How to expand Outlook’s preview area with a single keystroke

Is your preview area squashed so narrow that you can’t comfortably read messages in Outlook’s main window? I’ll show you how you can use a single keystroke to expand it to read your messages, and then contract it again. This is an incredibly simple tip, but I’m amazed at how much it has changed my email experience.

By default, Outlook divides its main window into three sections: navigation pane, message list and the preview area. If you don’t have a wide screen, the preview area is squashed up against the right hand side, and is not really comfortable to use for reading messages — just for scanning them to see if they need to be opened in a separate window for more attention.

This frustrates me, as I like to use the main window for actually reading my messages. I’ve tried widening the preview area at the expense of narrowing the message list, but if the message list is too narrow, it will take up 2 lines for each message, i.e. show only half the number of messages as before — not good, since I also like to see as much of my inbox as possible in a single glance.

There’s another obvious solution that’s been staring me in the face, and it took one of my SpeedFiler customers to point it out to me — just get rid of the navigation pane! All it takes is an Alt-F1 to make it disappear and another Alt-F1 to bring it back when you need it. When the navigation pane disappears, it donates its space to the preview area, which suddenly becomes wide enough to display the messages in a readable manner.

In fact a lot of the time I manage quite well without a navigation pane at all. Whenever I need to go to another folder, I hit Ctrl+Y to bring up SpeedFiler’s streamlined navigation window and choose my destination. If you don’t have SpeedFiler, Ctrl+Y will bring up Outlook’s own Go to Folder window, which shows exactly the same folders that appear in the navigation area that we just hid.

In addition, if you want to get quickly back to the Inbox from another folder, all it takes is a quick Ctrl+Shift+I.

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13 responses to “How to expand Outlook’s preview area with a single keystroke

  1. This is a great tip when combined with Speedfiler. I often open a separate Calendar and Tasks window and remove the Navigation Pane with Alt-F1, but never considered it for Inbox because of my need to navigate the folders. The Ctrl-Y shortcut really makes this a no-brainer! Any news on future plans for Speedfiler?

  2. Thank you so much for this explanation. I am now able to read much easier without having so much other garbage on the screen.

  3. I am totally for this, Love your blog..and thanks for the tips.. brgds http://www.turbino.dk keep up the great blog.

  4. Yay Alt+F1! Thank you…just shared with my boss and co-workers.

  5. Wow! Another brilliantly simple idea…with Speedfiler I have dumped all other Outlook Add-ins I had that supposedly improved email processing (I had 3 of ’em!). Couple of things I’ve struggled with – any keystroke that opens an email attachments? Also, a keystroke that marks an email as junk/spam? Both could save a lot of time without having the mouse perform the functions. For the life of me, I can’t seem to find the shortcuts for these (if they at exist).

  6. I have been a user of SpeedFiler for a while now and the combination of Alt-F1 and Ctrl-Y functionality is really useful. However I used to Ctrl-Y even for going back to the Inbox, this shortcut Ctrl-Shift-I is new to me and has truly made my day!

  7. I find it much easier to have the Preview Pane at the bottom, since there’s rarely a need to see so many of your messages at the same time; in combination with View->Arrange By-> Conversation this works well.

  8. Rich, good for you, but many people want to see at least a screenful of messages in order to notice any important messages that are buried in the list.

  9. I have to agree with Rich.
    Having the preview pane at the right side has never felt quite “right” to me. More specifically: Having the messages list in the middle/left of the preview pane felt strange. What makes matters worse is that I like to have a lot of columns displayed with the list, and a lot of space for the subject.
    Unfortunately, MS made using a bottom pane more painful with the 2003 release by making a part of the window content ‘sticky’ (one of several deficiencies in 2003+, IMHO). Maybe this was already with 2002/XP, I only heavily used 98 and 2000 before 03.

  10. Great tip, seriously

  11. If you are running out of room from also having the “To-Do Bar” enabled, you can turn it off the same way with a “Alt+F2”.

  12. great tip, will definitely try this out

  13. My navigation pane has dissapeared but Alt+F1 does not bring it back. I actually use mine all the time… any other suggestions?

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