15 Tips to Become a Microsoft Outlook Master

June 5, 2014 - 13 minutes read

Outlook has been the dominant desktop computer email client for over 15 years, and although it’s now losing market share to Gmail, mobile devices, and Apple Mail, I believe that it’s still the most productive email application for ‘knowledge workers’, who can find that a quarter of every day is consumed dealing with email.

Given how big a role email plays in our professional lives, it’s worth considering that improving your efficiency and skill in dealing with email could play a significant role in enabling you to become a star performer on your team. With this in mind, I’ve put together 15 valuable tips to help you master Outlook and increase your daily productivity.

 1. Shortcuts

Outlook has zillions of shortcuts to help you get the job done quicker. Here are just a few of the most valuable ones:

  • Ctrl+Shift+A – create a new appointment
  • Ctrl+Shift+C – create a new contact
  • Ctrl+Shift+M – create a new message
  • Ctrl+Shift+N – create a new note
  • Ctrl+N – create a new (email, appointment, contact, task,…) depending on which section of Outlook you’re currently in
  • Ctrl+R – reply to email
  • Alt+R – reply all (when in email) or switch to work-week view (when in calendar)
  • Alt+W – forward email (when in email) or switch to weekly view (when in calendar)
  • F7 – Check spelling
  • F9 – Send/receive all
  • Alt+S – Send email
  • Ctrl+G – open the “Go to date” dialogue to jump to any date in the calendar
  • Ctrl+L – Left align text
  • Ctrl+R – Right align text

For a more comprehensive list of Outlook shortcuts, you can click here.

If you’re using Outlook for Mac, you’ll find that not every shortcut is the same – but much of what you can do on the PC is also available on the Mac in one form or other.

2. Ignore Conversations

Ever found that you’re being included or cc’d on an email conversation which you have no interest in? Instead of pressing <Del> to delete the message, press <Ctrl>+<Del>and the whole conversation (past, present, and future) will go to your Deleted Items – how awesome is that?

3. Quicksteps

Quicksteps are sitting right in the centre of the Outlook Home Menu, but very few people take much notice. When there are tasks you have to do repeatedly, Quicksteps are brilliant. Save the steps you perform (e.g. flag, mark as read, and move to another folder) and give it a suitable name. Now a single click will perform all those actions for you in one fell swoop.

Need to send an email to your whole team? Use the Team Email quickstep. Need to mark an email as ‘Done’ and file it? There’s a quickstep for that. Need to forward an email to a group of people? A quickstep would be perfect for that.

A quickstep is similar in many regards to ‘Rules’, but it can be triggered manually and doesn’t need to recognise an email based on standard rules. It’s all about what happens TO the email, not what the email looks like or where it came from.

4. Quick Parts

Do you frequently have to put the same information into an email – terms and conditions, quotation description, instructions or processes? Select the text and save it by clicking:

  • Insert
  • Quick Parts
  • Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery…

If you want to include the formatting, make sure you include the paragraph mark (Paragraph mark) which can be made visible using Format Text > Paragraph.

It’s then a simple matter to place the block of text into any email at the point you’ve placed your cursor.

You can also save the Quick Part into an Outlook template and make it available to all your staff, or even save it as a Microsoft Word template.

5. Conditional Formatting

Wouldn’t it be great if you could automatically colour-code messages from certain people, or with certain subjects/keywords, so they jump out at you and are easy to see? You can! It’s not immediately obvious where to find this, but once you realise that it’s possible you’ll fall in love with this feature:

  • View
  • View Settings
  • Conditional Formatting…
  • Add

Now just give your conditions a name, such as ‘Enquiries from website’, define the formatting (you can choose font, style, size, color, underline, strikeout), and set the ‘conditions’ – e.g. the email address of the sender, who it was sent to, the size of the email, whether it has attachments, importance,… This feature is so powerful!

