Surviving “Out of Office” Return

27 07 2008

by Vee Smith
Now is the time when a lot of people are either off on or coming back from their Summer holidays. All refreshed and raring to go, they open up their computers, and, whoa! It seems the whole world has sent them an email as there are thousands of unread new emails! Just where do you begin to sift through them all? Which are the important ones? And did you realise you had subscribed to this many newsletters? Well, before you slink off back to back to bed with a couple of paracetamol to combat the head-ache just thinking about it, here’s some tips to make light work of it and get you back up to speed in no time at all.

How to quickly sort and prioritise your emails in Outlook

Create Sub-Folders in Outlook

There are several tools in Outlook that you can use to quickly sort through masses of emails. By default all your emails land in your inbox, and when there are hundreds and thousands of emails, it’s difficult to know where to find the important ones.

First create 4 folders,

  • right click on inbox
  • select new folder
  • type in a name

The four folders could be called: “urgent”, “clients”, “biz admin”, “read later” or your might find it easier to call them “urgent/important”, “not urgent but important”, “urgent but not important”, “not urgent or important”.

Sort By Tool

Secondly, use the “sort by” tools. By default emails are sorted by date order, but they can also be sorted by any of the headings, so first try sorting by “importance” (click the icon with the exclamation mark),

  • drag the sub-heading into the newly created “urgent” folder. All the emails under that sub-heading get dragged along with it.

Next sort by “from” (click on the heading called From).

  • scroll through and find the sub-headings of emails from your clients and drag (again by the sub-heading) to the newly created “clients” folder.

Next sort by “subject” by clicking on the heading called subject.

It should be easy to identify all the newsletters and other bulletin type emails which can be dragged over to “read later”, or emails related to your admin (tasks essential to the health of your business but doesn’t generate income)

Creating Rules

Rules are another tool you can use to filter out emails:

  • Select a typical email or newsletter
  • Right click
  • Select “Create Rule”
  • Check the relevant box
  • hit “select folder” and locate the folder you want them moved to
  • OK, OK
  • Check the box to run the rule on messages in the current folder

Using Flags

Having sorted out emails into the various sub-folders, you can now go through each folder and flag each email with a different colour to denote priority or project. For example you could allocate a colour flag for each client, or project, then when you sort by flag, all the same emails relating to that client or project appear together, making it easier to deal with.

Hopefully, your inbox should be looking much less stressful and now, it’s easier to identify the important emails and deal with them first. It’s also much easier to prioritise which category to work on next. You could schedule half to an hour a day to go through the “business admin” and “read later” folders and similarly flag/file/delete them as you’ve read them or dealt with them.

By Vee Smith

Founder, My Super VA


How to introduce Structure into your Work Life without harming your Creativity

3 07 2008

by Madeleine Long of mad about admin

To me structure means efficiency, organisation and control over what I’m doing.
To some people however it means constraints, boundaries and the stifling of
creative thinking.
The revelation is that structure doesn’t impede creativity, it actually
supports it and encourages it to grow by allowing you to control time wasting
activities, such as these:

1. E-mail
E-mail is a wonderful invention, however most people’s obsession with
constantly checking it is not.  A familiar scenario – you’re at your desk
engrossed in a project when *ping!* an e-mail arrives.  You stop to read
it, it’s not particularly urgent but when you get back to your project, the
flow has gone.  So now you have 2 issues: one to remember to flag up the
e-mail for response later and second to try and remember what fabulous
ground-breaking idea you were nurturing just before the mail arrived. 
2. Meetings
An hour of the day to meet someone, chat about each others businesses. Oh
and 15 minutes each way to get there and back. Plus 10 minutes to find a
parking space and get a ticket. And another 10 while you pop into the
supermarket on the way back to get something you’ve run out of. It’s very easy
for an hours meeting to turn into two and if you have as little as two a week,
if they are not structured properly, it can seriously eat into your time.
3. List making
(at the expense of other activities)
Writing a list as a way of using time whilst avoiding doing something you don’t
want to do, or the top cardinal sin of writing a list that covers everything
you want to do in the next decade and then not doing it because the list is
just too big to even contemplate.  A short list of things that need
to be done in the next 24 hours is all you need.
How can I help
overcome them with structure?


1. E-mail  – Try allocating set times for reading and responding to
mail, such as an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. In between
these times SWITCH IT OFF! Don’t be afraid to be unavailable for a few hours a
day, if it’s urgent people will generally ring. If your home and work e-mail
address are the same then consider changing one of them so you can easily
segregate work and home things.
2. Meetings – Structure your week so that wherever possible you have your
meetings on the same day – if you can do several 121’s back to back in the same
venue then that’s a real winner! Don’t be afraid to put boundaries on your
time, if you only have 45 minutes then say so at the beginning and stick to it.
This way everyone knows exactly where they stand.
3. Lists – Plan for 10 minutes at the end of each day to write a list of tasks
for the next day while they are fresh in your mind. And then plan in enough
time to actually do the things on the list! Don’t worry about the next years
activities, these should already be in your business plan so you’re just losing
time by duplicating things.
Do I really
need structure?

Write down the answers to these 2 questions, keep a simple time log for a week
and see if the figures match up at the end.  This is your answer!
1.      How many hours a day do you want to work and
how many are you actually working?
2.      How many of those hours are you actually
achieving what you set out to do and how many are lost to other activities?
A weekly planner is a great way of keeping on track and a brilliant evaluation
tool.  Make a simple spreadsheet marked out with days and working hours,
then block out the e-mail checking times, list making and meetings. This will
allow you to see at a glance how much time you have left for other
activities.  If you try and stick to a pattern such as marketing on
Mondays 2 til 4, e-mail 4 til 5, list for next day 5 til 5.15 then you should
soon start to see exactly how much time you have and when, allowing you to
decide if it’s worth outsourcing work or not.