Outlook. It is one of the best applications Microsoft has ever produced. Some might argue that Windows is the best thing ever (and some might argue the opposite), but I think Outlook takes the cake.
Outlook handles my email. I get a lot of email. It handles my public folders and distribution lists. It handles my calendar and tells me where to be and when and for how long. It lets me figure out where other people are, when and for how long. It lets me organize the people I know and how to get a hold of them. I can take notes with Outlook. I can schedule tasks (honey-do lists) to be completed by a certain time. I can categorize my activities and all of the aforementioned items - color coding them so I can easily identify what it is.
I can even create business cards using Outlook (look for that post later in the series).
More recently I have taken to using the the updated Out of Office Assistant in Outlook 2007. It is a simple utility and feature but very useful. It has been updated to provide a LOT more flexibility for scheduling your OOF time.
Now, I can set a unique OOF message to be sent to people who email me from the outside world. In other words, the people who do not have accounts on the internal Microsoft Exchange server. This way I can set one message for the outside world and a completely different message for people within Microsoft that need to reach me.
But my favorite part is being able to schedule it in advance. Previous implementations of OOF messages were either and ON or OFF thing. If you take a look at the graphic below, you will see I can now effectively schedule my OOF time in advance by selecting a start time.
I can also turn it off at a scheduled time as well. This is great for me because I usually know when I will be out of town well in advance of the trip. And by allowing me to set an End Time, I don't have to worry about manually going into the tool after I return and disabling OOF manually - something I was previously terrible at remembering to do and so people would be getting OOF messages weeks after I was back from a trip (the upside was it reduced my email dramatically because everyone thought I was gone!). You will also notice I can differentiate between those on my contact list (if they deserve some special treatment) and everyone outside of my organization.
Furthermore, if we click the Rules button, we can start getting REALLY specific about what message individual people get and even take some action on the incoming emails from those unique people. For instance, just delete everything my manager sends me while I am OOF (just kidding Melanie!). Or maybe place all email while I am OOF in a specific folder or (if I was important enough to have one) forward email to an administrative assistant while I am on vacation to take action on.
I could even set up some alerts that play sound files and display text in a pop-up. As you can see from the options here, there is a LOT of checking and conditioning that can be performed on the incoming email. We can get even more granular by clicking the Advanced button on this page and start checking for the Importance and Sensitivity flags associated with an email or even the size of the email. Pretty much any condition you can think of. Even better is you can set multiple rules to cover multiple people and/or conditions. There is more I could just tell you about....but what fun is that!?!? I encourage you to poke around and see what kind of rules you can come up with using this feature.
Just make sure you specify an end date!!! Otherwise you may go on vacation and come back only to find your email dwindle down to nothing (we can only dream....!) because everyone thinks you are never coming back....