How to Use Outlook

The Ultimate Help Guide to Using Outlook

When used properly, Outlook can dramatically improve your productivity by reducing the number of small decisions you have to make and streamlining the repetitive tasks that can eat up huge chunks of your day. In other words, it reduces the incidence of “decision fatigue,” the condition that arises when you’re simply burned out from being “on” all day.

Ultimately, the goal of this guide is to turn you on to the Outlook features and functions that, when mastered, dramatically boost your productivity and minimize decision fatigue. It’s designed to be read and implemented in two hours or less and focuses on the “gold nuggets” of Outlook: The 20 percent of Outlook features that produce 80 percent of your desired results.

This guide is broken into two sections. The first focuses on the four key Outlook features that can help you manage and get ahead of your day. The second peers into four more advanced features with which you can truly master Outlook—and squeeze every last ounce of productivity from it.

Ready? Let’s get started.


Okay, be honest: Does Outlook scare you a little? Did your experimentation with its screen views, email functions and scheduling features end in tears?

If so, you’re not alone. Millions of Outlook users have had similar experiences. Many gave up on the platform altogether.

Don’t let Outlook defeat you. In the following chapters, we’ll outline four basic Outlook features that can help you manage your day and get ahead of your work without driving you to frustration. By the end of this section, you’ll have a firm understanding of these features—not just how they work, but how you can make them work for you. You’ll be able to customize and manipulate your Outlook view, use your calendar with confidence, manage and organize tasks and finally master “the beast” aka your email.

Chapter One: Increase Your Efficiency 15 Percent Just by Reading This First Chapter

When you’re at work, the last thing you want is for your digital organizer to become a distraction. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to customize Outlook so that it only shows what’s important to you. We’ll review the Outlook screen, explore each type of Outlook view and touch on how to save customized views for easy access. Since Outlook is so easy to customize, there’s little reason to leave it in the default view.

Outlook Screen Overview

If you’ve used Outlook before, you don’t need an exhaustive list of all the items on your screen. However, there are some important Outlook screen features worth noting: the Ribbon and the Quick Access Toolbar.

The Ribbon – What Is It?

The Ribbon, or the long toolbar at the top of your Outlook screen view, should be immediately familiar if you’ve ever used the Microsoft Office suite. The Ribbon includes familiar tabs like “Insert” and “Page Layout,” which allow you to perform basic word processing functions, as well as customized signature lines, a date and time function and other tools that may be useful for email.

To minimize the Ribbon and use it while minimized, follow these steps:

  1. Click “Ribbon Display Options” in the top right corner.
  2. Select “Show Tabs” from the dropdown.
  3. This removes most of the icons from the Ribbon view, leaving only the tabs above it.
  4. To perform a function with the Ribbon minimized, click the tab that houses the function, and then select the appropriate command. You’ll only see the parts of the Ribbon relevant to the command.

Tip: To minimize the Ribbon for a short period, just double-click the active tab. It’ll disappear. You can double-click any tab to restore the Ribbon. Minimizing the Ribbon is a great way to remove clutter and provide a bigger work area for emails and calendars etc.

Quick Access Toolbar

The Quick Access Toolbar is a small compact and customized version of the Ribbon. It always appears in your Outlook screen view, ensuring that you have access to the tools you need and nothing more. Adding your most used commands to the Quick Access Toolbar will prevent you from having to click around on different tabs in the Ribbon.

To customize the Quick Access Toolbar, follow these steps:

  1. Find and click the small icon titled “Customize Quick Access Toolbar”.
  2. Here you can quickly add (or remove) the most used commands in Outlook.
  3. To add a Quick Access Toolbar command not found in the ribbon, follow these steps:

Click “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”

  1. Select “More Commands.”
  2. Under “Choose commands from” select “Commands Not in the Ribbon”.
  3. Scroll the list to find the appropriate command you would like to add.

Make It Your Own: Customize the Outlook View

Beyond the Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbars, your Outlook interface can be adjusted for a number of views.

Table/List View

This is known alternately as the “Table” or “List” view. It refers to the rows and columns of information that display in your email inbox and related items like Flag Status, Subject Line, From, and Date Received.

