Microsoft Outlook is an integral part of my daily routine. I can live my day staring at my outlook Inbox. In fact, 80% of the people in IT industry spend most of their time in Microsoft Outlook – drafting mails, sending replies, accepting calendar invites, searching mails, creating folders, archiving mails and so on. However, I often find it ironic that 99% of the people using Outlook doesn’t know how to effectively use it. Sending and receiving mails is one of the major functions of Outlook, but that’s not all. There are so many things which probably you don’t know exist in Outlook, which can make your life a lot easier. Curious to know? Let’s find out then.
1. Data file management
This often is an ignored aspect of Outlook setup. By default, MS Outlook sets up a default data file on exchange server to store your data. However, as time passes, this file can grow enormously depending on how many mails you get per day. Even if you do archive your data periodically, still keeping all the historical data in single file poses problems like slow startup, difficulty in finding desired mails, problems in recovery in case of storage media failure, heavy backup size etc.
The easy solution to avoid this mess is to split a single data file into multiple personal data files (.pst). You can split data based on Time (One file per year), Importance, Categories (one category per file) or Sender (Frequent senders in one file, less frequent in other). Once you split the data across multiple files, it becomes easy to search for mails, because you can directly search in specific file. Secondly, taking backups is easy and you can prioritize backup based on which file is more important. Thirdly, you don’t have to always attach all the files to the Outlook, only the needed ones, reducing your Outlook startup time. You can always attach other files, as and when required.
2. Cached Exchange Mode
This feature was introduced in Outlook 2003. When you run the outlook in cached mode, it creates a cached copy of your mailbox on your local machine as an offline storage file (.ost). This copy is periodically synchronized with the server data file providing user with accurate view of mailbox at the same time, being more responsive. In case of connection failure with the exchange server, you can still work with your data in offline mode, while Outlook tries to periodically connect to exchange server. Once the connection is re-established, your changes are synchronized with the server. All this happens in the background without any manual intervention keeping outlook up and running all the time. The only downside of this feature is the amount of storage it needs on local machine, but it’s worth the cost. What would you prefer – having a slow, unresponsive mailbox or the one which lets you do your work regardless of connection state?
This is one the most abused feature of MS Outlook. Most people using rules don’t know how to set them up correctly and results in problems like mails from important senders getting deleted, moving mails in wrong folders, receiving self-sent mails and so on. Perhaps, the simplicity of interface has contributed to that kind of mess. Outlook gives you rich variety of conditions and exceptions to filter your messages such as:
- Mails from specific senders
- Mails from specific accounts – useful when you have more than one email accounts set up in Outlook
- Mails with specific size range
- Mails assigned to a particular category
- Sent to specific people
- Mails with specific words in subject, body, sender or recipient address, message header
What is important here is to use combination of these filters to accurately deliver message to desired folder. For example, let’s say I am part of a distribution list – Mumbai SQL Server Professionals Group and I am replying to a mail from directed to this group, I need a rule to prevent the same message being displayed in my inbox. In this case I can setup a rule where I will specify an exception to remove the message if it is sent by me to Mumbai SQL Server Professionals Group. It’s important to test the rule on small subset of messages to check the accuracy before making it permanent.
4. Data Archiving
If you have storage limits placed on the exchange server data, this feature is your primary option to safekeep your historical data. Microsoft Outlook provides a way to automatically archive data in an archive file using its AutoArchive feature. You can set options like:
- Frequency – how frequently the data should be archived
- Retention period – Which mails qualify to be archived
- Archive file – Which personal storage file should be used to archive data
By archiving the data, you simplify your inbox, reducing the storage requirements on server and improving your overall speed. Setting up AutoArchive to run on weekly basis is a great way to keep your Outlook healthy.
Outlook by itself provides a rich UI and tons of features. However, there may be times when you think that maybe Outlook should have implemented some x feature. You can convert that “maybe” to “Yay, I got it now!” by writing macros. A macro is nothing but set of commands you write that will perform certain action whenever you need. It is a mini-program, which extends Outlook by leaps and bounds. For example, by default, while drafting a mail, you won’t have format painter button in toolbar. But you can implement this functionality by writing a macro and adding it to the toolbar as a button. Writing a macro can be intimidating if you are not a programmer, but Microsoft made it considerably easy by providing a simple scripting language (Visual Basic for Applications) and intelli-sense ready editor. Check out OutlookCode for some quick introduction to writing macros in Microsoft Outlook.
6. Periodic backup
It is rumored that Adolf Hitler used to keep dummies to elude his enemies; same was the case with Saddam Hussein. Whatever may be the truth, one thing is sure, you must keep periodical backups when you are in software world. You may never know when your storage media fails or your data file corrupts. Fortunately, Microsoft Outlook provides you with a ready-to-use add-on called Personal Folders backup. You need to download and install it. Once you install it, you can access it by going to File, Backup. It provides you options to set backup location, which folders to be included in backup and reminder settings. If you don’t want to install the add-on, you can opt for manually copying your storage file to backup medium as well.
No matter how much you love using mouse over keyboard, there are some clear advantages to using keyboard. One of them is speed. I don’t like to lift my hand to switch to mouse unless absolutely necessary. May be I am lazy, but then too, I am fast. As is the case with any Microsoft product, Outlook provides you with bunch of shortkey keys to achieve your tasks from keyboard alone. Below are some of my favorites, You can find the complete list of shortcut keys in Outlook help or from Office Online help:
|Ctrl + Q||Mark as read|
|Ctrl + U||Mark as unread|
|Ctrl + K||Check Names|
|Alt + S||Send mail|
|Ctrl + R||Reply to mail|
|Ctrl + F||Forward mail|
|Insert||Add quick flag to message|
Do you have any suggestions?
If you have any other tips than said above, please leave them in the comments section below. Also, if you find the article interesting, don’t forget to share it with the world by tweeting it and/or by using the share button below. Keep geeking!