October 28, 2022

Top Ten Tips: Microsoft Outlook

Mark Pattie
Modern Work Practice Lead
Microsoft Outlook is the beating heart of approximately 1.4 billion peoples’ work lives around the world. Since its release in the mid-1990s, Microsoft has continued adding functionality to Outlook, transforming it into the powerful organisational tool that many of us depend on today.

How well do you really know Microsoft Outlook?

While I’m sure many of us spend so much time in Outlook it may as well be imprinted on our brains, I can guarantee it has some functionality that you didn’t know existed. If you already knew all these tips before reading this blog, then I am truly envious (and a little sceptical).

With that said, let’s dive in to my top ten tips and tricks for Microsoft Outlook!

Tip #1: Recalling Emails

We’ve all been in that awkward situation of sending an email and only noticing the glaring error just before it’s whisked away. Turns out, Outlook can somewhat save you that embarrassment with their Recall This Message feature.

Simply open the email you want to recall, then head to File > Resend or Recall > Recall this Message. You will then be prompted to choose to either delete or replace the email.

However, this isn’t an entirely foolproof feature. If the recipient has read the email or moved the original email out of the inbox before you hit recall, it will fail. Also, even if your recall is successful, the recipient is still told that you deleted or replaced the email. This is still a good feature to be aware of though if you’re ever in a pinch.

Tip #2: Shortening Your Meetings Automatically

We’ve all had days of back-to-back meetings that leave you hungry, dehydrated, desperate to use the bathroom or all the above. This feature will give you some breathing room on busy days by automatically scheduling your meetings to end early or start late.

Simply select File > Options > Calendar > Calendar options, and then adjust the settings based on your preferences.

For example, say you need to book a meeting from 10am to 11am. You would schedule the meeting as per usual for one hour, but the calendar item for yourself and the other attendees will automatically adjust to 10:00am to 10:55am.

Tip #3: Conversation Clean Up

Do you habitually file every email that you receive, or do you keep everything jumbled in your inbox? Outlook can help regardless of your organisational preferences with their Conversation Clean Up tool.

Simply select the folder that needs organising and head to the Clean Up drop down in the ribbon. You can then choose to clean up by conversation, folder, or folder and subfolders. For reference, a conversation is Outlook’s way of referring to an email thread.

This feature evaluates all the emails in the selected conversation and moves any redundant ones to your Deleted Items.

For example, if a message is completely contained within one of the other replies stored in the same folder, the previous message will be deleted. This ensures you’re not losing any information, while reducing the number of emails clogging your Outlook.

Tip #4: Scheduling Emails

Sometimes you write a work email well past 5pm because you’re working late or remembered something important just as your head hit the pillow. Your boss or customer doesn’t necessarily need to know that though.

You can easily schedule emails to send on specific dates and times in Outlook. Create a new email, and under Options select Delay Delivery. You can then set your preferred delivery time for the email. Problem solved.

Tip #5: Conditional Formatting

This tip is more about making your Outlook more aesthetically pleasing, than anything. Conditional formatting lets you make messages that meet specific conditions stand out in your inbox by using colour, fonts, and style. This feature can be helpful if you have a very high-traffic inbox so you can identify certain emails immediately.

Head to the View > View Settings > Conditional Formatting, which brings up a list of the default formatting conditions.

From here you can add as many conditions as you like. For example, you can make all emails from your manager appear in bolded red, or any emails containing the word ‘payslip’ appear in green.

Tip #6: Show as Conversations

Head to the View tab in the ribbon, and you’ll find the Show as Conversations check box. This is a simple but useful tool in Outlook to change the way conversations, better known as email threads, are displayed.

Having this checkbox ticked stores entire conversations under the most recent email via a drop-down list. This way you only visually have one email in your folder, but there could be twenty replies in the drop down. This also makes it easier to see attachments if you ever lose track of where they are, as you can quickly scan the full conversation list for the paper clip symbol.

If you’re accustomed to using Gmail where the Conversation view is on by default, but now find yourself working with Outlook for the first time, this tip will help you feel more at home as well.

Tip #7: Automatic Email Filing

Rules are a powerful feature in Outlook that can help you automate your inbox. While you can use rules to play sounds, display item alerts, or flag emails, the most common rule is one that automatically files your emails.

To do this, simply right click on an email, then select Rules > Create Rule. Outlook can automatically file emails based on sender or subject depending on your needs. Tick the ‘Move the item to folder’ checkbox and select your preferred folder location. Once you click OK, your rule will be set up and you’ll never have to file an email again (or at least, not one that meets your specified criteria).

Tip #8: Scheduling Assistant

The built-in scheduling assistant in the Outlook calendar makes my life so much easier, especially as a hybrid worker, and I’d be remiss not to include it on this list.

Once you’ve created a new meeting and added your attendees, head to the Scheduling Assistant tab in the ribbon. From here, you can let Outlook do the hard work for you and AutoPick a time that suits everyone, or you can manually look through everyone’s Outlook calendars and find a free slot. You can also display multiple time zones in this feature to ensure you’re not scheduling a meeting at 2am for your international colleagues.

Tip #9: Follow Up Flags

Flags are another great tool in Outlook, but they can do more than just highlight emails. The Follow Up menu in Home > Tags > Follow up lets you set due dates for when emails need to be, you guessed it, followed up. You can set up quick click settings that allow you to quickly flag emails with your most common due date, or even add reminders so you don’t forget to do the actual following up.

Navigate to View > To-Do Bar > Tasks, and Outlook will also show you a full list of all your flagged emails, which could be a good or bad thing depending on how organised you are. Either way, it’s a helpful way of turning your inbox into a more manageable to-do list.

If you like the idea of flagging your emails but aren’t a fan of attaching due dates to them, the colour-coded categories feature (found in the same Tags menu) provides similar functionality.

Tip #10: Outlook Shortcuts

Finally, keyboard shortcuts can help you work more efficiently, and Outlook has many of them. You can find a full list here, but in the spirit of this blog, here is my top ten shortcuts for Outlook:

Action Shortcut
Create a message Ctrl + Shift + M
Create a folder Ctrl + Shift + E
Create a meeting request Ctrl + Shift + Q
Send a message Alt + S
Forward a message Ctrl + F
Insert a file Alt + N, A, F
Send/Receive All Folders F9
Search for an item Ctrl + E or F3
Switch to Mail view Ctrl + 1
Switch to Calendar view Ctrl + 2

What’s Next?

Hopefully you found these ten Microsoft Outlook tips helpful. This is by no means a full list of the functionality in Microsoft Outlook and there’s always more features being added, but these ten insights will make your work life easier (or at least, more aesthetically pleasing).

Are you struggling with more than just managing your inbox though? If your IT team could use a hand adopting, securing or optimising their wider Microsoft 365 license, we’re here to help. Contact a Data#3 Microsoft 365 Specialist today for advice or to enquire about our Microsoft 365 Optimiser managed service.

…and, for my own peace of mind if nothing else, please clean up your inbox.