Without contest, Microsoft Outlook has been the cornerstone of my professional development. It was not always that way; before breaking into the world of IT, I used Outlook indifferently within various jobs. I read and replied to internal company emails without much thought about what it could do for me beyond that.
Moving into IT work and the Managed Services world specifically, it became immediately apparent that I would need to 'up' my game in order to more effectively process received information and communicate with customers, prospects, peers, and management. While the path of Outlook mastery likely is a career-long one, I have come farther than I thought possible in my knowledge of this great application.
In this blog article, I will focus on six core Microsoft Outlook strategies that complement a robust Outlook tool belt.
Technique 1: Drag and drop recipient addresses between fields
We’ll start simple: compose a new message. Type in an email address or select a name from the address book. After a few moments, the address will underline. Now, suppose you realize this recipient should be on copy or blind copy, instead of in the direct “To” field. Once the underline has appeared under the address, you can click and drag the address to the desired recipient field without having to delete, retype, or re-select from the address book.
Technique 1 accomplished and time saved.
Technique 2: Recover items deleted from 'Deleted Items'
Did you know that 'deleted' does not always truly mean 'permanently deleted?' If your company uses Microsoft Exchange server or Office 365/Exchange Online, you can take advantage of mailbox retention for the times when you wish you hadn’t emptied your deleted items.
To begin, go to the Folder tab on the toolbar ribbon, and click 'Recover Deleted Items.' This will show you a list of items recently purged from your Deleted Items. To restore back to your mailbox, highlight the message(s) and click 'OK' while the 'Restore Selected Items' radio button is selected. You can even sort by 'Date Deleted,' making it easier to locate something you meant to keep.
Outlook Mastery Rank: Novice
Technique 3: Quick Steps
Click reduction is like putting time back on your watch. Think of Outlook tasks that you perform over, and over, and over. Many of these tasks can be automated into a Quick Step! Some messages I receive always get marked as 'read,' marked with a certain category, and/or moved to a sub folder.
Rather than doing each of these steps manually for each message (which can take up to 6-8 clicks), I have a 'Quick Step' (managed on the Home tab) that performs all three actions in one click. Step it up even more by assigning the 'Quick Step' to a keyboard shortcut (available in the 'Quick Steps' dialog).
Technique 4: Advanced Search
Outlook searching has evolved significantly and has become my primary method for locating messages of various criteria. The Search tab beneath the toolbar ribbon contains many useful recreated search criteria, and the Advanced Find (dialog under the Search tab’s Search Tools button) offers even more searching flexibility.
Do you often run out of mailbox space and need to reduce size? Run an advanced find where "size (kilobytes) is greater than 500." Messages larger than 500KB typically include pictures or other large attachments, the removal of which can reclaim mailbox space quickly. Take a look at the 'Advanced Find' dialog when you have a few minutes and make a mental note of the kinds of search criteria you can utilize.
Outlook Mastery Rank: Apprentice
Technique 5: Replace desktop notifications with select desktop alerts
At times, I am prone to distraction. In the digital age, aren’t we all? To assist with focusing, I always disable desktop notifications: those preview bubbles that pop up briefly when you receive a new message. There are certain senders or topics for which I definitely want to be notified.
Enter Desktop Alerts: similar name, huge difference. 'Desktop Alerts' are bundled under the 'Rules' section (located about halfway down the toolbar ribbon). Go to 'Manage Rules and Alerts' under the 'Rules' button on the Home tab to get started.
'Desktop Alerts' allow you to define criteria (sender, subject line, words, high importance, etc.) for which Outlook will display a 'New Item Alert' window, a pop-up that does not disappear until you click 'OK.' While these alerts are more insistent than Desktop Notifications, you (as the user) drive when and why they appear.
Technique 6: Conditional Formatting
Conditional formatting complements Desktop Alerts nicely. It helps to bring attention to certain messages, but with less urgency. Conditional formatting rules call out criteria-satisfying messages by changing the font, font size, font color, or font style in which that message is listed in your Inbox.
Want messages from Sales to appear in green, or messages from your manager to be italicized? Conditional Formatting can do that. Some formatting conditions are predefined out-of-the-box, such as new messages appearing in bold (you can modify predefined formatting conditions, too). 'View Settings' under the View tab is where you’ll find the Conditional Formatting options.
Outlook Mastery Rank: Journeyman
Bonus: Quick Parts
'Quick Parts' are like having your brain plumbed directly into Outlook. I already know there are some savvy folks out there reading this who use and love 'Quick Parts;' if this includes you, give yourself a high five right now. As you type a message, Outlook sniffs your text in real-time to see if anything you type matches the start of a 'Quick Part' that you have defined.
Create a 'Quick Part' for the phrase “Have a nice day,” and if you start typing “Have a...,” Outlook will show a small tool tip of your 'Quick Part,' which you can insert by pressing enter. You can also define longer 'Quick Parts' that are paragraphs or entire messages, and insert them with a few clicks. Save even more clicks by adding the Quick Parts button (on the Insert tab on a new message) to your Quick Access toolbar.
These are just a few of my favorite Outlook productivity tools; undoubtedly, an all-inclusive study into Microsoft Outlook mastery could risk becoming a blog unto itself. Start using these techniques today, and you may find that you come across other tricks of which you were unaware.