Addicted to Outlook?

Over 6 million email messages are migrated to Google Apps every day! That's a lot of email messages. Most of these messages are coming out of Outlook.

I'm very thankful I don't have to deal with Outlook for my own email anymore but a vast majority of those people who reach out to Umzuzu for help do, so I find myself working with Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 constantly. I also gain a lot of insight into how people are using Outlook. At larger companies the use cases are fairly uniform and "normal". However, with 6 million messages going into Google Apps everyday, you can imagine we see our fair share of small businesses.

Some of the stuff I see people doing with Outlook is crazy. "I don't really use Outlook to communicate with other people, it's more for sending letters" was one recent line I heard from a small business owner. Well, he didn't know it but he was talking about newsletter marketing and Outlook is not the place to be doing that. MailChimp is my favorite as it is a great combination of powerful features and ease of use - and has integration with Google Docs which is great. With a proper tool in place, you can actually track your effectiveness. 

Sometimes people become uneasy with the switch from Outlook to Gmail because they perceive, correctly, that they just don't have as much to do in Gmail. This is very uncomfortable for someone who has been spending day in and day out staring at Outlook for years.

Outlook is the world's best example of bloated software. Outlook has trained the user to associate being busy with being productive. Organizing your Outlook inbox feels productive because you're busy but it's the opposite of productivity - it is busy work defined. "But I have to organize my inbox" ... this is very true in Outlook. This is less true in Gmail.

If you're looking for something on the Internet you can find it in seconds. Obviously searching the Internet is a much more difficult challenge than searching several thousand emails - Google's search technology is easily up to the task. Thousands of messages can be sorted in Gmail in a second or 2 - anytime you want and on any device. If you can find any message you want on any device in a matter of seconds, organization on your part becomes less important. While this is a very, very good development; it is often perceived that doing less, is the same as being less productive. This is a mistake.

With less busy work you're going to have more time available when you move from Outlook to Gmail. What should you do with it?

  • Reexamine what drives your specific communications. My default for many years was, to borrow an account term, Last In First Out (LIFO). I believe this is the default of most knowledge workers who are early in their careers. Outlook loves LIFO and it's how many people manage their day and their communications. Communications should be driven by more strategic objectives. This is why living in Outlook is a mistake. An inbox is no way to manage a day - your days are your life. Life is short. 
  • Reevaluate your workflows and business processes. Too often the question of "why do you do it that way?" is answered with "I don't really know" or "that's how Sara/Bob/Katie/whoever did it." - you should take a look at workflow and process often and take into consideration new tools. Sharing is easier than ever. Smartphones are everywhere. Many tools are free. If you've been doing something for 5, 3 or even 2 years it is probably out of date and ready to be retooled. "I don't have time for that, I'm too busy." Too busy to work on being more productive? Yeah, sorry but that doesn't make any sense. It's like saying, "I'm too out of shape to exercise." You'll get better at this type of exercise once you incorporate it into your habits of how you conduct business. 
  • "Fit for purpose" is a beautiful term. Until recently the acquisition, installation, testing, support and scaling of software was at best a real pain and at worst a horribly expensive exercise that cost someone their job. Small businesses didn't stand a chance. People use what they perceive to be available. Outlook has been very available for over a decade - it has become the de facto tool for much more than messaging. CRM, Document Management, Enterprise Content Management, Workflow, Scheduling, Collaboration, Customer Feedback, Data Collection, etc. Outlook is not a CRM. Outlook is not a place to store documents. Outlook is not a collaboration application. Outlook is not a survey tool. Outlook is not for data collection. It's time to start over. It's time to start fresh. If you're using Outlook for more than sending emails, scheduling events, and keeping simple contact information you're doing it wrong. Yes, more is possible but that does not make Outlook automatically the best fit for purpose solution.  

If you spend a large amount of time working in Outlook be careful. Bloated software, by definition, excels at disguising busy work as productivity. You'll feel uncomfortable without Outlook to keep you "busy" but another world is waiting.