The 18 best Outlook tips for increasing productivity: Become an Outlook Jedi with our expert tips

Want to become an Outlook expert? Here are the 18 best Outlook tips that can make handling your email and appointments quicker and easier

Darien Graham-Smith
1 Mar 2016

Millions of people use Microsoft Outlook to manage their email and calendar, at work and at home. That’s 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 synchronise home and work life. These tips are geared towards Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013, but many also apply to Outlook 2003 and earlier.

Upgrade to Outlook 2016 via Microsoft

Best Outlook tips: 1. Spare yourself repeated typing with Quick Parts

If you regularly need to trot out a standard passage of text, you can save it as a Quick Part for easy insertion into your emails. 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’ll see it pop up as a suggestion – hit return 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”.

Best Outlook tips: 2. Write a message to be delivered at a future time

18 Outlook tips

If you have some news that you don’t want to share immediately, Outlook lets you defer delivery until a specified time. Write your email, 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. If you’re using an Exchange server, you can now close Outlook; if you’re using POP or IMAP you’ll have to leave the application open until the specified time for delivery has passed.

Best Outlook tips: 3. Group messages by…

If you receive a high volume of email, tracking down relevant messages can be a chore. Outlook can group emails 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.

Best Outlook tips: 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’s 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 (such as finding mail from specific people, or mail marked as important) or set up your own criteria using the “Create a custom Search Folder” option. Your new search folder appears in the folders pane at the left-hand side of the Outlook window; click on it to see messages meeting your selected conditions. Right-click and select Rename Folder to give it a convenient name.

Best Outlook tips: 5. Filter emails to find relevant messages

18 Outlook tips

Another quick way to find specific emails 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 emails, 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’ll find additional settings, as well as the Recent Searches dropdown that lets you repeat recent searches with a single click.

Best Outlook tips: 6. Junk or Ignore unwanted email

If someone keeps clogging up your inbox, you can block all future email 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 isn’t relevant, click Ignore: this doesn’t permanently block anyone, but new emails in that particular conversation thread will be binned as soon as they arrive.

Best Outlook tips: 7. Instantly create new emails and appointments

18 Outlook tips

If you make full use of Outlook’s features, you may find yourself frequently switching back and forth between email and calendar modes. Regardless of whether you’re looking at your inbox or your calendar, you can create new emails, 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, right-click on Outlook’s icon in the Windows 7 or 8 taskbar to open a jumplist offering direct shortcuts to create any sort of new item.

Best Outlook tips: 8. Automate recurrent 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’ll 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.

Best Outlook tips: 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’ll 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 emails.

18 Outlook tips

A similar feature is Conditional Formatting, which you’ll find under View Settings on the View tab. This doesn’t move or process messages, but it displays emails matching certain criteria in a specified font and colour, so you can instantly spot them in your inbox.

Continues on page 2: Find out how to send text messages from within Outlook, clear out unneeded messages, and more. 

Read more about: