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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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    Last Updated on September 20, 2018

    How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

    How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

    If you’re going to spend 1/3 of our life at work, you should enjoy it, right?

    Trust me, I know that’s easier said than done. Difficult coworkers, less-than-desirable tasks, or even just being in the wrong position can all lead to a lack of enjoyment and fulfillment in your work.

    But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way? Or better yet, if you struggle with all of the above (and then some), what if I told you that enjoying your work and finding fulfillment regardless of those obstacles is possible?

    Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you because I was there too. Before implementing the tips below, I struggled to get through each day, much less find real fulfillment, in the office. Now, even after the toughest days on the job, I still come away with feelings of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment. The best news is, so can you.

    If you’re ready to make those hours count and find happiness and fulfillment in the office, then read on to find out how to be happy at work and find fulfillment in your career:

    1. Discover the root(s) of the problem

    For this first step, we’ll need to think back to 8th-grade physics (humor me). We all know Newton’s 3rd law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When you think about it, the same can be said outside of physics, and we see this law play out in our daily lives, day after day.

    Simply put, all the issues we deal with in the office (and life in general) affect us in a noticeable way.

    If you’re appreciated at work, like the work you do and receive frequent praise, promotions, or raises, then this will probably have an altogether positive effect on your life in the office.

    But what if we reverse this? What if you feel under appreciated, get passed up for promotions, or get denied raises? This is sure to affect the way you feel at work on a negative level.

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    So, before you can implement the steps of feeling happy and fulfilled at work, we first have to discover the reasons why you don’t feel that way already.

    Think about it, write a list, or make a mental note. Run through all the reasons you’re dissatisfied in the office, and don’t hold back. Knowing the exact obstacles you’re facing will make overcoming them that much easier.

    In fact, as a side-challenge to this article, I recommend picking the top three reasons contributing to your dissatisfaction at work and using the following tips to tackle them.

    2. Practice gratitude for an instant uplift

    Did you know the simple act of feeling grateful can increase your happiness and make you more fulfilled at work?[1]

    Well, it’s true, and it’s scientifically proven.

    Dr. Lisa Firestone notes that practicing gratitude “reminds us of what we lacked in the past.” Meaning, it serves as both a boost to happiness and a bit of a wake-up call that things have been or could be, much worse.

    Trying to conjure up feelings of gratitude can seem almost impossible when your work situation seems bleak, but hear me out: There are incredibly easy ways to get started and it doesn’t involve trying to “force” yourself to feel grateful about things that stress you out.

    For an instant pick-me-up, try this:

    Find a loose piece of paper, a blank sticky note, or anything you can write on, be it physical or digital. List just three things that you are absolutely without-a-doubt thankful for in your life.

    Now here’s the trick: Don’t just list what you’re grateful for, you have to list why you’re grateful for them, too.

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    For example, simply saying “I’m grateful for my kids” will probably make you feel good, sure, but what if we could amplify the warm, fuzzy feeling into real, lasting motivation?

    Instead, write the reason you’re so thankful for your children. Is it because they make you laugh and forget about other stressors? Or maybe they help to remind you of why you go to work every day in the first place?

    Whatever your reasons may be, jot them down and keep your list somewhere you can see it while you work. A quick glance at your gratitude list throughout the day can provide powerful, positive motivation to keep going.

    Bonus:

    If you can find just three things to be thankful for that specifically relate to your job, and list why those things make you grateful, your list can also help you find fulfillment in your work itself which can give you an even bigger boost of positivity throughout the day.

    3. Take meaningful time for yourself

    We all know creating a strong work-life balance can be crucial to feeling satisfied in our jobs, but rarely do we ever address how we’re spending our time outside of work.

    Many of us survive a 9-hour work day and commute home only to find ourselves busy with our personal to-do lists, running a household, and taking care of a child (or 2 or 3, and so on).

    If you spend all your time working, whether in the office or within your household, you’re going to feel drained at some point. This is why setting meaningful time for yourself every day is highly important.

    Look, I get it: I don’t know anyone in the working world who can shun all responsibility for a 3-movie marathon or happy hour with friends whenever they feel like it. But finding time for yourself, be it just 30 minutes to an hour, can really make a difference in how you feel at work.

    This works because you’ll have time to actually relax and let the day’s stress melt away while you enjoy something just for you. The to-do lists and stressors will still be there after you’re refreshed and ready to tackle them.

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    No time for me-time? Try this:

    If you have a busy household, you’ll need to capitalize on a block of time you know will be completely uninterrupted. The easiest way to do this: try waking up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than usual (or push bedtime back an hour if you’re a night owl, like me) and take time to do something you enjoy.

    This could be reading with a cup of tea, catching up on Facebook, spending time on a passion project—anything! As long as it’s meaningful to you, it works!

    Bonus:

    Starting your day with meaningful time for yourself can set you up to have a positive mood that lasts well into office hours, and having your me-time in the evening can give you something positive to look forward to during the day.

    4. Get productive and feel accomplished

    Don’t you just love the feeling of checking the last item off of a hefty to-do list? That’s because self-motivation can be a huge driver of positivity and success.

    When we accomplish something, no matter how small, it makes us feel good, plain and simple. Applying this tactic to your daily work can be the motivator you need to find fulfillment during the daily office grind.

    While there are tons of steps to get more done at work, I’ll share my personal favorite: Prioritizing.

    Now, many people handle prioritizing differently. Some like to tackle the little tasks first so they can spend focused time on the big to-dos. Others like to knock out the big items first and get to the smaller ones when they can.

    No matter which camp you’re in, you may be missing one crucial step: Time management.

    So how’s this work? When you factor in the amount of time your priorities will take, it can transform your productivity ten-fold.

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    Say you have three top priorities for the day. You might jump into the smaller ones or the bigger ones depending on your preferred method, and then find yourself out of time and bringing work home with you at the end of the day.

    This is prevented when you factor in time. Knowing how long each item will take, or deliberately setting specific blocks of time for your priorities can help you accomplish more in the same 8-9 (or 12) hours that you typically spend at work.

    Try this:

    Take a look at your priorities and consider how long they should take. Pop into your Google calendar (or Filofax, whatever works for you) and schedule time to work on your priority items around any important meetings or events of the day.

    The most important thing to remember is to stick to your dedicated time.

    Often, when we know exactly how long we have to work on something (and honor this time limit), we’re motivated to get more done on time to avoid taking work home at the end of the day.

    The bottom line

    There’s no need to waste 1/3 of our lives feeling unsatisfied at work. Luckily, you now have the tools to get started, take back your time, and become happy and fulfilled at work again.

    The only question is — which tip will you try first?

    Featured photo credit: Ellyot via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1]Psychology Today: The Healing Power of Gratitude

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