7 Outlook Usage Tips

There are so many things you can do with Outlook, but I have to admit, I've never fully explorered all its features. However, the more I "live" in my Outlook at work, the more I've become obsessed with finding new and useful ways to get things done as efficiently and quickly as I can. On […]

There are so many things you can do with Outlook, but I have to admit, I've never fully explorered all its features. However, the more I "live" in my Outlook at work, the more I've become obsessed with finding new and useful ways to get things done as efficiently and quickly as I can. On that note, here are a few Outlook tips I've discovered that have been making my work life easier.

1. The ClearContext add-in - every since someone told me about this add-in, I've been using the heck out of it. Although I can only afford the free version, I've found it unbelievably useful for categorizing my mail. Since I had been using a folders system prior to the Outlook 2007 upgrade, I didn't feel much like redoing this system just to use Outlook 2007's color-coded categories. Instead, I use a mashup of ClearContext labels and Outlook cateogries. ClearContext lets me label my mail and these labels are linked to an Outlook category list. As I visually scan my email, Outlook's color-coded categories help me find what I'm looking for fast. When it's time to move an email from the Inbox to its category folder, I just hit the "File Msg" button on the ClearContext toolbar and the message archives itself to the appropriate folder. (Another option for filing is SpeedFiler, which I hear is good, too).

2. Natural Language - I've been using Outlook 2007 for many months now, but I just discovered this feature thanks to a tip I read online. The new version of Outlook lets you enter appointments on your calendar using natural language. Instead of using the drop-down box to pick a date, you can type in real expressions like "day after tomorrow," "one week from today," "two months from today," "three days from now," and much more. You can also use expressions like "today + 3 days" and Outlook will figure that out, too. Finally, you can type in the names of holidays and use them in expressions like "the day before Christmas."

3. Outlook Calendar on the desktop - this software lets you pin the Outlook calendar to your desktop. The calendar stays there all the time so you can always see what's upcoming. It's not just a view of your calendar either, it's the real Microsoft Outlook calendar, so you get all its functionality, like direct editing, drag and drop of files, etc. Awesome.

4. Search Folders & Favorites - how did I live before Search Folders? Search Folders let you create virtual folders based on certain criteria. For example, you could make a folder of email from your boss you categorized as "Important" or a folder of your emails that have attachments. Even better, add these Search Folders to your Favorite Folders list and hide your Mail Folders list so that all you see is your Favorites. You'll be surprised how rarely you'll need to view your "real" folders.

5. Fast Email Searches - If you use Outlook 2007 on Vista, you have Vista's killer search built into Outlook. However, at work, we're still on XP. No worries though...you can download Windows Desktop Search for Windows XP like I did and experience the glory of fast searches. With either Vista or Desktop Search, results are displayed as soon as you start typing in text. 

6. Form Emails - Using templates, you can save standardized emails so you don't have to type the same thing over and over again. I use forms for things like emailing a new user's login information to their supervisor or emailing someone a note letting them know their issue was input as a helpdesk ticket. Creating your own form is easy - just write the email, then go to File --> Save As, and choose "Outlook Template (*.oft)" from the drop-down box. The email is saved as a template. Next time you want to use that form, open it by going to Tool --> Forms --> Choose a Form. Change the drop-down box to "User Templates in File System" and then pick the template you created.

7. Minimize to Tray - I'm surprised how many people don't know how to minimize Outlook to run in the System Tray. This is an absolute necessity (it should be the default!). Right-click on the Outlook icon in the Notification Area (next to the clock). In the menu that displays, select "Hide When Minimized."[on10]

Outlook, Add-ins, Tips and Tricks, Microsoft