My 10 hot tips for getting the most out of Microsoft Outlook

If you get tons and tons of e-mail everyday, you either learn how to wrangle it efficiently or get buried in the onslaught. Here are 10 tricks for Outlook and Outlook Express that allow you to manage my inbox…and preserve your sanity.

I've been getting as many as 300 e-mails a day recently, many from readers commenting on what I've written or companies trying to convince me to write about them. I also get a number of messages from bosses, coworkers, and friends. Plus I am on an e-mail mailing list or two.

With this amount of e-mail, I've had to develop some strategies for managing it. Today I'll share a few with you. I've written these for my fellow Outlook/Outlook Express users, but many of them apply to other mail software as well.

  1. Choose the proper version. If you are connected to an Exchange server or need a calendar, use regular Outlook. If you don't need a calendar, and especially if you're not on an Exchange server, use Outlook Express. This is particularly important for people with multiple e-mail accounts, which Outlook Express easily supports but Outlook doesn't do well (at least, not until the XP release).

  2. If you are on an Exchange server at work, ask your administrator about Outlook Web access, which gives you access to your e-mail, calendar, and contact list from any Web browser. With this capability--and access to someone else's computer--you can sometimes avoid hauling a laptop on trips.

  3. Outlook rules! And Outlook has rules, like the one you can set up to automatically forward your mail based on criteria you select. This is a tad complex to explain here, but check out the Outlook Rules Wizard in the Tools menu for instructions.

  4. Create a rule to automatically forward important messages to your pager or other device. This works best if you are using an Exchange server, because the server can forward messages automatically. Otherwise, you need to have Outlook running and automatically checking your mail at specific intervals for the rule to be invoked from your desktop. I sometimes give people a secret word they can put in the subject line to have the message go to my pager.

  5. Use the Out-Of-Office Assistant (also on the Tool menu) to respond to messages while you are away. The Assistant sends a message you've written to everyone who sends you mail, but only once per sender. Use this to tell people when you will return and how to reach you.

  6. If you are running Outlook on multiple computers, and especially if you are mixing Outlook and Outlook Express on different machines, use a synchronization service to keep everything up-to-date on all the machines. I use FusionOne for this. Its eDock service can replace Outlook Web access for some users.

  7. Sync the calendar, tasks, notes, and contacts, as well as desktop files if you like, but don't sync the mail messages. Instead, use the advanced options in your account settings to tell Outlook to leave copies of your mail on the POP server, and then download them onto each machine when you check your mail.

  8. Use folders to organize and store your mail. Ideally, your inbox will have only a few messages in it, because everything else has either been moved to a folder with related items or deleted. A clean inbox is a godly inbox.

  9. You can use rules to automatically sort incoming messages based on a variety of criteria, but do this carefully since an incorrectly sorted message can be easily overlooked. You don't want a note from your boss going into your desktop dead-letter office.

  10. Take a look at my recent review of the FranklinCovey Enfish product, and see how its automatic indexing capability and ability to integrate with Outlook can solve some problems for you.

Each of these tips could probably be expanded into a full, if boring, column. So instead of being prescriptive, I hope I've sparked your imagination a bit, and perhaps you'll take a look at some of Outlook's capabilities and add-ons that could make your life easier. Nothing will take the sting out of a full inbox, but I hope this helps.

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