It’s one thing to know how to press the Send button in Microsoft Outlook, but using it as a productivity-enhancing tool takes surprisingly little additional skill. Here are three productivity-killers you may be guilty of (and their fixes):

Sending assignments by email

It’s easy enough to dash off an email to your assistant asking him/her to make a phone call, etc. For just a little more effort, though, you can send that same instruction as a Task (rather than a Message). Unlike a regular email, a Task will:

  • Let you embed both Start and Due Dates
  • Request confirmation that the person accepts the assignment
  • Put the assignment on both his/her and your Task List for reminders, etc. (rather than getting lost in the Inbox)
  • Let assignees send you one-click status reports
  • Enable you to see, at a glance, who has been assigned what (and when they’re due)

All it takes is selecting Task from the New Items drop-down on the Home tab. The form’s very similar to an email; to assign the Task to someone, simply click the Assign Task button in the Manage Task section of the Task tab, then address it just like an email and click Send.

Leaving reading material in your Inbox

You probably subscribe to lots of bar association emails, blog updates, even the Lawyerist Insider newsletter. When there’s lots more urgent stuff piling into your Inbox, you often need to place those subscriptions to one side for when you have more discretionary time.

Using Outlook’s Rules & Alerts feature to move routine emails into subfolders will automatically clear non-urgent email out of your Inbox, making it easier to scan in those moments when you’re doing Inbox triage. It’ll also give you a quick visual of what publications you need to read when you can.

Not converting Messages to Tasks/To Dos

One constant theme in your Inbox is people asking for stuff. Your client wants an updated litigation budget. Your assistant needs a question answered. And your law partner wants to see you Wednesday at 3.

Sure, some things you can respond to in a flash. But you don’t want to lose track of the more complex requests in your overflowing Inbox. That could prove embarrassing.

In this scenario, you can flag the email for a follow-up reminder (all it takes is a right-click on the message’s flag icon). If your response requires more work, drag the email to your Task folder to create a Task. The latter technique allows you to save notes and link to documents you may need to respond properly. Either trick will put the email in your Tasks folder for easy scanning.

Just a little more skill can mean a lot more productivity in Microsoft Outlook. How much time could you be saving?

(image adapted from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/msjulienne/5457281798/)