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Don't be intimidated by Outlook's many options
Outlook has evolved more dramatically in the past decade than any program in the Office family. This collection of my favorite productivity tips for Outlook is based on the most recent release, Outlook 2013 for Windows, although many of these tricks will work in Outlook 2010 as well.
Outlook is packed with options, as you can see for yourself in the dense dialog box shown above. But the real secret of productivity isn't knowing which boxes to check; it's knowing which features to use together.
Previously in Ed Bott's Office Six Clicks series:
Search folders are a basic organizational building block
The single most useful feature in Outlook, for my money, is the ability to create one or more Search Folders. Organizing mail into folders, either manually or with rules, is useful but crude. Search Folders are better because they organize Outlook messages from any location you specify, including your entire mailbox, into virtual folders that update themselves continuously based on search criteria you specify.
There are a handful of built-in Search Folder options, including Unread Mail and For Follow Up. To create a new Search Folder, right-click the Search Folders heading, at the bottom of the Outlook navigation pane for an email account, and then click New Search Folder.
That opens the dialog box shown here, where you can choose one of the ready-made options or scroll to the bottom and create a customized search folder using the slightly arcane Search Folder Criteria dialog box.
If you use the "Mail from and to specific people" option, you can enter the address book entries for everyone on your A-List, creating a custom view that shows you only conversations involving those people Other useful Search Folders include ones that filter email from this week, or last month, or any message flagged as Important.
If you only master one Outlook feature, this should be the one.