To edit these columns in your messages view, follow these steps:

  1. Click the “View” tab.
  2. Mouse over “Current View.”
  3. Click “View Settings.”
  4. Select “Columns…”
  5. Select the fields you don’t use from “Show these columns in this order.” and click “Remove.”
  6. Next, search under “Available columns” and click “Add” for any you wish to include.

To move columns, go into the “Fields” menu and select “Show These Fields in This Order. Select the field you want to move and choose “Move Up” or “Move Down.”

Creating new columns is just one way to customize your Table/List view. Later in this chapter, we’ll discuss how to create and save fully customized views for Table/List and other view types.

Icon View

Outlook Icon View allows you to display functions and items as large or small icons. This view type is inherently customizable: You need to add each icon to the interface to create the view.

To add icons to the interface, follow these steps:

  1. In the “Views” menu, click “Add.”
  2. Select a Folder item to add an “IconView.”
  3. Use “IconPlacement” to determine where each icon is placed.
  4. Click “Apply” to register the changes and “Save” to lock them.

Card View

Card View creates a customized display in which each item is shown as an index card. You can select from an existing list of Card View objects or create your own.

Create your own Card View object by following these steps:

  1. In the “Views” menu, click “Add.”
  2. Choose the Folder item to add as a Card View.
  3. To further customize each card, use the “MultiLineFieldHeight” function to specify the number of lines in the card.
  4. Use “HeadingsFont” and “BodyFont” to customize the text in the card.
  5. Click “Apply” to register the changes and “Save” to lock them. Note that you can’t delete Card View items that already existed in your version of Outlook.

The To-Do Bar

The To-Do Bar allows you to quickly glance at your tasks or your calendar without actually toggling to them. Talk about a time-saver. Additionally, you may also choose to free up even more onscreen workspace and turn it completely off.

To change the To-Do Bar, follow these steps:

  1. Click the “View” tab.
  2. In the layout section click “To-Do Bar”.
  3. From the drop down select “Calendar.”
  4. To remove the Calendar Peek, click the little “X” in the upper right corner.

To turn The To-Do Bar Off, select “Off” in the drop down.

The Folder Pane

The Folder Pane sits on the far left side of the program window. This pane, as you might guess, displays different aspects of your folders. The Folder Pane can be collapsed to help free up onscreen workspace.

To minimize the Folder Pane, follow these steps:

  1. Click the “View” tab.
  2. In the layout section click “Folder Pane”.
  3. Select “Minimized” from the drop down.

Saving Custom Views

Regardless of the view type you’re using, you can customize and save your view.

To save a Custom View, these steps:

  1. Choose the view type you want to customize.
  2. Drop down the “View” menu, click “Arrange by” and select “Custom.”
  3. A dialog box labeled “Customize Your View: ” will appear. Make your desired changes using the menus provided.
  4. Close the dialog box.
  5. Drop down the “View” menu, click “Current View” and select “Define Views.”
  6. Go into the “Views for Folder Name” box and click “Current View Settings.”
  7. Click “Copy” and name the new view.

Congratulations! You now have a saved Outlook view that you can use at will.

Chapter Two: The Calendar – Free Up More Time and Reduce Stress

The Outlook calendar is one of the most popular—and most maligned—features of the platform. This section will teach you how to set categories and availability, block of time, create recurring meetings and manage event templates. After reading, you should have the confidence to schedule or refer to any past, present or future obligation in Outlook.

Setting Categories

By creating color-coded categories, you can quickly and logically group related calendar items like emails, appointments and events. There’s a default set of six categories, but Outlook lets you create and customize more as you see fit.

To create and define a new category, follow these steps:

  1. On your Calendar, click a calendar appointment, meeting, or event.
  2. Click “Appointment” in the Ribbon.
  3. The click Categorize.
  4. In the drop down click “All Categories”
  5. You can now customize the color categories for your appointments, tasks and calendar.

You can also rename pre-set, color-coded categories by clicking “Rename” under the category’s name list.

Setting Availability

By default, Outlook Calendar defines your work availability—in the time zone you select—as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday. It’s easy to change these hours or block off periods of the day during which you’re free or busy.

To change your default work days and hours, follow these steps:

  1. Click the calendar’s “File” tab.
  2. Under “Options,” select “Calendar.”
  3. To alter your work availability, click “Work Time” and manually adjust your starting and ending hours. You can also select the days that make up your workweek or specify “First Day of the Week.”

