Office Tigers on Outlook

by Krishna on March 24, 2006

The “Office Tiger” is one of those water-cooler jokes. It actually means “Microsoft Office Tiger” and refers to managers who have outgrown doing the “dirty work” (coding, developing, testing — you name it!) a long time ago and now spend their entire time in MS-Office products such as Outlook (sending & receiving emails), Word (typing up documents), Excel (for managing deadlines unless they use MS-Project) and PowerPoint (for creating the 30,000-feet view for the upper management).

Perceptive or obvious — however you want to spin it, but that it is the way it is. Managers spend most of their time in communication (emails, phone calls and meetings), reviewing work and preparing documentation. The tools for the job are actually quite inexpensive when compared to your average developer with the memory-packed machine for quick builds and all those Enterprise IDE’s and plethora of developer tools.

So, the question here is: Are you an Office Tiger or merely a cub learning the ropes? Here are ten quick tips and tricks to make the transition from “Office Cub” to “Office Tiger” in Outlook. These are all Outlook (read “email client”) tips since email is today’s primary mode of communication and the efficient manager should get it under control. I will post more on other Office products soon.

  1. As Mark Twain said, “Put all your eggs in the one basket and — WATCH THAT BASKET”. Use Outlook to run your desk. Ask everyone to email you regarding tasks or information. If you are using VOIP, have voicemail delivered in email format. Use RSS/Atom feeds to read blogs on the latest happenings related to your field instead of visiting various websites. If your company has a corporate enterprise application, find out if the application can deliver notifications to your Inbox.
  2. Keep an organized folder structure on your hard disk and in Outlook. Keep yourself disciplined in maintaining files in the right location. By proper organization of files and emails, you reduce clutter and the associated stress. This may seem obvious to you, but use sub-folders. Don’t save files & attachments randomly in My Documents or the Windows Desktop.
  3. Install a desktop search engine like Google Desktop. This will save you enormous amounts of time searching for documents on your hard disk. The desktop search programs have grown increasingly better in recent times and allow you to search a wide variety of file formats, including media files.
  4. Keep a lean Outlook main folder by replying to the incoming emails and moving them to other folders. Do not let emails stack up in the main folder. Take time out to reply to emails — delegate, if necessary. Think of the main Outlook folder as your desk. Would you keep unwanted stuff lying around on your desk for months?
  5. Control incoming email by using junk mail controls and programs. Ask to be removed from mailing lists or discussions that you are no longer concerned with. Inform others that they should email you only if you need to act upon or know the information in the email. Use blacklists and Outlook filters to manage emails from different persons or on different subjects.
  6. Use Microsoft Word integration with Outlook to compose emails that are well-formatted. Such emails are more readable and effective formatting can emphasize the necessary sections in the email. Microsoft Word provides facilities such as tables and images that can enhance the outgoing communication. The drawing facility in recent Word versions is very sophisticated — you can get your point across much more easily.
  7. Schedule appointments with Microsoft Outlook and thus get effective confirmations from participants. You could use Outlook Calendar as a planner for the day or as a diary of activities done for the day. This can be very useful in “debugging” what happened on a particular day. Never commit to an appointment date before scheduling it in Outlook.
  8. Turn on the feature to save outgoing emails. Regularly move the emails in your Sent Items to appropriate folders in Outlook so that you can later understand the communication that went on in a particular project or related to a specific discussion.
  9. When a project ends, move the emails to another Outlook DAT file and archive it safely (maybe write it to a CD). Keep your main Outlook file thin. Unless you thrive on chaos, it is psychologically satisfying to know that something has ended and you no longer have to worry about it.
  10. Most importantly, ensure that your desktop has a good anti-virus software and is backed up. It doesn’t cost much while losing your information is disaster. Ask your friends not to forward junk emails. And do not use your office email for personal stuff

I guess all of the instructions above may not be “quick” tips. You may need to know more about Outlook options and features to perform some of them. For example, creating a new Outlook file is not a familiar task. Other tasks such as maintaining a good folder structure requires focus and time, both of which may be in short supply.

But except for Item 10 (which you should do right away if you are not protected), you can slowly try to adapt some of the suggestions provided above. I personally practice all of the mentioned ideas and I have found it very productive — keeps a busy desk more manageable and reduces clutter and confusion. Good luck to you!


itsmanoj_k1 March 25, 2006 at 1:52 pm

ok.. well said. I've started using the powers of Outlook since last few years and it is really very helpful. You don't miss anythign as long as you have the outlook open on your system. But the downside is that you depend too much on the software and suffer if this is not readily available... like in case you are away from your office / system for a long time.

Abhinav April 11, 2006 at 9:34 am

I wish more managers would use better products than Windoze/Outlook/IE/Office. This can easily be replaced by Linux(Especially Ubuntu)/Thunderbird(or mutt)/Firefox/Openoffice, which is also less expensive (actually, free !). This statement holds true more for those managers who have recently upgraded from doing the "dirty" work 🙂

I understand that there are a LOT of perceived difficulties to this. Some of them are :

1. Not supported by most companies' IT dept.

This can be a bit of an inconvenience, but most MNCs do allow employees to use alternative solutions, even if they do not provide support. Support for Linux is never a problem, with such a vast community of helpful people 🙂

2. All other managers use Windoze.

This can be a problem, but not too big a one. Most Office docs open properly in OO, and OO can actually write in Office .doc format. You can also push for documents in open formats - such as text, html, pdf

3. Time consuming

Not exactly ! Try one of the Ubuntu Live CDs, and you will understand how painless Linux can be 🙂

Feel free to contact me at abhinavmodi at gmail if you want to discuss this further. I will blog about this topic too 🙂 Thanks Krishna for motivating me to do so 🙂

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