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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

    How to Really Achieve Goals 8 Outlook Hints Everyone Should Know 7 Things Smart Learners Do Differently 10 Ways To Have Quality Sleep That You Probably Don’t Know 9 Things You Can Do To Completely Unleash Your Potentials

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    How to Increase Work Productivity: 9 Ground Rules

    How to Increase Work Productivity: 9 Ground Rules

    We all have those days when completing our assigned tasks seems beyond reach. With the temptation of social media, mobile games, and the internet in general—not to mention the constant bustle of people in the office—it’s easy to fall prey to disruptions and distractions at work.

    So, what can we do about it? How to be productive at work?

    While we don’t have a foolproof system that can completely eliminate disturbances and diversions, we do have 9 ground rules that can be applied to help give your productivity levels a boost.

    Keep reading to find out our tips on work productivity.

    What Does It Mean to Be Productive?

    How to be productive at work?” is the age-old question plaguing employees and employers alike around the world. Regardless of where you work and what you do, everyone is always looking for new ways to be more efficient and effective.

    But what does being productive actually entail?

    Completing more tasks on your list or working longer hours doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being more productive. It just means you’re more busy, and productivity shouldn’t be confused with busyness.

    Productivity means achieving effective results in as short amount of time as possible, leaving you with more time to enjoy freely.

    It involves working smarter, not harder. It means refining processes, speeding up workflows, and reducing the chances of interruptions.

    Productivity is best achieved when looking at your current way of working, identifying the bottlenecks, flaws, and hindrances, and then finding ways to improve.

    9 Ground Rules on How to Be Productive at Work

    1. Avoid Multitasking

    Multitasking can give the impression that more tasks can be accomplished as you’re doing multiple things at once. However, the opposite is true.

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    Research has shown that attempting to do several things at the same time takes a toll on productivity and that shifting between tasks can cost up to 40 percent of someone’s time.[1] That’s because your focus and concentration is constantly hindered due to having to switch between tasks.

    If you have a lot of tasks on your plate, determine your priorities and allocate enough time for each task. That way you can work on what’s urgent first and have enough time to complete the rest of your tasks.

    2. Turn off Notifications

    According to a Gallup poll, more than 50 percent of US smartphone owners admit to checking their phones a few times an hour.[2]

    Switching off your phone—or at least your notifications—during work hours is a good way to prevent you from checking your phone all the time.

    The same applies to your computer. If you have the privilege of accessing social media on your work desktop, switch off the notifications on there.

    Another good tip is to logout from your social media accounts. Therefore when you feel the urge to check it, you might be swayed because your page isn’t so easily accessible.

    3. Manage Interruptions

    There are certain disruptions in the office that are unavoidable such as your manager requesting a quick meeting or your colleague asking for assistance. In order to deal with this, your best approach is to know how to handle interruptions like a pro.

    Be proactive and inform the people around you of your need to focus. Turn your status on as “busy/unavailable” on your work chat app.

    If you’re on a deadline, let your colleagues know that you need to concentrate and would really appreciate not being interrupted for the moment, or even work from home if that’s a feasible option for you.

    By anticipating and having a plan in place to manage them, this will minimize your chances of being affected by interruptions.

    4. Eat the Frog

    Mark Twain once famously said that:

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    “if it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

    What this basically means is that you should get your biggest, most urgent task out of the way first.

    We all have that big, important task that we don’t want to do but know we have to do because it holds the biggest consequence if we don’t complete it.

    Eat the frog is a productivity technique that encourages you to do your most important, most undesirable task first. Completing this particular task before anything else will give you a huge sense of accomplishment. It will set the ball rolling for the rest of the day and motivate you to eagerly complete your other tasks.

    5. Cut Down on Meetings

    Meetings can use up a lot of time, which is time that can be used to do something useful.

    You have to wait for everyone to arrive, then after the pleasantries are out of the way, you can finally get stuck into it. And sometimes, it may take a whole hour to iron out one single issue.

