in hand. When you’re busy typing up that sales proposal or quarterly report, anything that’s not the report is a distraction. Find your flow… Switch your mobile phone off and put your out-of-office on. Go on, see your productivity fly! You’ll get so much done you’ll wonder why you never tried it before.
People are hopeless at focusing on multiple tasks at the same time and are easily distracted. Yet everyone is surprised when it happens to them…
Were you following along or looking at the woman in the red dress? Look again!
5. Your calendar is for more than your granny’s birthday
MS Outlook has an excellent calendar so get it to work for you and not the other way round.
The Calendar gives you the superpower of being able to see into the future, not to mention project visibility. Being successful is invariably the ability to foresee problems and take action to avert them.
MS Outlook helps manage your projects by providing an overview of your colleagues’ roles and responsibilities so they can be adequately resourced. Ensure everyone is on the same page by sharing an Outlook project calendar. It will relieve so much collective headache and is accessible by everyone involved, whether they’re colleagues or external stakeholders.
Use the calendar to mark key milestones and celebrate small successes. It can help unite your team as they work towards the final goal.