You’ve been using Outlook as your exclusive email program of choice the last few years. And you’ve grown to be pretty good at it. You already know most of the basic tricks and even set up Outlook for some family members’ PCs yourself.
However, with all the features packed into the latest 2010 version of Microsoft Office’s longstanding email client, it’s perfectly possible you’ve overlooked a lot of features that could serve your daily needs very well. After all, a secure and speed-optimized computer can only serve you well if you maximize your applications to their fullest potential. Here are a few advanced MS Outlook features we’ve grown to be particularly fond of.
Outlook Social Connector
Yes, you can integrate your various social network accounts into Outlook, allowing you to view profiles and updates on your social connections without ever leaving your inbox. You can also send add requests directly from Outlook (e.g. when you get an email from a contact you want to add to your LinkedIn), saving you the trouble of having to open a browser and go through all the motions. At the moment, it supports five services: LinkedIn, Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, Viadeo and Xing.
Do note you’ll need to download and install the plugins for each social network individually. Once you’ve finished installing, go to View-> People Pane-> Account Settings to set everything up.
This is, basically, a macro system, allowing you to create one-click (or one keystroke) email actions. You can create a Quick Step entry for most any series of actions you do in the email client, so this can save you plenty of time if you perform certain things routinely on a regular basis.
To create an entry, go to Home-> Quick Steps-> Create New. From there, you’ll assign a name, a shortcut key and a tooltip, before using drop down menus to select one or more actions to perform. To use, simply open the Quick Steps gallery then choose it or type the corresponding keystrokes.
Outlook now has a jumplist that you can access from the Outlook icon in the Windows 7 taskbar. The jumplist menu has options for creating new emails, new appointments, new meetings, new contacts and new tasks. The actions can be performed regardless of whether Outlook is opened or closed. When the program is closed and you click on a jumplist item, only the part of the interface that you need is launched, rather than the entire program.
Advanced Search Features
Outlook comes packed with plenty of search features, accessible via the Search Tools tab. While in the tab, locate the icon labeled Search Tools, click the down arrow and choose Advanced Find. This will open a dialog that lets you enter parameters for really drilling down your search. While this is open, you can click on the Search Tools icon again to add even more controls to your search. The same dialog can be opened anywhere in Outlook from File-> Options-> Search.
Google Calendar Syncing
Nope, Microsoft hasn’t provided a built-in tool to sync with Google’s online calendary. Not yet, anyway. Instead, it’s Google who’s done the legwork for this one, offering a software that lets you sync between the two calendar platforms. Just download the Google Calendar Sync from Google’s website, install it and follow the prompts. You can sync 1 way or 2 way, as well as set automatic syncing schedules. It installs an icon in the system tray that you can click on any time you want to perform an instant sync.
One of the things that has surprised me with people who use email clients: very few take advantage of Search Folders. For the most part, I think people just aren’t properly informed about what they are. In practice, though, they’re probably among the most helpful features of modern email applications.
A Search Folder is a virtual folder that displays all messages that fit the parameters set for that folder. Outlook comes with several of these pre-defined, such as Mail Flagged For Follow Up and Important Mail. More importantly, though, you can create custom Search Folders in Outlook, allowing you to assign folders to any search parameter. If you deal with a heavy amount of items in your inbox on a regular basis, Search Folders can prove invaluable to organizing the process of sorting through your piles upon piles of mail.
To create a Search Folder, click New-> Search Folder. This will open the New Search Folder dialog box. From there, you either select one of the predefined folders or choose to make a custom one. When you select the latter, you will be prompted to enter your own criteria. That folder will then appear in your main Outlook screen’s folder list.
Do you frequently visit certain webpages while you check and answer your emails? If that’s the case, then you’d probably be served well by having links of those pages bookmarked right on the same interface.
To create a new shortcut, open the page in your browser, long-click the icon to the left of the website name on the address bar and drag it to your desktop. This will create a new Windows shortcut. In Outlook, you simply open the Shortcut menu and dragging this shortcut from the desktop directly to it. Whenever this shortcut is clicked, the page will launch directly in Outlook’s main window, saving you from having to open another program to view it.
That same Shortcut menu for bookmarking web pages above, of course, also serves as a way to add links for quick access to your Outlook folders. Basically, you can use it to quickly reach frequently-used folders, saving you from making a few extra clicks.
A Lot More
Like a lot of the software in Microsoft’s Office suite, Outlook packs a whole load of hidden gems that you’ll rarely chance upon unless you intentionally seek them out. As far as discovering little-known features, few people really find stuff unless the need for them arises. If you work with Outlook a lot, we recommend picking up a book or a training CD that you can check whenever those needs arise — it will really optimize your productivity in both the short- and long-run.