Category Archives: Outlook Tips

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. Continue reading


How to reply to all email messages within 24 hours, consistently

Do you ever get frustrated when someone does not reply to your messages within 24 hours? Isn’t it fun to work with people who reply only after you’ve politely (but persistently) badgered them a few times?

As I used to be one of these overloaded individuals, I can tell you that they only reply to two types of people: those whose cooperation they need in order to get their own job done, and those who badger them persistently enough to make them feel uncomfortable or embarrassingly inefficient.

As I said, I used to be one of these people. I now consistently reply to almost all of my email within 24 hours. So how do I maintain my responsiveness?

Continue reading

Outlook Tip: Display your folders in non-alphabetical order

The Outlook folders tree shows folders in alphabetical order only. In order to display them in a different order, you can use either of the following methods:

  • Promote a specific folder to the top of the list
    If you want a specific folder to appear before the others, rename it with a punctuation mark at the beginning of its name. For instance, if you want the “Pending” folder to appear first, rename it “!Pending” or “_Pending”.
  • Define the position of each folder in the list
    If you want to define the position of each folder, just prefix each folder name with a number, for example:

If you use SpeedFiler to file your messages, you do not have to type the numbers, as SpeedFiler looks for matches anywhere in a folder name, not just the beginning. So if you want to file an item in “1 Rejected”, just open the File In Folder window and start typing the word “rejected” until you see “1 Rejected” in the list of matching folders.

How to Keep Track of Overdue Responses

If you interact with more than three people at work, and especially if you are in a matrix management position, do you find it difficult to answer the following question:

Who still owes me a reply to a message I sent?

Unless you have a system to track the requests you send via email, only when you actually need the information as input to another task, will you remember, for example, that Jim hasn’t reviewed those figures you emailed him last week. At this point, if the response hasn’t arrived, it’s almost too late because you cannot get on with your own work, and your own schedule and commitments are affected.

Here’s a trick for keeping track: Continue reading

Small Change Makes Big Difference to Email Prioritization: How to Color-code Your Messages

Color-coding your messages can help you significantly with triage, the process of prioritizing your messages.

The most significant improvement for me is the rule that colors messages blue, if I am the only recipient on the TO: line. Such messages are most likely to be more important that the rest of the stuff that fills up my inbox, because:

  • They have not been sent to a bunch of people, but specifically to me.
  • They are therefore more likely to relate to my area of responsibility.
  • They are also more likely to require action.
  • If I don’t answer, nobody else will. (Read some interesting background information about this.)

In Microsoft Outlook, it’s very easy to define such a rule. On the menu in the main Outlook window, just click on Tools | Organize. This will display the following panel above the messages:

Color Messages Sent Only To Me

You can create additional rules using the Automatic Formatting… link at the top-right of the panel.