To denote other periods during which you’re not available for work, you can create all-day or part-day events and meetings to make this time unavailable to others. Blocking out time in advance can help ensure you have the time needed to complete projects or catch up on emails.

To enter these times on your calendar and share them with your coworkers and clients, follow these steps:

  1. Create a Meeting Request in your Outlook Calendar.
  2. Enter subject and location—for instance, “vacation”, “not at the office”, or event just simply “unavailable.”
  3. Specify “all day event.”
  4. Mark the blocked-off time as “free.” This is a counterintuitive quirk of Outlook that often trips up new users. This allows you to easily schedule your own tasks still in this time.
  5. Write any additional notes or information in the appropriate field.
  6. Mark the event as “recurring” for each of the days you’ll be unavailable.
  7. Send the event to any colleagues, clients and others who need to know.

By using your Outlook Calendar to notify clients and colleagues that you’ll be unavailable, you won’t have to make multiple phone calls or field contact requests from people who didn’t get the memo about your availability. That’s definitely a time-saver.

Blocking Off Time

To block off time on your own calendar, follow these steps:

  1. Create a new appointment.
  2. Mark as “vacation” or some other indicator of unavailability.
  3. Define start and end dates. Select “all day event.”
  4. Mark as “out of office.” Note that you mark unavailable time as “free” for colleagues and clients. Again, this is a quirk of the system.
  5. Save the event to your calendar.

You can use a similar sequence to create events, appointments and meetings that don’t—unfortunately—involve vacation time. In the next section, we’ll explore how to make calendar maintenance even less time-consuming with recurring meetings.

Recurring Meetings

If you want a newly created meeting or event to be recurring from the start, follow steps 1 through 4 above. When prompted, set the event to “recurring.”

If you want to an already created meeting or event to recur at a chosen interval in the future, follow these steps:

  1. Highlight the event in the calendar.
  2. Click “recurrence” in your Outlook Ribbon.
  3. Set the length, time and date of the appointment.
  4. Set the frequency of its recurrence—daily, weekly, monthly or yearly.
  5. Choose when you want the event to stop recurring. You can also specify “no end date.”
  6. Click “OK” to save your changes.

These instructions can apply to any meetings you create through Outlook.

Event Templates

If you regularly schedule the same types of meetings or events with a recurring cast of clients or coworkers, an event template can help you save time. These are especially useful for meetings and events that don’t always occur at the same time.

Company or Team Meeting Invitation Templates

To create a recurring meeting invitation for colleagues or internal employees at your company, click “Appointments” in your Ribbon. In the box that appears, enter the recipients/parties to the meeting, the meeting’s name, text that you always want to appear in the message body and anything else that might be relevant. Save it as an Outlook Template.

To retrieve a template and customize it for a particular meeting, follow these steps:

  1. Click “New Items” in the Ribbon.
  2. Select “More Items” from the dropdown and choose “New Form.”
  3. Under “Look In,” select “User Templates in File System.”
  4. Choose your template and customize it with the date, time and other relevant information.

The same basic principles apply to client meeting templates, tasks on your ToDo list and other important functions.

Sharing Your Calendar

To share your calendar with relevant clients and coworkers, do the following:

  1. Go to the “Home” tab and click “E-mail Calendar” in the “Share” menu.
  2. Choose the calendar you want to send.
  3. Choose the date ranges to show to the recipients.
  4. Click “OK” to save and send.

Sharing your calendar is critical to ensuring that you’re on the same pag e as your coworkers and clients. Just as you don’t want to field calls and emails while you’re on vacation, you don’t want to deal with requests for clarification about meeting times and events from people without access to that information.

Making Events Private

Of course, you might not want everyone to know what you’re doing at every moment. To make an event or meeting private, click “Private” under the “Options” tab in the “Appointment” portion of the Ribbon. To further enhance security, make sure your Calendar and other Outlook features like Contacts and Tasks aren’t set to “Read.” Otherwise, it’s relatively easy for savvy computer users to see the information in them.

Chapter Three: Get in Control with Tasks

Used properly, Outlook is a powerful tool for organizing the tasks you need to do for your colleagues, superiors and clients. In this chapter, you’ll learn to master the ToDo bar, categorize tasks, create recurring tasks, prep for client interfacing and create task templates.

