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How to Start an Effective Email Search

How to Start an Effective Email Search

How many times have you searched for an email for a really long time saying, “I had it somewhere?” Or perhaps you have asked your colleague to send a message once again, and now another person must find the message because you couldn’t. Now is the right time to learn the basics of an effective email search.

Effective Email Search

Imagine you search for 10 emails a day and you could save 30 seconds each time. During the whole calendar year you could save more than sixteen hours, which means two working days off!

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What I have found is that most people put just one word in the search bar and play with sorting by different columns to find the desired message. Sometimes it’s even worse: two words are entered with the expectation that the search will find the messages containing BOTH of them, not ANY of them, or the opposite.

Let’s see if we can learn the basics of email search in just five minutes! There are two help pages that you definitely should read. And then practice. And read once again: Learn to narrow your search criteria for better searches in Outlook and Gmail advanced search. You may be surprised how similar these engines are for the end user. If you use Outlook at work, it will raise your email search skills and at the same time you will be able to use most of the knowledge when using Gmail and vice versa.

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Have you ever noticed that Outlook has a search bar available with just one click?

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email search in outlook

    There are just few keywords and operators you need to learn and if you use them effectively, you can build some more skills on top of that. I will focus on Outlook and if you want to learn the basics for gmail, you will quickly notice few simple differences.

    Examples

    There will be just one example that we will be using to build queries to narrow down our search and find just one message among thousands of others. You remember that last week “Nabielec” sent you the presentation you need. Let us start with the simplest case.

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    • Emails from “Nabielec”
      Many times I’ve seen people putting “Nabielec” and then sorting by sender to quickly find the right one. However, you can simply use the operator (sometimes called keyword) “from:”. There are just few operators (usually logical operators) that do not require parameters, but for the rest, the standard usage is “operator: parameter”. In this case we may simply use:
    from: Nabielec
    • Emails from “Nabielec” received last week
      Unfortunatelly “Nabielec” sends tons of emails, so you found few hundreds with this search. We have to improve the expression. This time we will simply use two keywords: “from” and “received” with no magic. Just try this:
    from: Nabielec received: last week
    • Emails from “Nabielec” with an attachment, received last week
      Now we got down to some reasonable amount, but still most of the messages found are without attachment and that makes the picture blurry. One more keyword will let you find messages that contain the attachment (or not): “hasattachment”.
    from: Nabielec received: last week hasattachment: yes
    • Emails with both “Project” and “Next steps”
      In the previous step five emails were found and you got the presentation you wanted. However, you recall the fact that there was another great presentation someone has sent that had “Project” and “Next steps” in it. For that purpose we will use logical operator AND (yes, use uppercase) and “Next steps” need to be taken into quotes, otherwise “next” and “steps” could be in a different parts of the e-mail. The great thing about this search is that not only it will search in the email body, but also in the email subject and attachments.
    Project AND "Next steps"
    • Emails with “Meeting minutes” and “Connect” in the subject
      Your previous search reminded you the project called “Connect” and you are pretty sure that the presentation was sent in the meeting minutes. You could simply try “Meeting minutes” AND “Connect”, however that could find unwanted messages with “Connect” in the email body or attachments. Key of effective email search is to find exactly what you want. This time we introduce the operator “subject:”.
    subject: Connect AND "Meeting minutes"

    Conclusion

    I found that just these basic operators give many people dramatic improvement of their productivity when using email. Many people are using large set of folders and remembers complex categorization rules, however when they think about the message they want to find, they most often think something like “email from Paul with the attachment”. This should be immediately turned into search criteria, rather than transforming it into a set of complex rules like “it was about project X, so it could be in folder X. No, wait, it was urgent, so it will be in the Urgent folder. No, wait. It was sent by my boss, I have specific folder for that”. Skip the middle step and tell what you need by a nice search expression.

    I hope you can save at least 30 seconds with every email search and you will get your two days off at the end of the year!

    More by this author

    Piotr Nabielec

    Author, CEO, Consultant

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    Published on January 7, 2021

    How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details

    How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details

    Some people see the trees for the forest, and some see only the forest, meaning they lack strong attention to detail. But even if you’re one of the people who take a macro rather than a micro view, true professionalism requires balancing both.

