Tag Archives: Outlook

Spring cleaning: Mailbox clean up with AutoArchive

We have been using email for decades now. A lot of things have changed. But one thing has not – most of us don’t have the discipline of managing the mailbox in an optimal way.

I am not asking you to do a spring cleaning of your mails. I am showing you immediate actions you can take to make your mailbox management (and communications) more efficient.

Run AutoArchive NOW

Do you remember this dialog popping up randomly when you are busy? Nobody in the world has chosen YES here Sad smile

clean inbox with Outlook AutoArchive

Many of us got irritated and chose the option Don’t prompt me about this again!

There goes your chance of keeping the mailbox clean and light.

The idea is simple. AutoArchive does many things which are good for you. So just run it periodically. You have not run it before? Then run it now.

I am assuming Outlook 2010 or above.

Choose File – Cleanup Tools – Mailbox Cleanup

Mailbox Cleanup

Now a bigger dialog appears… You can explore other things later. Just click on the AutoArchive button.

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And let it do its job. It may take a long time. Status is shown on the status bar.

What does AutoArchive do?

To know what it does and to tweak the settings, go to File – Options – Advanced – AutoArchive options…

Look at the options and tweak them as required. Basically, it moves old items and puts them in a new PST file – ARCHIVE.PST.

Make sure you click the Apply these settings to all folders now option.

Later you can right click on a specific folder – go to properties and customize the settings if required.

AutoArchive settings

What is deleted?

Only deleted items which are older than the cleanup limit (default 6 months) are deleted. Everything else is moved to the archive PST file. No mails or calendar items are deleted. Contacts folder is never archived – that means all your contacts are always available in the main mailbox.

Finding archived items

You don’t have to do anything special for this. Outlook search indexes the Archive PST files as well. So these are available for navigation as well as regular search.

If the archive file is big, indexing may require some time to finish the job. It is a good idea to check the indexing status and if many items are pending.

To check the indexing status, go to Inbox – click inside the search box – on the search Ribbon, choose Search Tools – Indexing Status.

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The dialog below shows the pending number of items.

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Ideally there should be zero or very few items to be indexed. If a large number of items are shown here, leave the machine on overnight and check in the morning again. That should give enough time for indexing to finish the backlog.

Remember: Archive is not available online

The pst file is created on the PC on which you run the AutoArchive. Therefore, items which have been moved to the archive folder will NOT be available to you when you are working on a mobile phone or any other mailbox only device.

Finally – One Best Practice

Best Practice: Whenever you finish handling a mail, it should not remain in the Inbox.

Delete it. Or if you want to keep it, keep it in a PST folder. Not in the main mailbox. If you follow this simple rule, you will never face a problem of mailbox filling up every now and then.

By the way, Office 365 subscription gives you a mailbox that is 50 GB in size… did you know that?

Outlook: How to delete all old appointments in Calendar

Calendar view shows only Day, Week, Work Week and Month views. You can only select all appoints within a month. Even in the month view, CTRL A does NOT select all appointments.

In short, any bulk operation you want to do for appointments is a pain.

Solution is simple. Just change the view in Outlook.

Outlook delete all old appointments

Now all the appointments and meetings are shows as a simple list – like Inbox or Tasks..

Now you can sort, filter, multi-select any number of items and perform any operation you like – for example, Delete 0ld appointments or archive to another folder or PST.

AutoArchive does this automatically

Most of us don’t want old appointments to waste space in the mailbox – because the space is limited. The smartest way to clean this up is to run AutoArchive. We will cover this in the next article.

How to share calendar with external parties?

Often we need to arrange a meeting with some external party. Both are busy people. How do you share your free time with the other person?

Within the company, if you are using Exchange and Outlook, you can see each other’s Free / Busy time. But for external parties, this facility is not available.

Trying to make a list of free slots in next few weeks manually is obviously a lengthy process…

That is why there is an elegant way available to share calendar with someone outside your organization in just few clicks…

  1. Go to the Calendar… let us say it looks like this for next two weeks.image
  2. Now right click on the calendar and choose Share – Email CalendarOutlook share calendar with external parties
  3. Choose the duration and level of detail you want to show. Usually there is no point in showing more than couple of weeks because the schedule is bound to change.image
  4. Click OK. Now a new email message is created with a calendar showing free and busy dates. Ctrl Click on each date to see the availability.
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  5. Clicking on the hyperlink jumps to the details for that day.image
  6. This way the other party can find mutually convenient time without trial and error!

