18 Best Outlook tips for increasing productivity

Millions of people use Microsoft Outlook to manage their e-mail and calendar, at work and at home. That is a testament to its usefulness - but the truth is that few of us really know how to make the most of its features. Learning a few simple tricks can save you time, help you work more efficiently and synchronize home and work life.

1. Spare yourself repeated typing with Quick Parts
If you regularly need to type out a standard passage of text, you can save it as a Quick Part for easy insertion into your e-mails. Simply highlight the text in the composer window, then switch to the Insert tab, click the Quick Parts dropdown and select “Save selection to Quick Parts gallery”. In future, when you start typing the phrase, you will see it pop up as a suggestion - hit enter to insert it in full. You can also select your text with the mouse from the Quick Parts dropdown. Right-click on it for placement options, or to edit and manage Quick Parts and other “building blocks”.

2. Write a message to be delivered at a future time
If you have some news that you don’t want to share immediately, Outlook lets you defer delivery until a specified time. Write your e-mail, then switch to the Options tab and click Delay Delivery. This opens a requester with a “Do not deliver before:” field; enter a date and time, then click Close. After you hit Send, the message will be held until the specified time for sending.

3. Group messages by…
If you receive a high volume of e-mail, tracking down relevant messages can be a chore. Outlook can group e-mails into conversations, so that a single click shows all related messages together. You can set this on a global or per-mailbox basis by going to the View tab and ticking “Show as Conversations”. Click the “Arrange By:” bar at the top of the message list and select “View Settings…” from the dropdown menu to configure additional grouping options.

4. Create a folder for common searches
You can always search the current folder by typing into the search field above the message list. If there is a particular search you frequently carry out, you can simplify the job with a Search Folder. Go to the Folder tab and click New Search Folder to create one: you can choose from a variety of templates or set up your own criteria using the “Create a customer Search Folder” option. Your new search folder appears in the folders pane at the left-hand side of the Outlook windows; click on it to see messages meeting your selected conditions. Right-click and select Rename Folder to give it a convenient name.

5. Filter e-mails to find relevant messages
Another quick way to find specific e-mails is to use the Filter Email dropdown at the far right of the Home tab. Choosing a menu option instantly filters your mailbox display to show only certain types of e-mails, such as those with attachments, those dated within a specific time period and so forth. Within your filtered view, you can type into the regular search box to drill down further. For more search options, select “More Filters…” from the dropdown to make the Search Tools tab visible: here you will find additional settings, as well as the Recent Searches dropdown that lets you repeat recent searches with a single click.

6. Junk or Ignore unwanted e-mail
If someone keeps clogging up your inbox, you can block all future e-mail from that sender by clicking the Junk dropdown on the Home tab. Select “Junk e-mail options” to open a
configuration dialog that lets you specify what you count as junk and what you don’t - here you can blacklist entire domains and even entire countries. If the sender is legitimate but the
conversation is not relevant, click Ignore: this does not permanently block anyone, but new emails in that particular conversation thread will be binned as soon as they arrive.

7. Instantly create new e-mails and appointments
If you make full use of Outlook’s features, you may find yourself frequently switching back and forth between e-mail and calendar modes. Regardless of whether you are looking at your inbox or your calendar, you can create new e-mails, appointments, contacts and so forth using the New Items dropdown on the Home tab. If you don’t want to delve into the Outlook interface, rightclick on Outlook icon in the task bar to open a jumpiest offering direct shortcuts to create any sort of new item.

8. Automate recurring tasks with Quick Steps
If you find yourself regularly performing a particular task - such as forwarding an incoming email to a colleague, or inviting a group of recipients to a meeting - then Quick Steps can save you time. You will find a set of predefined Quick Steps in the middle of the Home tab, but the real power of the feature comes in defining your own. Click the dropdown arrow and select New Quick Step to create a custom sequence of actions that can categorise, move, flag and delete messages with a single tap of your mouse. Clicking on “Manage Quick Steps…” opens a dialog from which you can duplicate and edit shortcuts, so you can create a range of variations on a theme.

9. Sort your mail with Rules and Conditional Formatting
The Rules dropdown in the Move section of the Home tab provides options to create and manage rules for automatically processing messages as they arrive. If you select a message before clicking, it will offer to create a rule affecting similar messages. Select Create Rule and you will be given the option to set all sorts of criteria to check for - sender, recipient, size, date and more - and choose what should happen to matching e-mails. A similar feature is Conditional Formatting, which you will find under View Settings on the View tab. This does not move or process messages, but it displays e-mails matching certain criteria in a specified font and color, so you can instantly spot them in your inbox.