The ToDo Bar

The ToDo Bar is the “headquarters” of your Outlook account’s task management system. It consists of four basic parts: the Date Navigator, the Appointments section, the Task Input Panel and the task list itself. Although the maximized ToDo Bar can’t expand any further, you can manipulate the size or display of any of these. For instance, you can turn off the Date Navigator or reduce the number of appointments displayed in the Appointments section—which allows between 0 and 25 appointments—to free up more space for displayed tasks in the task list.

To minimize the ToDo Bar completely, drop down the “View” menu and click “Minimized” under ToDo Bar. The keyboard shortcut to minimize the ToDo Bar is Alt + F12. This makes it easy to manipulate your ToDo Bar without time-consuming clicks and drags.

Color Coding Tasks

The ToDo Bar is super helpful, but looking at all the tasks contained within it can numb the eyes. Fortunately, Outlook makes it easy to color code tasks, making important obligations pop out from the bar.

Customize your To-Do List with Color Coding by, following these steps:

  1. Click “View” in the Ribbon.
  2. Under Arrangement select “Categories.”
  3. Your tasks will now be arranged according to the category tags you use.

Now you can see which tasks need doing—and when—with a single glance!

Recurring Tasks

Just as we discovered for meetings and events in chapter two, you can set recurring tasks at the frequency and time of your choosing.

To create a task and make it recurring, follow these steps:

  1. Under “File – New,” select “Task.”
  2. Name your task.
  3. Specify the time, date, length and frequency—daily, weekly, monthly or yearly—of the task.
  4. You can also set the task to repeat on specific days of the week or all weekdays.
  5. Once one instance of the task is completed, the next recurrence immediately appears in your ToDo Bar.

With recurring tasks, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting to schedule a task.

Prep for Weekly Sales Call

Outlook makes it easy to prep for weekly sales calls with clients and prospects. A tool called the Sales Call Log and Organizer basically functions as a pre-set template for each client, containing scheduled sales calls, information logged during previous sales calls, order information, client contact information and customized checklists that help you keep track of each client’s needs.

Templating Common Tasks

Creating a task template for common tasks is very similar to creating a task template for a meeting or event, which we described back in chapter two. Here’s how to do it: Click the “Task” button in your Ribbon. In the box that appears, enter the task’s name and any description or text that you want to make permanent. If there are other parties to the task, enter their emails as well. You can set “Status” and “Priority” as well. Next, save it as an Outlook Template.

To retrieve a template and customize it for a particular meeting, follow these steps:

  1. Click “New Items” in the Ribbon.
  2. Select “More Items” from the dropdown and choose “New Form.”
  3. Under “Look In,” select “User Templates in File System.”
  4. Choose your template and customize it with the date, time and other relevant information.

Just like any other task, you can color code task templates. Every task template you create is one less task you have to make from scratch. That can be a huge time-saver for folks with cluttered ToDo Bars.

Task to Prep for Prospective Client

One of the most useful—and efficiency enhancing—functions of Outlook’s task templates centers around preparing for prospective client calls and meetings. If you routinely deal with new prospects, creating reminders of each meeting from scratch can quickly become cumbersome. Use a color code for prospective client tasks—or multiple color codes for different product lines or verticals—and take advantage of Outlook’s pre-set CC and BCC functions to notify others of each meeting.

Chapter Four: Dealing with the Beast – Outlook Inbox and Email

The Beast cometh! Outlook’s inbox and email features can be intimidating, but you’ll leave this chapter with a clear understanding of how to use these tools to improve your working efficiency and minimize or cut out repetitive tasks. This chapter includes instruction on creating, foldering and flagging email, creating meetings and contacts from email, saving and printing email and producing powerful templates within your inbox.

Creating and Foldering Mail

Even the most inexperienced Outlook users probably know how to create and send a basic email, so we won’t hold your hand through that process. However, mastering the process of cataloging and organizing your mail—both incoming messages and messages that you’ve created and sent—can dramatically improve your efficiency and provide a less tangible but no less important sense of control over your Outlook account.

To create mail folders, follow these simple steps:

  1. Click the “Mail” button in your Navigation bar or use the CTRL + SHIFT + I shortcut.
  2. Select “Inbox” and navigate to the “Folder” tab in your Ribbon.
  3. Click the “New Folder” button.
  4. Assign a logical name to the folder with its intended contents as a guide. For instance, you might create a “Family” folder to separate all incoming messages from your kids from work-related emails.

Creating logical mail folders is a big first step towards mastering your Outlook inbox and email.


Have you ever let an important email sink lower in your inbox until it’s completely buried? We all know the moment of panic that accompanies the realization that a key deadline has passed. With Outlook’s flagging tool, you can mark important messages with reminders to attend to them at a certain point in the future.

To flag a message for action during the current calendar day, simply click the Flag icon where it appears in your inbox. To flag a message for action on another day, right-click the Flag icon and select “Follow Up.” You can specify a follow-up for “Tomorrow,” “This Week,” “Next Week,” “No Date” or a custom date.

You can also add a reminder to very important messages: Under the “Follow Up” icon, click “Add Reminder” and type the reminder text. You’ll receive a popup message at the specified time.

Create a Meeting from Email

Here’s another powerful efficiency tool that can help you master Outlook’s email functions: creating a meeting from email.

To create a meeting from mail, follow these steps:

  1. Select the email you want to create the meeting from.
  2. Click “Meeting” in your Ribbon. This creates a new meeting using the date, location, time and recipient information from the email.
  3. Edit the just-created meeting as necessary.
  4. To send the meeting to potential recipients, click “Send.” If you want to make the meeting recurring, follow the instructions outlined above.

Create a Contact from Email

A similar principle—and similarly clutch time-saving capabilities—applies to creating a contact from an Outlook email message. To do so, simply open the message from the person you want to turn into a contact. Right-click the email address and click “Add to Contacts.” Alter any information as necessary and save the changes.

Saving an Email as a File

Are you sick of combing through your Outlook inbox—even if it’s organized with folders—to find an old email message? Outlook lets you save emails directly to your hard drive or an external drive in multiple formats, including PDF and XPS.

To save individual emails directly, follow these steps:

  1. Select the email you want to save.
  2. In the “File” menu, click “Save As.”
  3. Specify the file name, location and file type.

That’s it! Now you can refer to your most important, long-term emails without even opening Outlook.

Printing an Email

Printing an email for future reference is easy as well. Simply open the message and click the Microsoft Office button in your Outlook Ribbon. Point to “Print” and select “Preview and Print.” Customize the print job as you see fit—for instance, you might only want to print specific pages. Once this is done, hit “Print” and store the paper document in a safe place.

Four Templates Everyone Should Be Using

We’ve covered some basic email functions thus far, but there’s another way to streamline your Outlook email experience: the almighty template. Here are four that everyone—yes, that means you—should be using.

Report/Project Update Template

Do you oversee or work on multiple projects and spend large periods creating status updates for each one? The Outlook’s Project Update Template can dramatically simplify your experience. You can turn any Outlook task into a status update. Simply click on the task and update it with any new information, including “Status” and “Percent Complete,” that has arisen since the last update. To send out a Project Update, click “Send Status Report.” You can save this template at any time.

Requesting a Meeting Template

Creating a meeting request template is similar to creating a meeting invitation template in your Outlook Calendar. Click “Appointments” in your Ribbon and enter the meeting attendees, the meeting’s name and text that you always want to appear in the message body. Save it in your Outlook Template folder.

To retrieve and customize your email template, do the following:

  1. Click “New Items” in the Ribbon.
  2. Select “More Items” from the dropdown and choose “New Form.”
  3. Under “Look In,” select “User Templates in File System.”
  4. Choose your template and customize it with the date, time and other relevant information.

Meeting Change Template

Work happens. If you routinely change meetings from their scheduled times, you may need an email template that can accommodate these shifts—and notify the relevant people before they waste valuable time on a phantom meeting. Use the template-creating process described above to produce a generic email that you can send out ahead of the inevitable reschedule.

Email Received Template

Do you spend way too much time notifying people that you’ve received their emails and will get back to them? You can easily create a customized email template to send out such responses quickly and effortlessly. Again, the process for creating this template is the same as that described above. Be sure to word the email in a generic, professional manner that appeals to all client personas.

