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Here’s a selection of fixes to get Microsoft Outlook up and running after it grinds to a halt.
Losing access to your email account can be an absolute disaster in terms of productivity. You can always use the Outlook web client as a last-ditch alternative, but problems with the desktop version of the program can give you a headache just as well.
However, you can solve many common Outlook issues with a few clicks, so long as you know what you’re doing. Try out these techniques and reclaim your email inbox without delay.
1. Check If Outlook Is Up-to-Date
An out-of-date installation is a fast-track to Outlook unrest, particularly if you’re using a work computer. You’re probably well aware of which versions of Outlook and Windows are installed on your home system, but you may not be privy to this information at work.
You may not have the necessary credentials to do so on a work computer, but if it’s at all possible, it’s well worth using Windows Update to ensure that you’re running current versions of both Windows and Outlook itself. If you don’t have the privileges required, get in touch with a technician.
2. Use the Support and Recovery Assistant
Microsoft is well aware of the difficulties that users can have with Outlook and the Office suite as a whole. To address these issues, Microsoft has developed a tool that might be able to right any wrongs automatically.
The Support and Recovery Assistant is available from the Outlook Support Center, and can help out when Outlook stops responding, when the client can’t receive emails, when shared calendars and mailboxes stop working, when the program keeps asking for your password, and when the program claims to be “trying to connect” or complains about being “disconnected”.
3. Disable Compatibility Mode
If you’re using Windows 7 and stumble over a “cannot start Microsoft Outlook” error message, then compatibility mode is probably to blame. This feature is intended to facilitate the use of the program on an older operating system, but it can sometimes cause problems of its own.
To check whether compatibility mode is activated, search for the Outlook.exe file on your hard drive, or navigate to it in a File Explorer window. If you’re using Office 2013, you can find the EXE file under Program Files > Microsoft Office > Root > Office 15 or Program Files (x86) > Microsoft Office > Root > Office 15.
Right-click the file and choose Properties, then head to the Compatibility tab. If any of the fields on this screen are checked, uncheck them, then click Apply and OK.
4. Run Outlook in Safe Mode
If Outlook stops responding while a “processing” message is on-screen, it’s worth starting the program in Safe Mode to possibly diagnose the issue.
To do so, enter
Outlook.exe /safe into the search bar — you may have to run this command as an administrator.
If Outlook opens successfully, close the program and then open it again as normal. Hopefully, it will no longer hang at the “processing” dialog.
5. Make Repairs
Outlook startup issues are often caused by a corrupted installation or damaged data files. Fortunately, it’s not very difficult to run a repair operation on these files.
Repair the Office Suite
To repair Office as a whole, head to the Programs and Features section of the Control Panel. Find the version of Microsoft Office that you’re using, right-click it, and select Change.
You should see options that will allow you to repair the installation — depending on the version of Office that you’re using, they may vary slightly from the image below.
Run the Repair operation and see whether it takes care of your issue.
Repair Your Outlook Data Files
If Outlook isn’t working properly, but the rest of the Office suite is, there could be a problem with the program’s data files. To remedy this, we can use the Inbox Repair Tool.
The Inbox Repair Tool is installed by default alongside your Office installation. Search for
SCANPST.exe to find it on your system.
Repair Your Outlook Profile
A corrupted profile might also be the cause of your difficulties with Outlook. To get started on a fix, open the Control Panel and search for Mail.
This will launch the Mail Setup window. Click the box labelled Email Accounts.
On the next screen, find your account and click Repair.
Follow any further steps in the wizard as necessary — the necessary actions may differ depending on the problem.
6. Use Command Line Switches
If you’re unable to open up a particular program, you can use command line switches to manipulate certain options and settings in order to get things up and running. To do so, enter the following strings into a Command Prompt window, or directly into the Windows 10 search bar.
outlook /resetnavpanewill reset the program’s Navigation Pane, a common source of several prominent issues.
outlook /resetfolderswill restore any missing folders at the default delivery location.
outlook /cleanreminderswill remove any alarms and events attached to the Outlook calendar, which can solve certain start-up issues.
Check out this article for many more useful command line switches to use with Outlook.
7. Disable Active Add-Ins
If you can open Outlook while using Safe Mode, but problems persist when it’s deactivated, one of your add-ins might be at fault. This situation is often accompanied by an error message relating to a particular add-in, but the instructions given in that message aren’t likely to fix the problem.
Instead, start Outlook in Safe Mode (see instructions above) and disable all add-ins by navigating to File > Options > Add-ins. Open the program again without Safe Mode activated to check that it works, then activate each add-in individually to see which particular item is the culprit.
In a worst case scenario, disabling the add-in that’s causing problems will allow you to access Outlook normally once again, even if you have to go without the functionality that it offers. Once you’ve narrowed the issue down to a single add-in, you can search online or get in contact with its developer for more information on a fix.
Be Meticulous and Don’t Panic!
The worst part of trouble with Outlook is how difficult it can be to diagnose the problem. The best recourse is to be thorough and make note of everything you try — even if it doesn’t work.
If none of the strategies listed in this article remedy your issues, you may have to consult with a professional. However, if you can relay what you’ve already tried to tech support, they will be able to strike off some possible causes and save some time. Keep track of your own diagnostic attempts, and you efforts won’t be in vain.
Do you have a tip for bringing Outlook back from the dead? Or are you looking for help with a specific issue not covered by this guide? Head to the comments section to join the conversation.
Image Credits: ESB Professional/Shutterstock