    If focusing on the fine points is not your forte, you will benefit from training yourself to pay attention to details. You will profit by saving yourself time, effort, money, and credibility.

    Why Training Yourself in Attention to Details Pays Off

    You add value to your organization when you make the effort to ensure that you performed your work thoroughly and effectively. This is why job postings often list “attention to details” among the required skills.

    When you present your supervisor or client with well-completed, high-quality work the first time, it maximizes your value and minimizes wasted time. Detail-oriented people are also more adept at catching mistakes that could lead to costly blunders.

    Moreover, attention to detail is an indicator of possessing other in-demand employee qualities, such as organization, thoroughness, and focus. In some professions, such as accounting, engineering, medical research, and more, you can only excel if you have trained yourself to pay attention to details.

    In other professions, possessing strong attention to detail is the very quality that will get you promoted to a position where you will be asked to consider the big picture.

    Finally, if you are the “go-to” details person, everyone else on the team can relax a bit. They know the project is in good hands and will likely throw you more projects as a reward. This will ultimately lead to your advancement.

    3 Important Aspects of Becoming More Detail-Oriented

    Here are the 3 important things you need to learn if you want to remedy your lack of attention to detail:

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    1. Respect deadlines
    2. Understand the work-flow plan
    3. Build in time to mess up

    1. Respect Deadlines

    Deadlines lend all projects a finish line. One smart idea is to take the given deadline and work backward from it, calculating when your piece of the project is due. Then, if you stick to the proscribed schedule for completing the mini-projects that you have, you will never miss a deadline.

    One important note on this: It is smarter to stick to the deadline and turn in work that merits a “B+” than to blow the deadline with “A” work. Chances are, through revision and suggested changes from others on the team, you can bring up your B+ work to an A later. But if you disregard deadlines, you will lose the respect of your boss and fellow teammates.

    2. Understand the Work-Flow Plan

    Your team is developing work in conjunction with other teams who have projects and deadlines of their own. When you grasp the whole work-flow plan, you may be able to either add insight to the greater project or to your own smaller piece of it that others at the firm will consider valuable.

    3. Build in Time to Mess Up

    You can expect that “what can go wrong will go wrong.” Don’t overpromise on deadlines. Something likely will mess up, but when it does if you built in the time to fix it, those around you won’t freak out.

    Chances are, you already give your attention to several details. Take heart. You can do this! You can overcome your lack of attention to detail and become more detail-oriented.

    For starters, consider this: Most people take the time and put in extra effort into the activities or undertakings that matter to them most. Training yourself to become more detail-oriented can mean adopting a similar pattern of behavior.

    Apply the same attention you give to your appearance. Are you a meticulous dresser? Do you pay attention to how you pair patterns and colors, and how you accessorize a particular outfit?

    This is the same system to use when you lack attention to detail with your work. Give every item careful consideration so that each one contributes to the perfectly pieced-together whole.

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    Assemble the ingredients the way you do when you cook. Cooking and baking from scratch require close attention to details as you measure and add each ingredient in sequence, and you time everything so that the meal comes together at the same time.

    Similarly, your work product requires you to gauge whether all the ingredients have been added and that your final product is delivered on time.

    Organize your business network like you do your social contacts. If you follow a broad base of friends and acquaintances on social media, you can apply similar skills to stay up-to-date on details associated with business acquaintances.

    When you meet somebody who could be influential to your career or a resource for improving your skills, follow that person on social media. Respond to their posts to keep the lines of communication flowing.

    12 Tips to Help You if You Lack Attention to Detail

    Teaching yourself to take note of important details involves sharpening your perceptions and thinking ahead. The following tips will help you adopt these practices. Master these habits when training yourself to become detail-oriented.

    1. Learn to Listen Well

    You will pick up relevant information and needed nuance when you apply the skills of active listening. In conversations, train yourself to make eye contact, give your undivided attention to the speaker, and ask pertinent follow-up questions.

