You use your email every single day, so why not make sure you’re using it right?

Microsoft Outlook has been the email program of choice for businesses for many years, and with good reason. With an abundance of great features and endless options for customization, it’s the perfect solution for busy business professionals. However, even if you’ve long been an Outlook user, chances are you still haven’t quite figured out how some of the program’s best features work – if you realize they’re there at all.

Here are the secrets, tips, and tricks you need to know to get the most out of Outlook.

Help and Keyboard Shortcuts

These aren’t new features, but the work a little differently in the latest version of Outlook. Help appears not in the upper right the way you’re used to, but as a little light bulb icon in the Home tab ribbon near the center of the screen. This little light bulb offers a simplified search. Instead of needing to type out ‘how to create a signature’ just type ‘signature’ and the Help feature takes you right to the information you need. Rather than providing instructions for you to follow, Help takes you directly to the screen you need. The feature also tracks recently made searches for easy reference if you need to pull that information up again.

Most of us are familiar with basic keyboard shortcuts, but there are a few new ones unique to Outlook. The most popular ones for this program are:

  • Ctrl+C – Copy
  • Ctrl+V – Paste or paste into new email
  • Ctrl+X – Cut
  • Ctrl+A – Select All
  • Ctrl+R – Reply
  • Alt+W – Forward
  • Alt+R – Reply All
  • Ctrl+Shift+V – Move Items Menu
  • Ctrl+G – Go to Date
  • Ctrl+1 – E-mail
  • Ctrl+2 – Calendar
  • Ctrl+3 – Address Book
  • For additional shortcuts, look at the drop-down or right-click menus – right-click anywhere to bring up menu, underlined letter is the shortcuts key

Which ones are special for Outlook users? There are eight new shortcuts worth taking a closer look at.

  • Ctrl+V is an especially handy shortcut. After selecting a line or block of text, hitting Ctrl+V will automatically open a new message window, dropping that text into a new email for you without you needing to go through any extra steps.
  • Ctrl+R and Alt+R are fairly self-explanatory, but Ctrl+Shift+V, the Move To Menu shortcut, lets you quickly move emails to other folders without any extra mouse clicks.
  • Crtl+G activates the Got To Date function when you’re in your calendar, bringing up the Go To Date window to quickly search for a specific date without needing to click back through your months.
  • Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2, and Ctrl+3 are shortcuts for the icons at the bottom of your first pane, letting you toggle from Inbox to Calendar to Address Book quickly.

Productivity and Calendars

Productivity is a priority for businesses, making any tools or features that can help invaluable.

The Conversation view in your inbox lets you see a string of connected emails as a thread. Just click the View tab and select Show As Conversations to compress all connected emails into a single conversation thread. You can apply this to all your folders by selecting that option from the pop-up window that appears. This features condenses inbox and folder views and keeps message exchanges together to keep important replies from getting lost. The most recent message stays at the top, and clicking the arrow at top right activates the expanded view, letting you see each individual message in the thread.

To make scheduling meetings and appointments easier, Outlook will recognize text within an email the implies a meeting is being discussed and will prompt you to create a calendar event on the date and/or time in the message. Completing the Where entry in the screen that follows allows you to add a location, and with location services activated you can type in, for example, a restaurant name and have the address added automatically. There are plug-ins available in the Microsoft store that can be used to auto schedule meetings at frequently used locations, like Starbucks.

Skype for Business Meetings

Users with an Enterprise subscription can add the Add Skype Meeting button to the top of your email/calendar screen. Just click the button to add people to a meeting, and this feature will show you the availability of people in your organization, and suggest a time that works best for the most people based on that availability. Invites will include all of the details at the bottom of the email, with an option to join the online meeting. Clicking Join Online Meeting takes you right to the meeting at its start time. You have the option of setting it to keep meetings private or share them with everyone.

OneNote 2016 is integrated into Outlook and lets you take meeting notes right from Outlook. You can take notes just for yourself or take notes to be shared with attendees, which will attach to the event in the calendar of all attendees. Notes also track who made it to a meeting and who didn’t, and can be easily accessed at a later date as long as the event stays in your calendar.

Adding to Microsoft’s collaborative capabilities, an option found in the Home tab ribbon lets you share, publish or set global permissions for your calendar. You can invite someone to share your calendar and ask to share theirs as well, which makes scheduling meetings quicker and easier. Choose how much information you want them to have access to – full details, limited details, or simply availability. Global permission makes your calendar available to your entire organization and can be set to read-only or read and write, which is great if you have lots of people that need to be able to schedule and edit calendar items. This feature is great for team leads and department heads, especially since you can control who can delete what.

Quicksteps, Rules, and Search Folders

Quicksteps are customizable buttons in the Home tab ribbon you can set based on which features you use the most. These can be applied to individual folders and messages, or just about anything else as you see fit. Quicksteps is best used for messages you need to review before taking action on and works great with Rules. You can have messages sent where you want Rules to send them, then take individual actions from there as needed. If you have a Ruleset that any messages that come from members of a specific team go to a team folder, you can use a Quickstep to flag a certain type of message to be read first, then moved to that folder, so you don’t miss it.

