How to use Outlook

I thought I would throw this out into the middle of the Circa/Mynd/Rolla craze and see if anyone wants to talk about something else! ;) I am trying to use Outlook to it's fullest potential and have been cruising around the www trying to find shortcuts, tips, and tricks for use within the Outlook program. I am trying to set everything up in a GTD format, but do not want to complicate it too much. Do you have any Outlook shortcuts, tips or tricks? Share them please! I will list a couple below...

1) When you open an email that you received and would like to change the "subject" it came with (so you can find it easier later on), open the email, highlight the subject, type in whatever you want, and hit cntrl-s. How cool is that?

2) For my personal appointments, I want them to print at the very top of the day (so if I print a filofax size calendar, all of my appointments will show up), I preface my appts. with a * or a < this makes them "float" to the top of the page. I also do not use the time slot for personal stuff, I just make it an all day event and type the time in the subject (again, this is so the personal stuff stays towards the top of the day). i.e. *6p din @ m/d's To me, this reads Dinner at Mom & Dad's at 6:00 pm.

3) I have separated my tasks by categories. Here are a few personal ones: Home, Errands, Gifts, Baby Shower (I am currently planning a baby shower), Annual, Finances, Winter Clean-Up.

This is all I can think of for right now. Let me know if you have any cool ideas for using Outlook!

Happy Day,
nay nay

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Do you use Outlook's color options for specific categories of tasks or appointments? I use color to "file" a lot of information, whether it's actual file folders or stuff on my electronic files. With Outlook, I used color to get a handle of all of the family's activities (there are 4 of us). So each person was assigned a certain color and then each entry, whether a to-do (due date for son's big report) or an appointment (gymnastics class), or reminder (mom's working late) was in their specific color. Birthdays, things done as a family, or household needs had their own colors too.


Outlook trivia


I use the colored flags in Outlook 2003 to categorize my next actions. Personally, I use them for different projects, but I expect you could use them for contexts instead if you wanted. That is, when I get an email that's got an action for me, I stick a flag on it so I can find it easily. When it's done, I check the flag as done.

I also have a zillion folders to separate emails in a way that makes sense to me--by topic. I have a set of folders for emails relating to tiny projects that all follow the same workflow (incoming request, Q&A, approval, WIP, user confirmation, closed). I have 'parent' folders that represent the status--Waiting for Me, Waiting for Others, Test (basically, done). Inside those are the folders that represent each project. So Project A is inside the "waiting for me" folder, indicating that it's on my NA list. When I've done my actions and I'm waiting for someone else, I move the whole folder to the "waiting for others" folder. When the project itself is done and waiting for user confirmation, it goes to "test".

I have another set of folders around larger projects (which may have subfolders for different parts of the project). This area doesn't have any status folders, just topics and subtopics.

When a mail comes in, I dump it straight to my _Incoming folder until I process it. When I read it, I either answer it right away or flag it for future action. Ideally at that point I would immediately file it, too, but I tend to do my filing on about a weekly basis. So I never really get to inbox zero, but it's manageable. I use the _Incoming folder so I can have my replies automatically saved there as well, which reduces the amount of time I spend messing around with my Sent Items folder getting stuff filed. I view things by conversation topic, and when I file I grab the entire conversation and drag it to the folder of choice.

When the project itself is fully completed, I move the entire folder to a PST file so it doesn't count toward my quota. If I overrun my quota anyway, I start making PST files for the big projects that take a long time to complete so I can stuff everything in a specific project's PST folder.

I know another fellow who spends a day each month filing all the emails from the previous month in a PST that covers only that month. That keeps his quota down and he can find stuff based on time period that way. I like the topic files better because I can never remember when stuff happened. :)


Colors are a big help in Outlook

I use different colors for each of my children, so that I know if one of my kids is scheduled to work on a certain day (which means they'll need a ride), or if they have a major project or assignment due.

My kids now mark the wall calendar in the same colors I use for them.

Working on the cure for CRS, one planner at a time.

Outlook Colors

I use the colors as well. One reason I always liked paper instead of computers is that I highlight items when they are done. So, now with Outlook Calendar, I had to figure out a way to highlight things that are done. So, I color code everything, but then when they are complete, I change the color to my "complete color" which in turn is me highlighting it as done. Now, when I look at my calendar, I know exactly which items I have not yet completed...