6. Ctrl-V to create from clipboard

Have you seen some text on a web page that you want to include in an email? Or an online meeting URL that you want to include in an appointment? Just copy it from the original source and then switch back to Outlook and press <Ctrl>+V. If you’re in email, it’ll create a new email with the clipboard contents in the message body. If you’re in the calendar section, it’ll create a new appointment with the clipboard contents in the body of the appointment.

7. Email alerts for only the most important messages

Do you find email is too much of a distraction and it’s constantly popping up notifications when you’re trying to get important work done? A common piece of advice is to close Outlook, or turn off all notifications, when you’re trying to get important work done. This might work most of the time – but what if you still need to be reachable for an important client or a colleague?

The secret is to turn off all notifications, and then create one or more special rules to notify you when emails come in from nominated people. You can choose to have it pop up in the New Item Alert window, or play a specific sound, or both. Problem solved!

8. Flag messages with the insert key

Do you find Outlook flags useful, but get frustrated at the constant to-and-fro between mouse and keyboard as you scroll through messages, type replies, and click the Flags? (In Outlook 2013 it’s also very easy to click delete rather than a flag).

Just press <Insert>.

The Insert key will flag a message for you and allow you to keep your hands on the keyboard as you make your way through that pile of emails.

9. Move cc email directly to a cc folder

For whatever reason, a lot of organisations choose to cc a variety of people on important communications, even though you probably don’t have time to read it. Why don’t you just create a rule to move any messages in which you’re a cc recipient, directly to a ‘CC’ folder for archival purposes. If anybody ever asks, you can refer back to it. But if they expect you to action it, they should include you in the ‘To’ rather than the cc.

 10. Use email templates for tasks you do regularly

Do you send out rejection letters to job applicants? Appointment confirmations for clients? Follow-up email for accounts receivables? Product information? All these are perfect examples of letters that can (and should?) be standardised to save you time. Create an Outlook template and use that as the basis for each email. (You can still tweak it or personalise it each time if you feel you really must!)

11. Create search folders for most important emails

Most Outlook users rely heavily on Folders to organise their emails. But did you know you can also create ‘virtual folders’ based on search criteria? So, for example, you could have a Search Folder called ‘Unread Items’ that searches for and displays all your Unread emails, irrespective of which folder they’re stored in. Or emails flagged for follow up. Or emails marked ‘Important’. Or all the email from or to certain people. You could search for certain categories of email (such as a project name), or size. You could create a Search Folder that identifies all emails with a certain product name in it. Of course, the email is not being moved from it’s original location so you’ll still find it under the normal structure -this is just a quick way to find all the emails that are related in a particular way.

12. Save an email for your records

Need to save an email for the records? Drag it to your desktop or Windows Explorer to create an msg file.

13. Create custom priority for your tasks

In your preferred view of Outlook tasks (e.g. the ‘Active’ view), jump into the View Settings and click ‘Columns’. You’ll probably benefit from adding the ‘Start Date’ (which is frequently more useful than the Due Date), but you can also add a ‘New Column’ and name it ‘Priority’. You can then have your own priority systems (e.g. Priority A, B, C, D or 1, 2, 3, 4) and display tasks in Outlook according to that priority rather than just by it’s start or due date.

14. Use natural language to create a calendar event

This one’s so simple you’ll be amazed you never knew it. Just jump into the date field and type “two weeks from tomorrow”, “Mother’s Day”, etc…

 15. See other info while you’re still reading email

Outlook Folder PaneIn Outlook 2013, at the bottom of your ‘Folder Pane’ (left side) there are icons for each of the main areas of Outlook – Email, Calendar, People, Tasks. If you’re reading your email, you can hover your mouse over the Calendar icon and you’ll see a snapshot of what you’ve got on today. If you hover over People, you can see your ‘Favorites’ and quickly create an email to them or launch another activity with them.

(How does someone make it into your Favorites? I’m glad you asked! Just find them most places you see them in Outlook and then right-click on them and ‘Add to Favorites’.)


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