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Do you possess email finesse?

Dr Neil Paul reveals seven top tips for busy GPs to get the most out of Microsoft's Outlook email system.

Microsoft Outlook: using the software well can save time and energy (Photograph: SPL)
Microsoft Outlook: using the software well can save time and energy (Photograph: SPL)

Do you get the most out of Microsoft Outlook? Are you like a lot of users who read and delete emails, and occasionally send one but have no idea what else Outlook can do?

In my experience, clinicians often put IT skills training low on their list of learning activities despite using a computer every day.

Here are some things that you might not know Outlook can do. Several might save you time and effort, or make you more productive.

Top tips
1. Don't just use one inbox to save all your emails. It is easy to set up folders for specific topics or subjects and move all related messages into them, making it easier to find them later.

2. Set automatic rules for dealing with emails as they come in. For example, Outlook can notify you when a specific person has emailed you, or move emails into the folders you created (see tip one).

3. Using distribution lists allows you to email a group of people without typing in their names every time.

How many emails have you come across where either someone has been missed off or the list of people copied in grows as each recipient adds people to the list?

If you know which people are on a committee, email them on a distribution list.

4. Insist on calendar invites. These are special emails you send when arranging a meeting. The organiser can keep the venue details and timing up to date, and if the meeting is moved or cancelled, this will show up in your calendar.

I have turned up for meetings that have been moved because the organiser had not emailed the whole distribution list, so I did not find out in time.

5. Sharing information is good. If correctly set up, you can see other people's calendars and they can see yours, although you can still keep private things private.

6. One of the least used/known-about Outlook functions is called delegate access. This lets someone, usually a secretary or practice manager, read and reply to emails on your behalf.

Indeed, practice managers should probably set this up for times of GPs' absence.

7. Try not to send attachments. There are several ways (some of which may need to be set up for you) of sending a link to a file rather than the file itself.

Links use a lot less memory and, with email quotas, this can be good. If done correctly, you can maintain version control.

This is where everyone sees the same latest version of the document rather than the version current when you first sent the link.

  • Dr Paul is a GP in Cheshire.

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