For those not yet on Outlook

For those not yet on Outlook 2007, I wouldn't get too attached to using the differently colored flags. 2007 only has red for flagging. You can still do colored categories, but flags only come in varying shades of red.

On the other hand, the task area of 2007 has gotten some much needed attention. I am quite fond of the new To-Do Bar in Outlook 2007, and having my tasks visible while I'm still in my regular folder/email viewing mode. Flagging an email adds it to the task list that appears in the To-Do Bar, but not into the regular Task List. Flagged mail also doesn't show up on the Tasks portion of the Outlook Today page, but that doesn't matter much since I only ever see that very briefly when I reboot and have to restart Outlook. I basically run the application from the Folder List at all times.

I also happen to use Business Contact Manager, and MS Accounting, so I can actually track billing and projects to a degree in Outlook.

As for handling email, I make heavy use of the filters. I have a folder for each email list I'm on, and a folder for each client. (I actually have nested folders: Dog Stuff, Work, Tech Lists, Misc. Dog Stuff contains folders for dog clubs and various mailing lists, Work contains folders for each client, etc.) Mail is filtered as it arrives, and goes to the folder it belongs to. My mail volume runs between 1200-3000 emails a day. Most of this I never need to look at really closely. With the filters, almost all of that gets dumped into an appropriate folder, and very few things land in my inbox -- basically personal or work emails from someone I haven't gotten enough mail from to have set them up with their own folder. If I see unread mail in a client folder, that has a higher priority for my attention. Mailing list or dog stuff just piles up in their folders and when I have some down time or need a distraction I will browse through it, read what I want to, dump the rest. Some folders I clean out by deleting everything, other folders I keep all mail and let it archive within Outlook after a few months. Sometimes something comes across on a mailing list that I want to specifically keep for future reference, and those I copy to a set of "Filed Mail" folders.

When I read email, if it requires action on my part I flag it, setting a due date. I can find emails that have been flagged by either browsing through a client's folder, or sorting the folder by flags and making it easier to find anything I've missed for that particular client. I can also use Outlook's default "Follow Up" folder to see all items that have been flagged and not yet cleared.

I actually barely use the calendar. In fact, we use it mostly just to schedule weekend family events, and we have a Sharepoint installation on our file server here at the house that we use to keep a shared calendar for that purpose. (Calendaring has gotten a little snazzier in Outlook 2007 as well, though.)

The other useful thing is that I have Outlook set so that when I reply to a mail from a client, a copy of that sent mail also goes into that client's folder. So I can see both directions of correspondence right from the one folder.

Lastly, I do not usually divide up client mail by project, because my clients all seem to have a tendency to discuss more than one project in any given email. Subjects bounce all over the place. Only if I have some large or unusual project, especially if it has additional people involved that are sending mail on the project, I will set up a subfolder under that client for that project. I try to filter the extra people to that subfolder, but may have to manually move mail from my regular client contact into the project folder as necessary.

OffLead Blog - Dogs and other of life's joys.

Right after I read GTD

and wanted to incorporate it into Outlook I set up a series of folders and color schemes to help. First, though, I downloaded a trial version of the GTD Outlook add-on to see if I would like it. I did, and discovered that there was nothing in there that I couldn't set up myself in Outlook once the free trial expired. It was all pretty basic setting up of folders, moving email to calendar or tasks, etc.

Task Names

3) I have separated my tasks by categories. Here are a few personal ones: Home, Errands, Gifts, Baby Shower (I am currently planning a baby shower), Annual, Finances, Winter Clean-Up.

Tasks can be sorted alphabetically - which means that task names are useful ways to sort the tasks.

I start my task names with a code that's an abbreviation of the task's place on my tasklist. For example, ABR04 means an 'A' (urgent and important) task for 'BR' (Business Reporting) and it's the 4th task on the list (04). This task would have the Category "Reporting", a priority rating, a start date, and due date. So it could be sorted by A-D urgency, Priority, Category, Due Date and Start Date

task code names

I like this idea as I recently tried printing the "tri-fold style" to show the month, then the current week and then my tasks. Well tasks did not print by category, they printed by task name, so I thought that kind of defeated my purpose. So, if I do the "code" before writing the actual task, then it will print correctly. I will have to give this a try!