Note that you can also create and save an email template using any received email. Simply remove any unique content in the message body, alter or remove the senders/recipients, and then follow the instructions above to save the template.


Now that we’ve explored some of the most basic but critical features of Outlook, it’s time to take a deeper dive into some of its more advanced—though no less important—functions. If possible, open your Outlook program and follow along as we outline each of the features in the following four chapters. While some themes might be challenging, this section will help you harness the full power of Outlook in your workday routine.

Chapter Five: Get More Done with 63 Percent Less Effort Using Quick Steps

What if there was a way to combine multiple email tasks into a single automated action? With Quick Steps, there is—and it could save you a lot of time and effort. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to use Quick Steps to dramatically reduce the effort associated with everyday Outlook tasks. You’ll come away with a masterful understanding of how the feature works, why it’s important and how to make four common Quick Steps work for you.

What Is Quick Steps?

Simply put, Quick Steps lets you combine multiple tasks into one automated action. Think of each Quick Step as a one-click solution to a function that normally takes multiple steps to address.

As email management guru David Allen notes, your email inbox needs to be free of clutter to achieve maximal function. That doesn’t mean reading and addressing every email as it comes in—in many cases, that’s not humanly possible. Rather, it means making an efficient decision about each email (or the information contained therein) in a timely fashion. Quick Steps is critical to this process. By reducing the number of discrete steps you need to take to get email-related functions done, Quick Steps reduces decision fatigue and frees up time and energy to focus on the more important—and enjoyable—aspects of your workday.

First introduced for Outlook 2010, Quick Steps is now an indispensable feature of the platform. Its beauty lies in its versatility: There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to use Quick Steps. Since you can create a Quick Step for any process that you need to perform on a regular basis, it’s likely that your lineup of Quick Steps will be unique relative to other Outlook users’.

Here’s how to create a new Quick Step:

  1. Open the “Mail” tab and enter the “Quick Steps” section.
  2. Select “Create New Quick Step.”
  3. Select from one of the actions displayed or choose “Custom.”
  4. Name and choose an icon for your new Quick Step.
  5. Use the “Action” menu to select the action you want your Quick Step to perform.
  6. If desired, assign a shortcut key in the “Shortcut Key” box.

Here’s how to modify an existing Quick Step:

  1. Go into the “Quick Steps” section from the “Mail” tab and click the “More” dropdown.
  2. Click “Manage Quick Steps.”
  3. Select the step you want to modify and click “Modify.”
  4. Add or remove actions as desired.
  5. You can change the name, icon and shortcut key as well.

Here are four Quick Steps that you might not have considered before. We find them extremely useful and believe you will as well:

Custom Quick Step One: Convert to Task, Reply and Folder

  1. Convert an email to a task
  2. Reply with a pre-populated response or template
  3. Store the email in the appropriate folder

Say you have an overbearing coworker or boss who’s always sending out “to do” emails and directives. You don’t have time to send out a personalized response to each message, but you do want to acknowledge that you’ve received it and ensure that you don’t forget to take care of it later. This Quick Step helps you convert the email to a task quickly, send out an acknowledgement, and then store the email itself for posterity. Used properly, it can mean the difference between a flurry of reminder emails and a satisfied coworker or boss.

Custom Quick Step Two: Convert to Appointment, Reply and Folder

  1. Convert an email to an appointment
  2. Reply with a pre-populated response or template
  3. Store the email in the appropriate folder

If a sales prospect wants to set up a time to chat this week, you need to jump into action to ensure you don’t drop the lead. However, you get 20 or 30 such requests per week, so it’s all you can do to keep them straight. This Quick Step automatically converts the prospect’s email request into an appointment, sends out an acknowledgement/meeting confirmation template with a recommended appointment time, adds a sales call prep task to your ToDo Bar and stores the email for later use.

Custom Quick Step Three: Reply, Add CC and Folder

  1. Automatically add the same contacts to your reply email’s CC
  2. Send out a pre-populated reply
  3. Store the email in the appropriate folder

This is perfect if you find yourself constantly CC’ing the same group of people on a particular type of email. For instance, you might need to copy your support team every time a customer account comes to you with a bug or problem. You can create multiple email templates to use with this Quick Step.