    Training yourself to pay better attention to details in conversations includes learning to fully concentrate on what others have to say. If you find it hard, there’s no harm in taking notes on what they say.

    2. Pay Attention to Social Cues

    Make a point of noticing body language and facial expressions that provide insights into how others perceive a situation. Social cues offer details that give you an understanding of how words and actions impact others. The infamous character Michael Scott of the television show “The Office” epitomizes the consequences of not paying attention to others’ body language.[1]

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    3. Follow Rules

    Rules and protocols usually come about from lessons learned and are put in place to avoid further mishaps—whether from a safety or efficiency standpoint. If you’re given step-by-step procedures to follow, check them off as you go. Also, return to the rules at the project’s end just to make sure you adhered to them all.

    4. Take Notes

    Note-taking is a way to boost your retention and gives you something to refer back to when you need to keep track of pertinent details. You will also heighten your focus as you listen for relevant information. Review your notes shortly after the meeting or conversation and highlight the content that you intend to apply.

    5. Prioritize What Needs Your Attention Now

    When you have a full slate of work that demands your attention, take a few moments to sort assignments from most to least urgent. Keep a calendar, spreadsheet, or project planning software up-to-date with schedules and deadlines to help you stay organized.

    As you tackle each urgent assignment, give it your full attention so no details are missed. Give yourself ample time—especially if you tend to be someone who waits until the last minute—as rushing can make you overlook important details.

    6. Have a Detail-Oriented Assistant Check Your Work

    If you lack attention to detail, then it makes sense to seek help from someone detail-oriented. If you have this option, take advantage of it. Two sets of eyes are better than one. Just be sure to credit your assistant for their help once the project is completed.

    7. Learn the Rules of Writing Well

    English is a difficult language, and grammar, punctuation, and spelling can all sabotage you unless you pay attention to detail. When in doubt, look it up. Free to use website services such as Grammarly can help.

    8. Proofread Before You Hit Send

    Nothing is perfect in its first draft. If you lack attention to detail, then put in the extra effort before submitting things. Before you send off any written work, check carefully not only for misspellings and incomplete sentences but also for improper tone, inappropriate colloquialisms, and inconsistent formatting. When your written communications are error-free, they will have their intended impact.

    9. Minimize Distractions

    It is impossible to stay focused when colleagues carry on conversations nearby or your mobile notifications ding you throughout the day. Do your best to limit distractions.

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    If you are working where there is a lot of noise or side activity, try wearing noise-canceling headphones or seeking out a quiet corner. Disable your notifications when you need to focus, and resolve to only check them after you have completed your assignment.

    10. Take Breaks

    It may sound counter-intuitive to stop and take a walk, but it’s necessary. Walk away from the screen. Moving from one task to the next across the span of your workday is a recipe for brain fatigue. Give your brain a recess time when you come to a natural stopping place or after you complete one project and before you start the next. These short pauses are necessary for sorting through all the details needed for coming up with successful solutions.

    11. Make Time for Reflection

    At the end of a workday, take a few minutes to go over the day’s events in your mind. What was said or relayed in conversations? What is the status of the projects you worked on? What else occurred that you should pay attention to? Could there have been any details you might have missed that you should address tomorrow?

    12. Keep a Detailed To-Do List

    This simple organizational tool is your best ally for getting your work done on time and for paying attention to the details. If you are pressed for time (and who isn’t?), write your list to coordinate with dayparts.

    Allot a certain number of hours to complete each task, do it, and then check it off. Nothing feels more rewarding than completing all the tasks on your list. But if you can’t finish them, then carry them over to the following day.

    Final Thoughts

    Details may seem small, but they can become a lot larger when they are overlooked. If you know you lack attention to detail, commit to training yourself to embrace the many facets that can help you consistently excel in the tasks you set out to accomplish.

    When you begin to catch your mistakes in advance or apply the tidbits of information you gathered from paying close attention, you will know that you have trained yourself in the fundamentals of becoming detail-oriented. After that, you should start hearing the phrase “Great job!” more often.

    More Tips on Boosting Your Attention to Detail

    Featured photo credit: Cristina Gottardi via unsplash.com

    Reference

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