THANKS! Please keep the ideas coming as I am really enjoying learning more about Outlook and how to use it efficiently!

nay nay

I have also used the "." at beginning of tasks

to keep them at the top of the list. That way priority tasks come to the top with alphabetizing. I picked up that tip from a book on how to organize your life using Outlook. I just searched and didn't see it on Amazon and it is at home otherwise I'd give the citation.

Google is my friend

The book is "Take Back Your Life! Using Microsoft Outlook to Get Organized and Stay Organized" and the author is Sally McGhee. A lot of the way she organizes things is similar to GTD but then she gives you specific instructions on how to set up your projects, next steps, etc. in Outlook. I spent some time setting up everything but since I'm not really a GTD type person I ended up dropping some stuff and just keeping mostly the Outlook tips.

thx emoore

Thanks for getting me the book title! I am going to order right away as I love learning new tips on how to use "old" software!

Thanks again!
nay nay :)

Glad I could help.

I'd like to hear how it works for you. I think it is very GTD influenced as it was easy to translate the way the author organized projects and tasks into the GTD system. In my ever morphing system of tracking what I need to do and how it fits into my priorities and life, I have been putting fewer things in Outlook and more on paper. I like flipping through pages more than scrolling through screens. I have a hard time reading on a computer screen anyway, the physical experience of handling the printed material reinforces it in my brain somehow in a way that touching a mouse or scrolling device doesn't do. I still use Outlook for reminders and put everything calendar related on it but I also have a paper planner that is invaluable for constant calendar access. Yes, my Pocket PC synchs to Outlook and I can look at my calendar there, but it seems so rude to pull out the PPC in a meeting when I want to surreptitiously check my calendar for something else. If my notepaper is in my planner then nobody knows what I'm actually looking at and they don't know I have left the meeting in my head and am working on something else until I can escape. I can multitask easier with paper than my PPC.

paper vs computer screen

emoore makes a great point: "I have a hard time reading on a computer screen anyway, the physical experience of handling the printed material reinforces it in my brain somehow in a way that touching a mouse or scrolling device doesn't do. " (I don't know how to make those cool quote marks...)

I really wanted to go digital at the office because I am in the investment field, so EVERYTHING needs to be documented and backed up. But, I forget things when I just type them into the computer. I simply have to write things down in order for me to recall them later. Not sure if this is because I grew up in the analog age? Do you think kids who are in their early years now will be more apt to go all digital in their future? (Never thought of this until I started typing this post...).

Anyway, I will still be using Outlook for the calendar and we have a specialized Contact Program (Like ACT, but Investment Industry Designed) that has to be used. BUT, I am printing everything out and just making updates to the computer when needed. I just HAVE TO WRITE! :)

happy day,
nay nay

Kids and digital

I got my first computer when I was seven, and I'm still hooked on writing things down by hand.

My five year old niece already knows her way around WinXP, Macs, and Linux (her mom's a graphic designer and her stepdad's a computer guru) and she still has a love for pen and paper.

I don't think computers will ever completely replace pen and paper...

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Tomato, tomahtoe

Back when I was taking a hiatus from my usual line of work I sold computerized sewing machines and taught sewing lessons. I realized that students had very different ways of learning. I taught myself to sew by reading books, some students had to watch demonstration of techniques, others had to sit down and just do it, etc. A long way of saying that I don't think it has to do with age, but how a person absorbs new material.

so true!

This is a great way of looking at my dilemna! I absolutely learn better by writing vs typing. When I was in college, I would write and rewrite all of my notes as that was the only way it really sunk in. Great example - thanks for sharing!

Total Workday Control With Microsoft Outlook

Have you heard about Linenberger's "Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook". His suggestions are GTD based. It's a must read for a Outlook user who is doing GTD.



I am going to look into this book as well! Thanks for the info!
nay nay :)

I didn't see this link in

I didn't see this link in this thread at a quick glance.

Outlook 2007 and GTD

The To-Do bar alone was enough reason for me to upgrade to 2007. (Actually, The Fella was the one who pushed me to upgrade, waving this feature at me, because he was tired of me griping about how the task list in 2003 wasn't very useful.)


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