Custom Quick Step Four: Forward, Add Message and Folder

  1. Call up a standard email template (can be adjusted before sending)
  2. Pre-populate common recipients’ email addresses
  3. Once the email is sent, place it in an appropriate folder

This is great for routine status checks or reports that you need to send to a regular cast of recipients. For instance, you might need to send a daily or weekly sales update to your direct boss, the VP above her and other members of your sales team. With this Quick Step, you don’t have to worry about forgetting an important recipient or neglecting to store the email once it has been sent.

Chapter Six: Automate It! Setting Up Rules and Automatic Filtering

The automation frenzy continues with an in-depth exploration of Outlook’s rules and automatic filtering. After finishing this chapter, you’ll understand how to create rules and automated filters for a wide range of email content, ensuring that you never have to manually sort through a cluttered inbox again. We’ll pay special attention to newsletters, blog alerts and other content that might not be critical to your workaday existence.

What Are Outlook Rules?

Outlook’s Rules are simple commands that can be used in isolation or in conjunction to organize your Outlook inbox and keep your email flow up to date. They’re designed to simplify time-consuming email management tasks that would normally require repetitive, manual action.

To create a Rule, follow these steps:

  1. Click “File” and “Manage Rules and Alerts.”
  2. Select “New Rules” from the “Email Rules” tab. This opens the Rules Wizard.
  3. Select “Step 1” and browse through the “Stay Organized” and “Stay Up to Date” collections until you find your desired template.
  4. Click “Edit the Rule Description” and adjust the values—for instance, the contacts you want the Rule to apply to—as you see fit.
  5. Click “Next,” and then specify the conditions each message must meet for the Rule to apply to it.
  6. Specify values for each condition under “Edit the Rule Description.”
  7. Click “Next,” and then select the action you want the rule to take once conditions are met.
  8. Under “Edit the Rule Description,” specify the values for each action.
  9. Click “Next,” and then specify any exceptions (and values thereof) for the rule.
  10. Name the rule and specify which email accounts to which it will apply.
  11. If you want to run the Rule on messages already in your inbox, click “Run This Rule Now…”
  12. The Rule turns on by default for all future messages, but you can turn it on and off by toggling the “Turn on This Rule” checkbox.
  13. Click “Finish.”

While this process seems complicated, Rules apply in many situations that don’t seem obvious. For instance, if all the email you get from a specific sender has the same theme, you can create a rule that sends it to a given folder—and eliminates the need to manually check it first.

Note that if you’re using multiple Rules to organize your email, it’s crucial to put them in the exact order you want them to be executed. You also need to make “Stop Processing Other Rules” your last Rule. Otherwise, you could get duplicate emails or deal with other annoyances.

All About Automatic Filtering

Automatic filtering is another powerful concept that can dramatically simplify your Outlook experience. You can use filters to separate nonessential emails from messages that demand your immediate attention, reducing the need to slog through your rapidly expanding inbox in search of relevant material.

Outlook has more than one way to filter your messages. First, you can filter by category:

  1. In your inbox, click “View” and select the filter you want to view.
  2. Most of your nonessential emails will be in the “Newsletters” and “Social Updates” filters.
  3. Once you’ve selected a filter, you can delete or move applicable messages en masse—and dramatically reduce the time spent looking through your inbox.

You can also filter by sender. To delete or archive on all messages from a particular sender, select a single message from that sender, click “Sweep,” and then click the appropriate action. To move all messages from a particular sender to a particular folder, click a single message and use the “Move all…” commands to complete the action.

Finally, you can create Rules that function as automatic filters for your email, making certain messages stand out in your inbox or folders.

For instance, you can change the color and formatting of message headers from important senders:

  1. Go to the “View” tab, click “View Settings,” and then click the “Conditional Formatting” button.
  2. Click “Add” and name your Rule.
  3. Specify conditions for the rule as described above. For instance, you might choose a particular sender’s email address or certain words in the subject line.
  4. Specify the font type, color and size as you see fit.
  5. Click “OK” until all dialog boxes close. Messages with the specified criteria should now “pop” out of your inbox!

Chapter Seven: Use Shortcuts in Outlook and Save Yourself 44 Hours Every Year

Can a few simple shortcuts save you almost an hour each workweek? Outlook’s powerful shortcuts can. We ran a basic simulation and found that—on average—you can save nearly 10 minutes per day by leveraging the potential of these shortcuts. That translates to dramatically improved efficiency and even less exposure to decision fatigue. In particular, this chapter will focus on leveraging standard Outlook shortcuts.

