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ThumbI discovered Microsoft Outlook as a part of corporate routine. Since then it has been the de facto desktop email client for me. I may have switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox, Sony Walkman to the iPod, chinos to work-at- home PJ’s but Outlook has stuck to me throughout. Call it loyalty or sheer habit (or the fact that Gmail allows inbox downloads).

As I continue to use it, I continue to be piqued by its rich suite of features. Yes, it may be too much of an overkill for most and it has its share of knockers, but there’s no denying the fact that tuned right, it’s a very serious productivity tool.

Today’s email programs are pushing the point that our day to day lives revolves around communication. Sharing emails, appointments or tweets with others or simply keeping ourselves on track with to-do lists and feeds. The email program is already the nerve center of most of our activities.  If your day starts with a click on the Outlook 2007 icon and ends with it, then these tips and tricks could help to keep you clicking all the more.

Be quick and reuse with Quick Parts

Quick Parts is a feature that’s found in Outlook 2007 and MS Word. Consider it Auto Text in a new avatar. If you use blocks of text, links or images repeatedly in your emails, then Quick Parts can save you a lot of typing. Here’s how”¦

  • Open a new email window.
  • Type in or insert the commonly used content.
  • Select the content and click on the Insert tab.  Select Quick Parts from the Text tab of the Insert ribbon.
  • 1_Quick-Part-Selection

  • The content gets saved as a new building block. You can give it a new descriptive name and put it in a category.
  • 1_Quick-Part-NBB

  • Use the block of content in any new email by clicking on Insert – Quick Parts. A small preview window opens up for you to choose between the saved quick parts.
  • 1_Quick-Part-Preview

Explore this feature further”¦it’s a timesaver.

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Be quick to the draw with Ribbon shortcuts

Are you quick with the mouse or the keys? Either way, it pays to know keyboard shortcuts. With habit we get to be faster with it. The Office suite has found a nifty way to use keyboard shortcuts minus the mugging up. Try it out by opening a new mail window.

  • Press the Alt key to see the Key Tip bubbles appear for each tab.

2_ShortCut-Keys

  • Press the key for any tab to switch to that tab. For instance, press N for the Insert tab. A press of the Alt again and you get the key tip bubbles for all the commands in the tab. For instance, pressing P in the Insert tab will open up Pictures. A few days and a few uses later, you can ditch your mouse.

2_ShortCut-Keys-II

  • Hang a Do-Not-Disturb on Outlook by disabling new message alerts. Constant new mail notifications are a productivity killer. So, it’s always better to disable it if you so choose.
  • Go to Tools – Options – Email Options – Advanced Email Options.
  • Uncheck the options as shown in the screenshot below:

9_Do-Not-Disturb

Click OK and you will be left in peace.

Attach and send in one smooth flow

Most of us usually take the Attach File route to send attachments using Outlook. The quicker way to send attachments is the simple copy-paste routine.

  • Open Outlook in your Inbox.
  • Copy one or more documents from the source folder.
  • Drop it in the Inbox view. A new mail opens with your documents attached. A single attachment will have the file’s name in the subject field while multiple attachments will have the subject line bank.

10_CTRLV

  • All you need to do is complete the other details and send it across.

Peek into your attachments before you save or open

The feature to preview attachments within Outlook itself saves lots of time as unlike in earlier editions, one doesn’t have to open them separately. A quick peek and you can decide if you want to save it or ditch it. Note that this will work only for  applications which have previewers installed (it doesn’t work for PDF files).

By default, MS Office previewers (includes image previewer) are installed. The XPS Essentials Pack (for XPS files) for Windows Vista and Windows XP has to be downloaded separately.

3_Preview

Preview is as simple as right clicking on the attachment and selecting Preview. After previewing the file, you can choose to save it.

Find the needle in the haystack with Instant Search and Advanced Search

MS Outlook 2007 offers two different ways to search for emails, documents and files.

Instant Search as the name suggests, starts matching the searched item with the search term as you begin typing. Within each item, the search term gets highlighted in yellow. You can configure a few search options by clicking the solid downward arrow. You can fine tune your search by using the Query Builder. Instant Search is a part of Windows Desktop search which indexes all content in the computer.

4_Instant-Search

Advanced Find is really for that very tiny needle in the haystack. Bring up Advanced Find by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + F. You have a lot of options you can use in the three tabs of the box. A combination of a few criteria leads to pinpointed and quick results.

4_Advanced-Find


Avoid the earlier point by marking special emails by color

Important emails from important senders should stand out from the chaos that’s usually our Inbox. The easiest way is to of course put them in a separate category. The second easiest visually striking way is to mark them by color.

Select a message from the important contact. From the menu, click on Tools – Organize. This opens a section on top.

Choose the second option – Using Colors. Select your preferred color and click on Apply Color. You can also pick a color for Show messages sent only to me as a way to mark out messages that’s only for you and not a group mail. Further, you can click on Automatic Formatting to apply more rules and to use a different font.

