Use the keyboard, Luke!

I’m immensely enjoying the GTD Summit in sunny California. And I’m not the only one. The atmosphere is great, and it’s terrific to meet people in person after reading their stories or exchanging e-mails.

This is a bunch of people who really get things done. Well, except for one thing: why do I see people using the mouse to move e-mails to other folders? I don’t get it.

Outlook has great support for keyboard shortcuts and if you’ll remember just four of them, you can archive your e-mails 40% faster! This is an impressive percentage when you want to get your inbox to empty every day!

To copy or move an e-mail to a different folder, use Ctrl+Shift+Y and Ctrl+Shift+V. These shortcut keys copy and move any Outlook item to another folder, so if you want to copy an e-mail to your calender you can use Ctrl+Shift+Y too. *)

To close an item, use Alt+S. This is useful after copying an e-mail to your tasks list, for instance. Outlook will show you the new task and Alt+S (Save and Close) makes it easy to finish working on the task.

And finally, to go to a different folder, just press Ctrl+Y. Outlook will display the ‘Go to Folder’ dialog. In this dialog you can select another folder using the cursor keys or by typing the name of the folder on the keyboard. If you’ve selected the correct folder, press Enter to go to that folder.

Enjoy your new speed.


*) If you think Ctrl+Shift+Y and Ctrl+Shift+V is too hard to use in real life, check out my e-book ‘Each Day Empty’. In it, you’ll learn how to set up Outlook for total productivity, including being able to use Alt+1 and Alt+2 instead of the more difficult standard Outlook shortcut keys for copying and moving e-mails.

Save attachments with the keyboard

Using more of your keyboard commends is the way to go when you value performance. If you’ve read my Each Day Empty eBook (I renamed it last week from ‘The Happy Outlook Book’ as some thought this was a confusing title), you know that I consider using keyboard shortcuts one of the most important strategies for optimizing your use of Microsoft Outlook.

Where Getting Things Done gives most of the mental strategies you need to quickly process incoming e-mail, the process is much more powerful and faster when you add shortcut keys to your repertoire.

Fortunately, Outlook has lots of shortcut keys that you can take advantage of. As soon as you get used to keeping the mouse motionless on your desk, you’ll start to find situations where you’d like to use the keyboard.

From the Reading Pane / Preview Window

Need to save one or more attachments from an incoming e-mail? Lots of people we train or coach use the mouse to save attachments. The task can be tackled using keys only.

  1. Open your inbox and display an e-mail with attachments in the Reading Pane in Outlook (View | Reading Pane | Right).
  2. Press Alt+F, N to open the Save Attachments menu item from the main menu.image
  3. Select the attachment you want to save, then press Enter to specify the location and filename for that file.image
  4. Or choose ‘All Attachments…’ and press Enter to specify the folder where you want to store all attachments for this e-mail. The original filenames will be used to store them in the folder you specify.

From an open e-mail

Some people open each e-mail to process it. Doing this is quite a bit slower, but if you want to open each e-mail when processing it, saving all attachments with the keyboard is a bit more difficult, but can be done.

  1. Open an e-mail with attachments by pressing Enter.
  2. Press Alt+H to select the first Tab on the Ribbon (Home).
  3. Press ‘X’ to select the button ‘Other Actions’.
  4. Press ‘N’ to select the ‘Save Attachments’ item.
  5. Press Enter to select the dialog that allows you to select the attachments you want to save.
  6. Specify the location of the folder in which you want to save these attachments.

If you open an e-mail and want to save just one attachment, you can also press Shift-Tab, then press the Right cursor key and, finally, press the context menu key to open the menu that allows you to save the attachment.

Save time

After you’ve trained your fingers to use the keyboard to save attachments, the new habit may save you up to 40% of the time you now need to save an attachment. And apart from saving you time, it will also help you stay focused on your work instead of having to invest the eye-hand coördination efforts that using a mouse requires.

The easier you can perform each step while processing e-mail, the greater the chance that your inbox will be emptied each day. At least once every day.

Get your inbox to empty after your holiday – fast

In my Each Day Empty eBook, I describe how to quickly empty your inbox reliably day after day. But after an extended holiday, you may need some extra help to tackle your inbox. My own Outlook downloaded 3,200 emails when I returned –  was I ever glad I already knew some of the following tips!  Now they’re yours, too!

  1. Learn how to sort and group e-mails in your mail reader. In Outlook you can use the View | Arrange By item in the main menu.
  2. Sort all mails in your inbox by Subject. A lot of the spam that gets through your spam filter will be grouped together now. You can quickly remove all mail starting with Cyrillic symbols (unless you happen to live in Russia) and any spam that has the same subject repeated in the Subject box can easily be spotted.
  3. Next, sort all of your mails by the To field. This may not be relevant to everyone, but I still get e-mails (especially spam) that was sent to an e-mail address other than my own. Sorting this way helps remove these messages easily.
  4. Now sort the remaining e-mails by From and Date. This way you group all mail that came from each specific sender, in the order they were sent. Your rate of speed may vary while doing this, but I tend to scan quickly through all mail, starting with the oldest ones. But I don’t reply to any of the mails at this stage because this way I can read up on the developments, better understand my customers and employees, and keep myself from replying to something which has changed or been revoked in a more recent e-mail.
  5. After taking these steps, I’m up-to-date again. I’m aware of current issues, I know whether there are serious problems that need my attention, and I know which e-mails I’m going to want to answer first.

Even before I go on vacation, I think about my first days back in the office. In my out-of-office autoreply, I mention the date I think I will be answering e-mails again – and make that date several days after I return from vacation. This way, I don’t have to tackle e-mails while in an ‘urgent’ catch-up mood and I can continue to feel rested and relaxed from the vacation I’ve just enjoyed.

Fortunately, as soon as I’m up-to-date again, it’s a breeze to keep my inbox empty each day for the rest of the year.

[w] = I’m waiting for you

Did you know? Using a simple [w] in your emails can greatly improve the quality of your life. Read this step-by-step explanation to find out exactly how this works in Microsoft Outlook.

If you delegate, order, or ask anything via email, you can command Outlook to add that email to a Waiting For list just by adding a simple [w] to the body of the email.

A [w] at the bottom of your email is inconspicuous, so most people won’t notice it. It’s a powerful tool to keep your Waiting For list up to date and your mind at ease

To enable this feature, simply create a new WaitingFor-Email folder and add a rule.

I copied this description from my webpage at I built that website to let others know about the [w] command and encourage you to do the same. Go ahead — make someone’s day!

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