As useful as it is to learn new techniques for increasing your productivity like using tasks and categories to organize your matter workload or make delegating easier, sometimes it’s the little things — features you might not even think to look for — that can make otherwise mundane tasks much easier.((Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows.))

Implement these three quick features to make using Outlook more effective.

Built-in Date Calculator

Most law practices, especially litigation, have numerous deadlines. And if you are using Microsoft Outlook’s task or calendar features, you may not be aware that the date fields can actually calculate a deadline for you.

For example, say you have just gotten some discovery in today, so you want to create a task reminding you to serve responses within the appropriate time (we will use thirty days from today as an example). Here are the steps:

  1. Start a task window.
  2. Go to the date field.
  3. Type “today+30 days” in the field.

Once you do that and hit the enter key, the date calculates automatically.

You are not limited to using days as a calculation unit. You can also say “two weeks,” “one month,” etc.1

Redirecting Email Replies

Ever sent out an email to a group but dreaded the avalanche of responses you get? Not many people realize that it’s possible to change the reply-to address in Outlook e-mail.

In this example, let’s assume you are sending out an e-mail to everyone in the Young Lawyers section of your local bar association. However, you want your assistant to receive and tally the responses. On the Options tab of the New Message window, click the Direct Replies To button:

On the Options tab of the New Message window, click the Direct Replies To button.

In the middle of the Properties dialog box, under Delivery options, click the Select Names button.

At this point, you will be taken to your Address Book and can substitute your assistant’s name for your own in the “To…” field.

Click OK to save the change, then click OK again to exit the Properties dialog.

Organizing Conversations

By default, Microsoft Outlook organizes your email inbox chronologically, showing the most recent email at the top of the list. In some ways, that is useful. But if you have been involved in a long, drawn-out e-mail conversation including several correspondents, you have probably wished for a way to view your inbox as conversational threads.

The good news is Microsoft Outlook 2010 has introduced a Conversation view that will group e-mails together based on the Subject line. The Conversation view is available on the View tab.

Message threading can be tweaked to your preference with the Conversation settings drop-down, and conversations themselves can be expanded or collapsed by clicking the arrow to the left of the conversation header.

You can, of course, toggle this setting on and off as necessary.

Little Things Can Add Up

Accumulating a bag of minor tricks like these can make Microsoft Outlook much more user-friendly. While these are not “mission critical” features, they are the sort of “nice-to-haves” users would not even think to look for but still appreciate knowing about.

  1. This does not take into account holidays or special calculation rules in various courts. Still, this is a great trick for at least ensuring you get a heads-up before a deadline.