Do you ever wonder if you have over-committed yourself? Are your legal pads or Post-it notes full of half or unfinished lists of things to do? Think about those lists and then think about your calendar. If you are like me, if something is on your calendar, it gets done. There’s something special about the calendar. Lawyers live or die by deadlines, so if something’s on the calendar, there’s a good chance it will get done. This article will suggest a few ways we can harness the power of the Outlook Calendar to get things done and feel less stress.
Visualize your to-do list
To take advantage of Outlook’s built-in task system, set Outlook to show your to-dos. In the Inbox, go to “View” | “To-Do Bar” and set it to show “Tasks.” You should see an area to the right of your Inbox that will show your Outlook tasks.
Open Outlook’s Calendar in a new window
When planning your day or week, it can be helpful to have both the Inbox and Calendar open at the same time. In Outlook 2013, click on the Calendar, then click “View” | “Window” | “Open in New Window” (or right-click on the word Calendar in Outlook and choose “Open in New Window”).
A separate Calendar window will open, and you can arrange the screens on your desktop to sit side-by-side. In Windows 7, click on the window you want to arrange, and press the Windows key and the right or left arrow. This will move the window to the right (or left) of the screen. Repeat with the other window to arrange them side-by-side.
Flag for follow up
Many lawyers use their Inbox as a task list. Each email generally represents something that needs a response (or you would have filed it, right?). I use Outlook Flags to “flag” a message I want to get out of my Inbox, but still need to reply to later.
Select a message and then click “Follow Up” (it has a flag icon). Outlook presents several options. Choose the one that fits your situation or create a custom follow up. Then, look at the right side of the screen in the task area you activated earlier. You should see the email, listed by its subject, along with a checkbox.
Depending on the reminder options you chose, when that email is due, you will get a reminder from Outlook. In addition, the “task” will turn red if it is overdue. Used appropriately, this can provide a nice visual reminder.
Drag and drop to create appointments
Now, click on the email that you flagged above. Drag that email from your Inbox to your Calendar and drop it on the day and a time on your Calendar that you want to spend replying to that email (use the same date you set in the follow-up flag, but customize the time).
Outlook converts the email into an appointment. The email’s subject becomes the appointment’s subject. The email’s body is contained in the body of the appointment. Leave any attachments with the flagged email. Add reminders and set the duration of the appointment.
Next, file the email (click “Move” and then choose a folder or press “CTRL Shift v”). That way, the email is out of the inbox. You can now relax because you know you have set aside time to work on that email.
On the appointed day, your Calendar should have an appointment with a time blocked out to respond to that email. In addition, the to-do bar on your Calendar will show the email, and you can simply double click to open and then click reply.
Note, if you have a practice management system that removes your emails from Outlook, this tip may not work or you may need to create a “follow up” folder for emails that you aren’t ready to save to the practice management system.
The reality is this isn’t feasible for all emails. Reserve this process for emails that require a response by a certain time. The idea is to make sure there is time dedicated to work on the task and have easy access to the information contained in the email.
Two more tips: First, always estimate more time than you think you need to finish a task. Second, leave at least an hour a day free on your Outlook Calendar as margin because something will happen to mess up your plan. Think of that margin as a time-emergency fund.
Have a tech-related question? Tweet @sethwil or use #askILstartpage with your question and Seth will try to answer it in a future article.•
Seth Wilson is a partner at Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons LLP in Indianapolis. In addition to practicing law, he writes at sethrwilson.com, helps manage technology operations of the firm and frequently speaks and advises on legal technology issues. The opinions expressed are those of the author.