Each quarter, our wellness team tries and reviews a popular wellness trend. This quarter, we're trying time management strategies. Morgan and Kaitlyn are making technology work for them, not against them.
Making Technology Work for You, Not Against You
Wellness Tries is a quarterly series in which members of the UF-UF Health Wellness Team try out different wellness trends. This quarter’s theme is time management.
This week’s time management strategies focus on making technology work for you, not against you. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America Report, nearly 2/3 of American adults believe that unplugging periodically or taking a digital detox would help their mental health, yet only 1 quarter of them have actually done it. Technology has become an integral part of our lives. It may be difficult for us to set boundaries with our devices, and we may not be aware of its full functionality to help us work efficiently. The best way to combat the cons of technology is to make it work for you and not against you in all areas of your life.
Two time management strategies that focus on making technology work for you are the Outlook overhaul and digital detox.
Kaitlyn Tries: Outlook Overhaul
How I Worked Before
At the beginning of this year, our team took a Microsoft Outlook class offered through myTraining. We learned the basic tools Outlook has to offer including creating and responding to emails, utilizing email folders, creating contact groups, and best practices for calendar appointments. While I was familiar with many of these functions, I did leave that class with more knowledge around Outlook and it made me think about the way I utilize this program. Of course, things come up and emails continue to come in, which made me backburner looking more into Outlooks features. This “Wellness Try” gave me another opportunity to revisit this area of my work.
This might sound silly, but I have a fear of deleting emails, just in case I may need it in the future. I used folders to organize my emails, and I found that I often created too many folders to stay super organized, which left me feeling a bit lost in my organizational method. I had all emails delivered directly to my inbox, and then I would sort them into my subfolders to ensure I had read them and followed up if needed. I kept desktop notifications on for all emails, and I found myself distracted by this any time a new email came up. I did utilize calendar sharing and scheduling assistant internally with Florida Blue, and I have help from the GatorCare team for accessing their availability. My goals with this strategy were to revamp my email organization method, use tools I haven’t before in Outlook, and set boundaries with my email to improve my productivity.
What is an Outlook Overhaul?
To help start my Outlook Overhaul, I used an article about the software as a guide for Microsoft Outlook tips. The article mentions how widely used Microsoft Office is for managing emails and calendars at work, however, many users do not know how to make use of all the benefits and features Outlook has to offer. Here are the simple tricks they suggest in order to save time, assist in working more effectively and collaborate better with our colleagues and customers.
- Limit desktop notifications to only the most important emails: This tip speaks specifically on the pop up notifications at the bottom of your screen distracting your attention. There are Mail Options to create rules to display alerts for messages from specific people or specific subject lines sent to you.
- Set Check-In Reminders: This tip suggests using Outlook for scheduling check-in reminders to ensure you have completed tasks within your timeline. The flag feature is also mentioned for this tip. The article provides a “pro tip” if you and your team are using Office 365, you can utilize the Planner function to provide a visual overview of your team members’ progress on deadlines with charts.
- Use Post It Notes in Outlook: This tip recommends utilizing the post-it note feature within your email for quick reminders, numbers, etc. The notes icon can be found at the bottom of the View pane. All notes default yellow, but you can color-code categories.
- Schedule “No Meeting” Time Blocks: According to this tip “15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings” and “many of us spend up to 4 hours a week preparing for ‘status update’ meetings.” This tip suggests setting aside time without interruptions, adding blocks of time in your calendar to focus on specific projects, and limiting multitasking in these periods of dedicated time.
- Get emails that aren’t sent directly to you out of your inbox: This tip suggests using a special “Inbox – CC” folder to organize all emails that aren’t sent directly to you out of your inbox. You can do this by using the Rules function.