10. Send text messages from within Outlook
When e-mail won’t cut it, Outlook supports sending SMS text messages directly to your contacts. You will need to register with a third-party messaging service to use this feature, however, and if you want to send more than a handful of text messages you will inevitably have to pay. To set up SMS, click the New Items dropdown under the Home tab, select Text Message (SMS) and, in the dialog that opens, click “Find a text message service for your mobile operator”.

11. Automatically clear out unneeded messages
If you want to save space or tidy up an unwieldy e-mail trail, the Clean Up Tool in Outlook can help. It analyses a complete e-mail conversation and deletes any messages that have been quoted in their entirety inside a subsequent message - the logic being that you can still see what is being said by checking subsequent messages. To use Clean Up, click its dropdown on the Home tab and choose whether you want to tidy up a single conversation or a whole folder. Click the Settings button in the alert that opens to choose what sort of messages should be culled and what should be left alone.

12. Delegate access to your mail and calendar
If you are going away, you can temporarily let someone else manage your inbox and appointments. To set this up, open the File tab, then click the Account Settings dropdown and
select Delegate Access. Click Add and enter the name of the person to whom you want to grant access. You will see a set of dropdown for permissions: by default, your delegate can access and update your calendar and task list, while e-mail and contacts remain private. Note that your delegate must be using the same version of Outlook as you, and the items you want them to access must be stored on an Exchange server: they won’t be able to get at a mailbox that lives on your hard drive.

13. Manage read receipts
Happily, Outlook is well-behaved enough to ask permission before sending a read receipt; you can customize its behavior further by clicking on the File tab, opening Options, selecting the Mail view and scrolling down to the Tracking section. Here you can choose whether receipts should be sent always, or never and you can also configure your own receipt request settings. Once useful option is the ability to request a delivery receipt, which confirms your e-mail has reached the recipients mail server, without insisting on a notification when it is actually opened.

14. Time Zones
If you travel for work, you will know the frustration of finding meetings and appointments in Outlook show up at the wrong local time. Under File | Options | Calendar you will find the option for setting your local time zone: once you have done this, e-mail timestamps and calendar entries will be shown with the appropriate offset. You can also configure a second time zone to be shown so that you can keep track of what time it is back home, or see what time it is for your colleague overseas, to ensure you catch them during office hours and don’t contact them at an inconvenient time of day. Click Swap Time Zones to easily switch from one location to another.

15. “Post-it” notes
Outlook includes a built-in sticky notes feature. Press Ctrl+Shift+N from anywhere in the Outlook interface to create a new note, which can be dragged and positioned anywhere on screen. By default, notes appear in pale yellow, but you can assign them to categories, which causes them to switch to the associated color. To manage your notes, click on the Note icon at the bottom of the View pane: from here you can copy, organize and print notes, and also search, via the field at the top-right of the window, for notes containing specific text.

16. Encrypted e-mail
If you want to prove your messages are really from you, Outlook can cryptographically sign your e-mails. You can even go a step further and encrypt the text and attachments, so that only recipients with whom you have shared the key can read them. To set this up, open the Trust Center Settings (you will find the button under File | Options | Trust Center) and click on e-mail security. Enabling digital signing and encryption is as easy as ticking the relevant boxes, but you will need to create and import a digital ID if you don’t already have one. Click “Get a Digital ID…” to see links to a range of providers.

17. Access your personal e-mail within Outlook
To add a personal mailbox to Outlook, go to the File tab and click Add Account to open the wizard; if you are using a web service such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, check the providers
instructions for setting up access via POP or IMAP. If you are using outlook.com, simply enter your e-mail address and Outlook will handle the rest.

18. Sync Google Calendar with Outlook
In Google Calendar, move your mouse over your calendar in the left-hand pane, click on the dropdown that appears and select Calendar Settings. Click Private Address | ICAL to obtain the URL of your calendars’ iCal feed. Now, in Outlook, to to File | Account Settings | Account Settings…, click on the Internet Calendars tab and paste the URL into the dialog that opens. Aftera few minutes, the calendar will start to update and your events will appear in Outlook. If you  want to make Outlook events appear in Google Calendar, you will need a third-party tool.

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