    The alternative? Don’t arrange a meeting at all. You’ll be surprised at how many things can be resolved through an email or a quick phone call.

    But that doesn’t mean you should eliminate meetings altogether. There are certain circumstances where face-to-face discussions and negotiations are still necessary. Just make sure you weigh up the options prior.

    If it’s just information sharing, you’re probably better off sending an email; but if brainstorming or in-depth discussion is required, then an in-person meeting would be best.

    6. Utilize Tools

    Having the right tools to work with is crucial as you’re only really as good as the resources you have at your disposal. Not only will you be able to complete tasks as efficiently as possible, but they can streamline processes. Said processes are essential to a business as they manage tasks, keep employees connected, and hold important data.

    If you’re the manager or business owner, ensure your team has the right tools in place.

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    And if you’re an employee and think the tools you currently have to work with aren’t quite up to par, let your manager know. A good team leader understands the significance of having the right tools and how it can impact employee productivity.

    Some examples of tools that could be used:

    Communication
    • Slack for team chat and collaboration.
    • Samepage for video conference software.
    • Zendesk for customer service engagement.
    Task Management
    • Zenkit for task and project collaboration.
    • Wunderlist for listing your to-do’s.
    • Wekan for an open source option.
    Database Management
    Time Tracking
    • Clockify for a free tracker.
    • TMetric for workspace integrations.
    • TimeCamp for attendance and productivity monitoring.

    You can also take a look at these Top 10 Productivity Tools to Help You Achieve 10x More in Less Time.

    7. Declutter and Organize

    Having a disorganized and cluttered workspace can limit your ability to focus. According to researchers, physical clutter can negatively impact your ability to concentrate and take in information.[3] Which is why keeping your work environment well ordered and clutter-free is important.

    Ensure you have your own system of organization so you know what to do when the paperwork starts to pile up.

    Being organized will also ensure that you know where to find the appropriate stationery, tools, or documents when you need it. A US study reveals that the average worker can waste up to one week a year looking for misplaced items.[4]

    Here’s a useful guide to help you declutter and organize: How to Declutter Your Life and Reduce Stress (The Ultimate Guide)

    8. Take Breaks

    Taking regular breaks is essential for maintaining productivity at work. Working in front of a computer can lead to a sedentary lifestyle which can place you at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Even a 30 second microbreak can increase your productivity levels up to 30 percent.

    As well as your physical health, breaks are also crucial for your mental and emotional wellbeing. That’s because your brain is like a muscle, the more it works without a break, the easier it is for it to get worn out.

    Ensuring you actually take your breaks can prevent you from suffering from decision fatigue. It can also help boost creativity.

    Take a look at this article and learn why you should start scheduling time for breaks: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

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    9. Drink Water

    Although we know we should, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water during the working day.

    Many of us turn to tea or coffee for the caffeine hit to keep us going. However, like taking breaks, drinking water is essential for maintaining productivity levels at work. It’s simple and effective.

    Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration and also headaches, tiredness, and weight gain.

    A good tip to avoid dehydration is to keep a water bottle at your desk as it can serve as a reminder to constantly drink water.

    If you find the taste of water a little bland, add some fruit such as cucumber or lemon to give it a better taste.

    You can also get more ideas on how to drink more water here: How to Drink More Water (and Why You Should)

    The Bottom Line

    The preceding 9 ground rules on work productivity aren’t the be-all, end-all. You and the company you work for may have other tips on how productivity is best increased and maintained.

    After all, it’s something that can be perceived differently depending on the exact job and work environment.

    In saying that, however, the 9 ground rules serve as a good foundation for anyone finding themselves succumbing to disruption and distraction, and are looking for ways to overcome them.

    A good tip to keep in mind is that change doesn’t happen overnight. Start small and be consistent. If you slip up, just dust yourself off and try again.

    Developing habits happens gradually, so as long as you keep up with it, you’ll soon start to notice the changes you’ve been making and eventually enjoy the fruits of your labor.

    More About Boosting Productivity

    Featured photo credit: Cathryn Lavery via unsplash.com

    Reference

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