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Organize your digital life to start the new year off right. Cleaning up and changing some settings might just make the beginning of the semester feel a little less hectic.

The good news is that imposing some order on your digital chaos doesn’t have to take all day. Here are some quick tips that each take just two minutes (or less!).

A cartoon woman holds a laptop. Behind her, giant file documents flow into foldersOrganize Outlook

Inbox zero is a lofty and perhaps unworthwhile goal, but most of us could remove some clutter from our mailboxes. Here at UNC, we’re currently storing almost 450 terabytes’ worth of mail and attachments!

Conversation Clean Up

Conversation Clean Up, available on Windows versions of Outlook, is a neat way to remove some bulk from your email archive. When you run Conversation Clean Up, Outlook analyzes your conversations, also known as email threads, and deletes redundant messages.

If you have an email chain with replies, Conversation Clean Up will remove ones that are contained elsewhere, like the newest reply. For example, Kat sends an email to Vijay and Dwayne. Dwayne replies to both Kat and Vijay. Vijay then also replies to both Kat and Dwayne, so Vijay’s email has all the messages in the conversation. With Conversation Clean Up, Vijay’s most recent email would be kept, but all other messages in the thread would be deleted.

Not only does this reduce the number of messages in your inbox, it’s also easier to find what you’re looking for because you don’t have to click on each successive message in a thread. For more details, visit Microsoft Support.

Set up new Rules and review your old ones

Rules are automated actions that Outlook takes on your messages. They help manage your inbox by automatically organizing, filtering, or deleting your messages. Rules also reduce the notifications you get by moving low-priority messages like newsletters to folders that won’t trigger a new mail notification.

To make a Rule, you set criteria, like a sender or subject line. When messages match what you’ve set, Outlook takes a specified action on the message. Actions include things like deletion, marking as read, adding a flag, playing a sound or moving to a folder. For more help from Microsoft, visit Set up Rules.

Master your flags

Using Follow Up Flags is a nice way to visually remind yourself to follow up on a message. Adding a flag is as easy as mousing over a message and clicking the flag icon, but actually following up on the message can be a lot harder. Here are two ways to help you follow through on your flags (currently only available in Outlook for Windows):

View all your flags in one place and save yourself some scrolling. Open a new task pane by selecting View > To-Do Bar > Tasks.

Set a reminder for your flags if you need an extra prompt to reply. Select the message, then click Home > Follow Up > Add reminder. Then you can check the reminder box and add a date and time for the reminder.

For more help on customizing your Follow up Flags, visit Microsoft support.

Cartoon of a man and woman collaborating digitally. Between their laptops and outstretched hands float settings gears, a lightbulb and a paper airplane.Optimize Outlook Calendar

Take a few minutes to spruce up your calendar before the deluge of new semester meetings.

Review or renew recurring events

For recurring meetings, this is a good opportunity to check that the correct people are on the invitation, add a link to an agenda or consider shortening the meeting.

For personal recurring events like reminders or appointments, review how you have your appointments set to display. Using the drop-down menu, select the choice that best reflects your event: free, working elsewhere, tentative, busy or out of office. These statuses appear slightly different to others trying to schedule meetings with you and can make it easier for your colleagues to find an ideal time to meet.

The default “show as” for Outlook events is “busy,” but for reminders, you might prefer them to show as “free.” Events categorized as “free” don’t appear as blocks when people are viewing your calendar. For vacations or other times when you want to signal that you are not available, you may want to use “out of office.”

Set or update working hours

Has your work schedule changed? If you’re not working a standard schedule, set or update your work hours. Work hours let others see when you are, or aren’t, typically working. It’s an easy way to make finding a time to meet a little easier.

Microsoft is currently rolling out updates that let you set different working hours for every day of the week. The updates also allow you to set a working location for different days, perfect for hybrid schedules.

Clean up Zoom & Panopto

Cartoon of three people video conferencing. A paper airplane flies around them.Here’s one last place to do some clean up — your Zoom recordings. At UNC, Zoom cloud recordings are automatically deleted after 30 days, so they should automatically stay pretty tidy when you log in to Zoom.

But … did you know that those recordings are automatically backed up to another system called Panopto? Your recordings will be kept for two years after the last time they’re viewed, giving you a much longer viewing period than Zoom’s 30 days.

When you sign into your UNC Panopto account, you’ll see your automatic Zoom backups. From here you can:

  • Rename recordings to help you find them again later.
  • Create new folders and move recordings.
  • Share individual recordings or entire folders.
  • Delete old or unwanted recordings.
  • Edit your videos, including trimming, adding captions or adding additional video clips.

Learn more about Panopto at UNC.

Want more tips and tricks on how to organize your digital life? ITS has another tool that can help: LinkedIn Learning. Log in for free using your Onyen and search for courses on specific software, like Outlook, or on keywords like “organization” to find the right course for you. Options range from one-minute quick tips to 10-hour master classes.

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