Standard Shortcuts

Do you want to be able to display blocked external content in an email message? Call up the download menu? Show multiple days in your Outlook Calendar? There’s a standard shortcut for all those tasks: CTRL + SHIFT + I, CTRL + SHIFT + W and CTRL + the number of days you want to show (up to 10). In fact, there are literally hundreds of standard shortcuts for simple Outlook tasks. The table below contains many of the most common.


Here’s a fun game: Time how long it takes you to complete any of the tasks above using your mouse. Write it down, and then time how long it takes with the shortcuts above. When you think about how many simple tasks you perform on a daily basis, it quickly becomes clear that standard shortcuts can add precious minutes to your day.

Custom Shortcuts

Since every Outlook user is unique, custom shortcuts can be even more powerful than standard shortcuts. Depending on the complexity of the task you’re “shortcutting,” you could save seconds or even minutes for every custom shortcut you deploy.

Here’s how to create and master customized shortcuts that can free up valuable time in your workday—and can easily be adjusted to your unique demands:

  1. Go into the “Customize the Quick Access Toolbar” box. In the “Keyboard Shortcuts section, click “Customize”.
  2. Enter the “Save Changes In” box and specify the current document name or template in which you want to store the shortcut.
  3. In the “Categories” box, find the relevant category that contains the function or command that your keyboard shortcut will cover.
  4. Enter the “Commands” box and click the name of the function or command that your keyboard shortcut will cover.
  5. This will display a list of any keyboard shortcuts currently assigned to that function or command.
  6. Check the “Currently Assigned To” menu to determine whether your desired key combination is already in use. If it has been assigned, choose a different combination. Otherwise, go into the “Press New Shortcut Key” box and press the precise combination of keys that you want your shortcut to include
  7. If you reassign a key combination to a new shortcut, whatever shortcut it previously denoted will no longer work. To clear the shortcuts you create, you need to click “Reset All.”
  8. Click “Assign” to save the changes.

To remove a customized shortcut, simply open the “Current keys” box and click the desired shortcut. Keep in mind that you can add and remove keyboard shortcuts as your needs change. Now that you’ve mastered the art of the shortcut, be sure to count how many clicks you save!

Chapter Eight: Find Things Faster! Advanced Search Techniques

If you’re using Outlook fully, chances are good that there’s an overwhelming amount of information in your account. How can you keep track of it all? With advanced search techniques, you can easily find and —not hours after the fact. Inunlock emails, tasks, events and other items when you need them this section, you’ll learn techniques from the Outlook pros who refined them.

Better Searches in Outlook

Are you stuck on simple keyword searches that don’t always return relevant results? You’re not alone. Searches that are too broad in scope can return a raft of information that has little or no bearing on what you’re trying to find.

Thankfully, advanced search techniques are a lot like keyboard shortcuts, reducing the number of inputs you need to make to achieve a desired results. Since each input can be thought of as a miniature decision, this supports what we’ve been talking about since the beginning of this guide: Outlook is rife with features that can reduce decision fatigue and boost your efficiency. You just have to know where to find them.

Select Advanced Search Techniques

There aren’t quite as many advanced search techniques as keyboard shortcuts, but that doesn’t mean they’re scarce. In the table below, we outline some of the most important. There are a few that demand special attention due to their usefulness or frequency of use.

First, “search query syntax” combines search commands or filter with the keywords or values you’re seeking to locate. Each search is formatted as “command:keyword” or “command:value.” Common examples include:

  • “from:[sender]”
  • “to:[recipient]”
  • “subject:[keywords in subject line]”
  • “cc:[people CCed on email]”
  • “received:[last week / yesterday / other dates]”
  • “messagesize:[verylarge, large, small, medium, (others)].” Each qualitative description describes a specific range for the file size.

You can also use “logical operators” to separate keyword phrases in your search. Common logical operators include “AND, NOT, OR, <, > and =.” Logical operators are typically used to create distinctions or exclusions between keywords. This has the effect of narrowing a search. For example, a search for “john AND jim” will return results that include both words in the message body. A search for “john OR jim” will return results that include either of the words in the message body.


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