The 11 Best Tips for Increasing Productivity with Outlook
Millions of people use Microsoft Outlook to manage their email and calendar, both at work and at home. That’s a testament to its usefulness, but the truth is that few people 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 even sync your home and work life. These tips are geared towards Outlook 2013, 2016, 2019, and Microsoft 365, but many apply to older versions of Outlook as well.
Tip #1: Eliminate Repetitious Typing using Quick Parts
If you regularly need to type a standard block of text, you can save it as a “Quick Part” for easy insertion into your emails.
- Highlight the text in the composer window.
- Click the “Insert” tab to roll out the ribbon menu.
- Select “Quick Parts” and choose “Save selection to Quick Parts gallery.”
- Click “OK” in the popup frame to save the new Quick Part phrase.
In the future, when you start typing the same block of text, you’ll see it pop up as a suggestion. Hit “return” to insert the text in full. You can also select your phrase with the mouse using the “Quick Parts” dropdown. Right-click on it for placement options, or edit and manage Quick Parts and other “building blocks.”
Tip #2: Write a Message to Deliver at a Future Time
If you have some news or messages that you don’t want to share immediately, Outlook lets you defer delivery until a specified time.
- Write your email and add your recipient. Get everything ready to send as you normally would.
- Click “the “Options” tab. A flyout menu will appear below it.
- Click on “Delay Delivery” or select the small arrow icon in the “Send” box, depending on your Outlook version and OS.
- In the popup frame, choose the date and time you’d like the recipient to receive the email, and then click “Close” or “Send” depending on your Outlook version and OS.
- Click “Send” when finished.
- 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 sending time has passed.
You can also update the date and time or delete the message altogether before it gets sent. Visit the “Drafts” folder and click “Cancel Send.” Then you can recreate the message and send it on a new date or time.
Tip #3: Create a Folder for Common Searches
You can always search the current folder by typing words or phrases into the search field, which is found above the message list. However, for frequently searched terms, you can simplify the job with a “Search” folder.
Go to the “Folder” tab and right-click on “Search Folder” to create one. Choose from a variety of templates (email from specific people, mail marked as important, etc.) 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.
Tip #4: 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’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 categorize, move, flag, and delete messages with a single tap of your mouse.
Clicking on the pullout arrow, found in the bottom-right section within the “Quick Steps” ribbon group, opens a dialog from which you can duplicate and edit shortcuts so that you can create a range of variations on a theme.
Tip #5: 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, including sender, recipient, size, date, etc. You’ll slso choose what should happen to emails that match the set criteria.
A similar feature is Conditional Formatting, which you’ll find by clicking “View Settings” folowed by the “View” tab. This doesn’t move or process messages, but it displays emails matching certain criteria in a specified font and color, so you can instantly spot them in your inbox.
Tip #6: Automatically Clear Out Unneeded Messages
If you want to save space or tidy up an unwieldy email trail, the Clean Up tool in Outlook 2013 and later can help. It analyzes a complete email conversation and deletes any messages that have been quoted in their entirety inside a subsequent message—that way, you can still see what’s been said by checking subsequent messages.
To use Clean Up, click its dropdown menu on the “Home” tab and choose whether you want to tidy up a single conversation or an entire folder. To implement further control over your settings, click the “Settings” button within the popup alert to choose what sort of messages should be culled and what should be left alone.
Tip #7: Delegate Access to Your Mail and Calendar
If a particular situation or event requires you to provide Outllok account access to another person, 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 (or people) to whom you want to grant access.
You’ll see a set of dropdowns for permissions. The default settings allow your delegate to access and update your calendar and task list, while email and contacts remain private. You can adjust the permissions to your needs.
Note: A 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. The delegate won’t have access to your mailbox that lives on your hard drive.
Tip #8: Manage Read Receipts
Thankfully, 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. To configure the frequency of sent receipt requests, choose “always” or “never,” or configure your own receipt request settings.
One useful option is the ability to request a delivery receipt, which confirms your email has reached the recipient’s mail server, without insisting on a notification when it’s actually opened.
Tip #9: Time Zones
If you travel for work, you’ll know the frustration of meetings and appointments in Outlook showing up at the wrong local time. Thankfully, you can control time zones from within your settings. Under “File,” look for “Options” and select “Calendar” to open your “Time Zone” settings. Once you’ve changed your local time zone, email timestamps and calendar entries will be shown with the appropriate offset.
You can also configure a second time zone to be shown so that, for example, you can keep track of what time it is back home, or see what time it is for your colleagues 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.
Tip #10: Use The Sticky Notes Feature
Outlook includes a built-in sticky notes feature to help remind you of or take note of important information. Press “Ctrl + Shift + N” from anywhere in the Outlook interface to create a new note, which can be dragged and positioned anywhere on the 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’ panel. From there, you can copy, organize, and print notes. You can also search, via the field at the top-right of the window, for notes containing specific text.
Tip #11: Encrypted Email
If you want to prove your messages are really from you, Outlook can cryptographically sign your emails. You can even go a step further and encrypt the text and attachments so that only recipients with whom you’ve shared the key can read them. To set this up, open the “Trust Center Settings” by clicking “File | Options | Trust Center” and selecting “E-mail Security.”
Encrypting emails and adding a digital signature is as easy as ticking the relevant boxes, but you’ll 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, including Comodo, which offers free email certificates.