- Create search folders for your most important emails: Search folders are different than subfolders. This is similar to the search function at the top of your email, except, you do not save items in these folders. You can set these up by going to the bottom of your folders list on the left view pane, right-click on “Search Folders” all the way at the bottom, select “New Search Folder,” and then select one of the predefined options or manually customize the search. For example, if you set this up for “Mail with attachments” this search folder will now go through your entire Outlook, including your inbox, sent items, subfolders, and drafts, and compile all the items with attachments in this search folder. This saves you time scrolling and searching for some of your more important emails.
- Compare calendars to find free slots: This tip suggests viewing calendars alongside each other, and using the different view options to help scroll through dates and times for availability among team members.
How Did It Go?
My first step was to go through my Outlook folders and revamp my organizational method. I deleted unnecessary subfolders, moved around my emails to updated concise subfolders, and moved as many items as possible out of my inbox. Then I decided to pick a few of these tricks mentioned above and build on them throughout the two week period.
Second, I created rules for emails I knew were low priority and recurring to go directly to their designated subfolder. For example, I receive a number of wellness resource emails that tend to clog my inbox, and while these are valuable, this rule allows me to have a spot for them where I can check-in at a later time. For more important emails, I created a rule for those to go to a subfolder according to their subject line, but I receive a pop-up alert as soon as they came through. They still were delivered to a subfolder instead of my inbox, but I was able to acknowledge that I received it and needed to follow up as soon as possible. I tried to use the last half hour of my day to organize the emails that came through to my inbox to their subfolder, keeping only items that need follow-up in my inbox.
Third, I tried setting aside blocks of uninterrupted time to work on projects. I added this to my calendar so it was built into my schedule. I like to make sure I am available if things come up, so I limited these blocks to 30 minutes – 1 hour and assigned the time to a specific project. I am a little hesitant to turn off the pop-up notifications from my email in case something urgent comes through, but I do give myself a break by closing out of Outlook while working in these blocked off time periods. I felt like giving myself these scheduled blocks to work on one specific project or task allowed me to be more productive and stay on top of deadlines.
Lastly, I started using the post-it function in Outlook. I had never heard of this or realized that this feature existed before trying this strategy. During conference calls, I often would open a word document or open a draft email message to take notes and write follow-up items from the meeting. Now, I use this post-it note feature for noting follow-up items, my to-do items for the week, important numbers, and any tasks that might be outstanding.
Will I Continue Outlook Overhaul?
As I mentioned in the beginning, utilizing the Outlook program more effectively and efficiently is something I have wanted to do since the beginning of this year. I think the tips and tricks outlined in this article are extremely helpful. I implemented a combination of these strategies including creating rules and organizing subfolders, setting aside blocks of time to check-in and work on specific projects, and utilizing the post-it feature during my two week trial period. I did feel more organized; I was able to reference emails during the day if I needed to because I knew where to find them in my subfolders. I worked more efficiently with time blocks and post-it notes as well. However, some of these suggestions are difficult for the nature of my job. It’s hard to turn off desktop notifications or only check my email a couple of times a day because there can be urgent things that come and need follow-up as quickly as possible. Additionally, I may be “cc’d” on something that I need to respond to, so I didn’t feel that tip was applicable to me. I did attempt creating one specific search folder, and I think this is a useful feature but not sure I will use it regularly.
My final recommendation would be to try some of these tricks on for size. Email is such an important component of office jobs and the more you can use it to your advantage, the better you may work. I’d encourage you to think about how you can adapt some of these tips to help your efficiency at work!
Morgan Tries: Digital Detox
How I Worked Before
Prior to implementing a digital detox, I would have my Outlook open throughout the day, and would regularly click on notifications about new emails. This would side-track me from whatever project or task I was working on and often totally derail my train of thought.
I also had my Skype for Business on at all times, which meant that I would get pinged with quick questions, not-so-quick questions, or funny thoughts about the day. Another train of thought disrupter.
Finally, I usually kept my phone nearby and would find myself absentmindedly checking it between tasks or whenever I got a notification.
What is a Digital Detox?
A digital detox involves several steps to ultimately change your relationship with technology.
The first is assessing your relationship. How often are you using technology for good and how often is it getting in the way?
The next step is changing habits. This could mean turning off notifications, closing down programs or deleting apps, or setting boundaries like no-phone zones or tech bedtimes.
Ever try to change tech habits before and really struggle? That’s why the next step is so important: reclaiming your brain. This means consciously choosing to use tech for a specific purpose (rather than mindlessly picking it up to kill time or distract yourself) and getting really comfortable without it by stretching your attention span or trying mindfulness or meditation.
Finally, after working through the steps, it’s time to define your new relationship with technology. What worked for you during the detox? How will you maintain your new tech habits?
How Did It Go?
I didn’t realize how tied to technology I was until I put parameters around it. This process helped me realize that I was working reactively with my technology, rather than using it to be more thoughtful and intentional with my work. I really struggled over these two weeks, finding that I’d start the week with the best of intentions and by Tuesday afternoon I would fall back into my old ways! This was definitely harder than I thought it would be.
Ultimately, I identified three areas that I wanted to focus on based on my initial assessment of my work flow: Outlook, Skype and my cell phone.
Over the two weeks, I aimed to only open my Outlook when I was actively checking emails, and close it when I was not. Some days this worked out well. Others, I found that I’d forget to close it and would be working on a project when I received a notification of a new email that I distractedly clicked on. I did find that I worked much better without the ever-present pull of my inbox looming in the corner but also felt swamped by email when I wasn’t able to check frequently throughout the day.
I played around with this, some days not opening Skype for Business and others playing with the “Do Not Disturb” function. From my perspective, having Skype shut down worked well when I was working on a project but was frustrating if I had a quick question that didn’t need to be put in an email. So I imagine it was frustrating for my team too, if they had a quick question and saw that I wasn’t on Skype or had “Do Not Disturb” on. I also frequently found that I would forget to take the “Do Not Disturb” off.
The most effective strategy that I practiced here was keeping my phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode throughout the workday. I usually turn this on before bed so there was no extra step for me on this, which is why I think it was so effective; there was nothing for me to forget to do since my phone was already turned on “Do Not Disturb” from the night before. I noticed that without the constant vibration of a text I was much less distracted by my phone. Side note: you can set “Do Not Disturb” to turn on automatically at certain times of the day on both iPhones and Androids if that is something of interest to you.
I also experimented with putting my phone on the opposite side of my desk or leaving it in my purse to cut back on those mindless checks throughout the day.
An Unexpected Addition
On my best days, when Outlook and Skype were closed and my phone was out of sight, I found that I got so much done, but often got sucked into a vortex of working for several hours at a time with no break. After these marathon sessions, I found myself drained mentally and struggled to get back in a flow for the rest of the day. So, I introduced a new form of technology, the tomato timer, to remind me to take a break! I’d set it for 25 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes and repeat for four cycles until I took a longer break. This really helped me not only stay focused but also work smarter.
In case you missed the first week of Wellness Tries, the tomato timer follows the time management strategy known as the Pomodoro Method.
Will I Continue a Digital Detox?
Although I had a lot of hiccups with this one and really struggled to implement it fully, I would recommend everyone take a week or two to reassess technology’s role in your work flow, and possibly in your life as a whole.
Moving forward, I won’t be as strict with Outlook or Skype, meaning I won’t keep them closed all day. But, if I am working on a high-focus project, I will close out both to minimize distractions. Although my team is back in the office, we aren’t connecting like we used to, and it feels like Skype is the next best thing. While closing it may help me cut back on distractions, it also left me feeling disconnected from my team and inconvenienced, so I think overall I prefer to keep it up and running.
I have kept my phone on “Do Not Disturb” throughout the day and have actually been really enjoying some distance from the constant pings. I see myself continuing with this for good.
This “Try” really encouraged me to reassess my relationship with technology as a whole, and I’m excited to apply the Digital Detox principles to my life outside of work. If you are curious about this too, I’d recommend watching this 40-minute presentation, reviewing this four-week plan, or signing up for our 30-day Digital Detox Challenge.