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Six clicks: Outlook shortcuts and secrets to help make you an instant expert

If you use Microsoft Outlook, chances are it's the first program you open every morning and the last one you close at night. In this gallery, I present six of my favorite time-saving shortcuts, including some that work exceptionally well together.
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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:

 

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2 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

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.

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3 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Start with a view of only unread messages

By default, Outlook opens and displays the contents of your Inbox. If you have rules that automatically filter certain messages into custom folders (and you should) then you have to tediously crawl through each of those folders to see what's new.

The much more elegant solution is to use the Search Folders feature to create a virtual Unread Mail folder for each account. Then use this option, on the Advanced tab of the Outlook Options dialog box, to specify that Search Folder as the one you see every time you start up.

This is the very first customization I make when I set up Outlook on a new device.

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4 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

The right way to re-send a message

You sent an important message to a client or your boss a few days ago. No response. What do you do now?

You could fish the message out of your Sent Items folder and forward it, but that's a tedious process and looks ugly.

The more elegant solution? Open that message from your Sent Items folder and look on the Message tab, in the Move group, for the Resend This Message command, shown here. Click that menu option and a new message window opens containing your original message and recipients, just as you composed it. It's like you've rolled back the hands of time.

If you want to add a "Not sure you saw this..." note at the top, go right ahead. If you just want it to land in your recipient's Inbox without any fuss, click Send.

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5 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Save important messages in OneNote

We get all sorts of important stuff in email: Product keys for software purchases. Itinerary information for air travel. Receipts for online purchases. Customer support messages for warranty claims. And so on and on.

One great way to preserve those important messages is to use the Send To OneNote button on the Message toolbar (it's also available on the Home tab if you're viewing a message in the main Outlook window).

The saved message includes To: and From: information from the header as well as the date and time stamp, followed by the subject and full message body. If the message contains any file attachments, they're copied as well. If you choose a OneNote notebook saved on OneDrive, this is an ideal way to make sure you can quickly find important messages when you need them.

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6 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Automate routine actions with Quick Steps

The Quick Steps feature, introduced in Outlook 2010, lets you take the tedium out of routine organizational tasks by saving a sequence of steps in a one-click macro you can save on the Outlook taskbar.

There are a bunch of ready-made Quick Steps that are genuinely useful. If you routinely get requests for proposals or quotes, for example, you can create a button that flags a message for follow-up and then sends an auto-response while copying your sales director.

The option to create an appointment from an email message is a useful Quick Step, as is the Reply & Delete option, which lets you say "Thanks for your thoughtful comments" as you purge a useless bit of feedback from your Inbox.

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7 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Let Outlook teach you its search syntax

At the top of every message list in Outlook is a search box, like the one highlighted here. When you learn the search syntax, you can quickly type queries that filter the current list using operators and criteria like sent:last week and from:david.

How do you learn that syntax? By using the options and drop-down lists on the Search tab, which appears as if by magic when you click in the Search box. Each choice you make here automatically fills in the corresponding option in that box, with the correct operator and criteria filled in for you.

If you're happy with point-and-click searches, keep using that technique. But pay attention and you'll soon discover yourself creating and modifying your own searches directly from the keyboard, without ever reaching for the mouse or trackpad.

More in Ed Bott's Office Six Clicks series:

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