7 handy Microsoft Outlook tips and tricks

How to save time and effort with Outlook

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These days, our lives are almost completely dominated by email, and it really shouldn't be that way.

Email should be a tool that enables you to get more done, rather than a relentless wave that washes both time and productivity away.

Thankfully, Outlook is your friend. With just a few expert Outlook tips, you'll be able to purge inefficiency and make the most of your time.

1. Automate accounts

Prior to Outlook 2007, you may have needed to know chapter and verse about your mail server, including port settings for SMTP and POP communication. Luckily, recent versions of the software have made this setup much easier.

All of the settings required for commonly used mail accounts are already stored and Outlook uses your email address to try some of the more likely settings before bothering you with detailed setup. In most cases, all you'll need to enter are your email address and account password. You can use multiple email addresses with Outlook to access both work and home accounts at once.

2. Quickly attach files in Outlook

Attaching a file to an email message can be a fiddly process, but you can streamline it and make sure you don't forget the attachment by using Outlook's filing system. Browse to the file you want to attach to a message and open Outlook at your inbox.

Click and drag the file from its folder onto the inbox shown in your mail folders in Outlook. This creates a new message and attaches the file in one action. Now simply address it and add a covering note.

3. Tweet with Outlook

Who needs a dedicated Twitter reader? With TwinBox, a small plug-in that's available from here, Outlook does it for you.

It adds a dedicated Twitter toolbar you can use to read and post Tweets, all without taking your eyes from your other important data. You can download your Twitter messages and store them in a folder, and it even includes URL shortening in tweets, courtesy of bit.ly.

You can manage multiple Twitter accounts and automatically sort incoming messages into folders based on the sender, or on keywords and hash tags.

4. Use Quick Parts

Quick Parts are blocks of content you can include in messages. They're a lot like Auto Text, but can include links and pictures, as well as text messages. To create a new Quick Part, start an email message and enter the content you want to include.

Select it and choose 'Insert | Quick Parts | Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery'. Now provide a name, category and description, and click 'OK'. Whenever you want to use this block of content, choose 'Insert | Quick Parts' and select it from the list. You'll see a small preview window for each Quick Part you have stored.

5. How to disable new message alerts in Outlook

Incoming email can be a huge distraction, especially when you need to get some serious work done. However, if you close Outlook, you won't benefit from task and appointment reminders. Make sure you stick to your allotted email schedule by disabling new message alerts and then setting a reminder to check your email at the correct time.

To disable email alerts, choose 'Tools | Options | Email Options | Advanced Email Options'. Now clear each of the tickboxes below the section marked 'When New Items Arrive in my Inbox' and click 'OK' three times to confirm. Make sure you set an appointment to check your inbox, though, or you might miss an important message.

6. Get organised with Outlook categories

Use Outlook categories to help identify items that are important to you. By assigning colours to categories, you can quickly see what different messages, appointments and tasks relate to. To sort your categories, click the 'Categorize' button on the toolbar – it's next to the flag and shows four coloured squares.

Choose 'All Categories' and rename the existing ones to labels you need. You can change colours, add new categories and set shortcut keys for each category here. To add an item to a category, select it and press the shortcut key.

7. Rename old emails

Quite often, the subject line of an email bears little resemblance to its contents, especially if it's part of a longer thread that may well have started with a message simply entitled 'How are you?' You can apply retrospective filing to important messages by renaming their subjects to make them easier to find.

Open the email in a new window and click in the subject line. Delete the old subject and type the new one in. Click 'Yes' to confirm the change.

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First published in PC Plus Issue 300

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