5_Color-Format

Click the close button [X] after you are done.

Give your old emails a new name

We all have “˜threads’ of email conversations in our inbox. Mails which started out with a “˜Hi’ in the subject field and after a few exchanges started discussing something important like a new salary breakdown. The content has shifted but the starter subject line does nothing for us. Changing the subject line to reflect the content is a best practice especially when you have hundreds of mails archived in Outlook. Changing the subject line is fortunately as easy as the first time.

Open the email with the subject line in need of change in a new window.

Place the cursor on the subject line and type in your new appropriate subject. Confirm and close.

6_Change-Subject-After

Find Tweeter a place in Outlook

Some say that emails are old hat. It’s all Twitter now. I disagree but we have to give those little messages a corner too because it’s a lingo we are speaking now. TwInbox is a little 460KB sized plug-in which integrates with Outlook 2003 and 2007 as a Twitter toolbar.

7_TwINbox

It connects to your Twitter account and lets you preview and bring all your messages into a folder. Just like a lot of Twitter tools, it lets you do basically everything you would do on a Twitter page. TwInbox also shortens long URLs via TinyURL. The developer site seems to be down, but you can download a copy from here.

Google Feeds into Outlook

Linking RSS feeds from Google Reader into Outlook 2007 (or 2003) is a three step process.

Right click on the RSS feeds folder in Outlook and click on Properties.

8_RSS-Feeds

Click on the Home Page tab. Check Show home page by default for this folder.

Copy paste the Google reader URL – http://google.com/reader

8_RSS-Feeds-Properties

Click on Apply and OK to close.

Outlook 2007 is a large software in itself. These ten tips are probably just a tip of the iceberg. But hopefully they have served to illustrate the better features of a respectable email client.

What are your pet tips and tricks? Which ones do you call your productivity boosters? Or which ones you wish Outlook had? Let us know in a line or two.

Image Credit: Daniel F. Pigatto

  1. Dan
    September 11, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Saikat,

    I have also stuck with Outlook, and I can't believe I didn't know about Quick Parts before reading this! I've been using external programs to paste frequently used text in Outlook. Also, the keyboard shortcut ALT+N, Q, is an easy way access Quick Parts.

    Dan

    • Saikat
      September 11, 2009 at 2:39 pm

      Hi Dan,

      If it's any solace, I also came to know about it much much later :). Learning is a continuous process isn't it!

  2. shak
    September 10, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Great article! Thanks

    I just have one question that's been hassling me for ever with the "Arrange by Name" function within the Sent Items folder. If you wrote the email & selected the name from the address book then it shows up as: John Doe, but if you replied to the email then it shows up as: 'John Doe'. Is there a way to group them in one list?

    Thanks again.

    • Saikat
      September 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm

      The only easy solution I can think of (and that's the way how I arrange it) is to make the Full Name field, File As and Display As exactly identical in the contacts.

  3. Kevin Moore
    September 10, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Hi,

    You've put together some great tips on improving the efficiency of Outlook. I'll definately look at adding some of them to my daily habits.

    Cheers,

    Kevin

  4. aery
    September 10, 2009 at 6:54 am

    one more:

    CTRL + Enter = Send Mail Now. Much handy.

    Others are CTRL+N(New mail), CTRL+R(reply), CTRL+F(Forward)

    • Saikat
      September 10, 2009 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks for this...

      • Aery
        September 10, 2009 at 1:28 pm

        my pleasure saikat

  5. Koreanblogger
    September 10, 2009 at 2:21 am

    That's all what I'm using except 'Quick Parts'.
    It's a very nice function which I haven't known.

  6. Jersey Bob
    September 9, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    FYI: the QuickParts feature and ribbon shortcuts also work in the other Office 2007 applications.

    Also, you don't have to right-click an attachment to preview it. A regular, left-button single click will preview common attachments. Then click the Message link when finished previewing to display the body of the message again.

    But one question: what the heck is Quickfire? Is it some special version of Outlook? My web searches don't turn up anything about it (except links to this article).

    • Saikat
      September 10, 2009 at 1:23 am

      Hi Jersey,

      The error is regretted. It's simply Outlook 2007. We are checking it out and making the correction. It looks like a bug in a word check tool which put in the word 'quickfire' before Outlook 2007. Originally, quickfire was only in the title and was meant to convey its original meaning.

    • Aibek
      September 10, 2009 at 2:07 am

      Corrected!

  7. Andy
    September 9, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Hi Saikat-

    Those are some amazing tips on getting the most out of Outlook 2007. I'm sure the Office community on Facebook would benefit from your knowledge and expertise. Check it out at: http://facebook.com/office

    And for more Outlook tips and tricks, head over to http://www.facebook.com/pages/Microsoft-Outlook/82443952619

    Cheers,
    Andy
    MSFT Office Outreach Team

  8. llibeco
    September 9, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    I didn't know about the attachment pasting, that will be extremely useful!

    I also decided to give twitbox a try.

    Thanks!

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