Say for example a customer submits a request for a part. When that email comes in, you want to be able to acknowledge that you got the request and then move it over to the correct team to have the request handled. A Quickstep lets you make sure you see the request before it moves to another folder, a reply is sent, and the message is forwarded to the correct team.

Click the arrow at the bottom of the Quicksteps pane and select New Quickstep. There are lots of defaults available, but if you don’t see the action you need you can create your own by selecting Custom. Give it a relevant name and set an action from the drop-down. This can be used to set auto replies – with a time-delay option to make it seem more personal – and Cc the team the message needs to be forwarded to in order to save yourself a step. Or, if you don’t want the Cc to be visible to the customer, set it to forward instead. Save even more time by setting up a shortcut key at the bottom of the window.

Emails that need to move once viewed can be sent to the correct folder just by clicking the corresponding Quickstep button in the ribbon. If one of these messages in part of a conversation, click on expanded views to see which folder the message is now in without it disappearing from the conversation thread.

The Rules feature is great for things like Cc’d emails that you don’t generally need to take any action with. Instead of them taking up space in your inbox, you can set a Rule to kick them to a special folder that you can go through at a later time. Click the Rules button in Home tab ribbon, and select Create Rule. Use the pop-up window to set specifications, and feel free to use Advanced Options to select more specific criteria. Adjust or delete Rules as needed by selecting Manage Rules from the Rules button drop-down. Rules can also be used for Conditional Formatting to make certain messages easier to see, or for any other adjustments you’d like made.

Search Folders appears at the bottom of your menu pane on the left. This handy feature allows you to automate searches you perform frequently and is especially useful if you have a lot of folders. Click on it to create a new Search Folder, and if you need to find a specific type of message quickly, use the Custom option to input a specific search term for your Search Folder, and either select a specific folder or folders to search or search everything. There is still a search bar at the top of the second pane that you can use to search your entire account or an individual folder, but Search Folders are a way to quickly complete searches you make frequently. However, Search Folders is primarily for the desktop version of Outlook as it relies on files stored locally.

Forms, Templates, and Quick Parts

Forms and Templates are perfect for frequently sent emails, whereas Quick Parts are templates for frequently typed information. Quick Parts are great for creating an auto-fill for a greeting or text you include in many or most messages that are not an email signature.

Forms can be set up as Quick Steps to reply to an email with a standard response quickly. This feature is good for accepting meetings or confirming the receipt of a message that doesn’t require any further action.

Templates save locally, and you can do more customization and formatting on these than on forms as they let you add images, attach files, etc. Templates are great for things like progress reports, supply requests, or messages to which you’d attach spreadsheets or presentations. To create a Template, open a new message, fill in the subject line and the basic framework of the message, then click Save As to save your Outlook Template to any folder you want. This saves you having to copy and paste each time you send one of these emails. Again, this feature is only for the desktop version, as files save locally to your PC. You can set these type of messages up as Quick Steps if you primarily use the online version of Outlook.

How To Speed Up Outlook Search

Lots of companies still use .pst files to store old emails. These are files that save absolutely everything attached to your Outlook account and are saved locally either to an individual PC or a server. It’s not a good idea to have that sort of backup in place for a few reasons. First, Microsoft Exchange saves files in Exchange to the cloud, so you don’t really want them to have a backup that’s constantly running on a local machine. Second, if anything corrupts, it’s gone. If something happens to your PC or server, it’s gone. Third, the file size eventually becomes far too big, leading to performance issues and/or data corruption issues. This will cause a file server to get bogged down, and it will cause issues with the file server itself. Do not use .pst files! It’s recommended by Exchange itself that you don’t, and you’re much better off to archive your files. Archiving can be set up to happen automatically, or manually, and archiving old messages gives Outlook less to search through, speeding things up. You can set specific search parameters based on what you need or how far back you need to search in archives and inbox, which also speeds things up.

You can also choose to re-index, which is especially helpful if you use Search Folders. If you notice Search Folders or the search function start to lag, re-index your files, and it will automatically rebuild and research through your folders and speed up the process.

Ready to learn even more about how to get the most out of Microsoft Outlook? Contact Fuelled Networks at (613) 828-1280 or today. We’re the Microsoft Experts Ottawa businesses trust.

I have a strong passion for helping Ottawa Businesses, Entrepreneurs and professionals to become more productive and successful while allowing them to feel at ease and secure when it comes to their Information Technology needs. As the President of Fuelled Networks since 1998, I specialize in providing no-nonsense flawless and prompt technical support to Ottawa businesses, with in-depth consulting on Fortinet, Microsoft, Microsoft Cloud Stack and security. I strive to help businesses to succeed and take great pride in building long-lasting positive relationships and taking on a strong leadership role within the Ottawa community.

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