Key Learning: Right Click > Read Each Option >Learn!

Use Thesaurus for better communication – Shift F7

thesaurus shortcut Shift F7

This keyboard shortcut opens the thesaurus in Office products (including Outlook).

So what is the big deal?

Well… many of us know that the thesaurus exists. But we rarely use it.

Start using it more frequently.

Scenarios where thesaurus should be used

  1. Stinker Mails: Replying to mails where some kind of fight is happening or you are really angry with someone and writing a stinker … Press F7… choose the right words carefully. See the difference it makes.
  2. Writing copy for mailers, brochures, etc. Using the right word matters because this is going to be seen by thousands of people.
  3. Presentation titles: These are seen first. The space available is less. If the title is not relevant and powerful, audience will not read the rest of the content. Therefore, use F7.
  4. Resume: This is probably the most important document in our lives. So pay attention to it.

Warning: Don’t use big words. Use the right words!

There is a danger of using the Thesaurus. We tend to choose heavy, sophisticated, complex words instead of using simpler words. That is NOT the purpose of using a thesaurus.

The idea is to use the most suitable and impactful word in a given context.

If you are not sure about the usage, you can click on the word to get more details…

thesaurus in Office

Remember to hear pronunciations as well

Many of us pronounce common words in a wrong manner. In most cases, people around us either don’t realize it, don’t care or are too junior to tell you about your mistake. So that reduces the clarity of verbal communication – especially if you need present to a large group of audience on a frequent basis.

In any case, it is a good idea to hear the pronunciation and correct yourself if you notice a problem.

Quick Parts in Word: Stop copy pasting from old files!

Common activity

Often we need to open an existing document, copy some part of it and paste it into another new document. Why does this happen? Because that part of text (or content) was reusable across documents.

There is a much better way to reuse text – called Quick Parts.

Solution

The solution is simple and takes only two steps:

  1. Create Quick Parts and
  2. Use the parts

Creating quick parts

Be on the lookout for text which is reusable. Select it and choose Insert – Quick Parts – Add to Quick parts gallery.

Quick Parts in Word

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You can now specify a name for the content. You can even create different categories – by activity or department, for example. Notice that this content is stored in a special file called BulidingBlocks.dotx.

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Reusing the content

Now the content is stored. You can use it in any document quickly.

Insert – Quick Parts – the content is now shown as a drop-down list. Click on it to insert it into the current document. That’s it.

Using Quick Parts

Works in Outlook also

Outlook uses Word. Therefore, the same functionality is available in Outlook as well.

Quick parts for Word and Outlook are independent of each other. For Outlook it is stored in NormalEmail.dotm file

Techie Stuff: Deploying a common building blocks file

You can easily standardize the usage of building blocks across the organization.

  1. Create a building blocks template
  2. Store it in a shared location – SharePoint or File share
  3. If it is SharePoint, map the document library as a drive in the login script
  4. Use Group Policy to change the Building Blocks template path setting to point to this mapped drive
  5. That’s it.

There is more

We also have similar use concept for tables – Quick Tables, textboxes, headers and footers. All these are stored in the same building blocks file.

Add color to your life: Outlook Color Categories

The need

Outlook is a crowded and confusing place. There are mails, meetings, tasks, contacts … in large numbers. We tend to get lost in this deluge of information.  Incoming mails and appointment requests rule your life – Others are managing your time – not you Sad smile

Using color to categorize things visually can simplify this situation and put you back in control of your time and life.

Outlook Color categories

Inbox and tasks show categories by default (Outlook 2010 onwards) as a column.

Calendar also shows color categories.

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25 colours available

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Outlook does not know how you want to use the colors available.

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Outlook Color Categories

You can and you SHOULD customize it…

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Now you can use the colors in Inbox, Tasks and …

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Calendar as well..

At a glance you can see how your time is being divided.

Outlook Color Categories

Try it NOW.

Tech Stuff

In case you goof up and create wrong categories, you can reset all to default by using a command line switch

…outlook.exe /cleancategories

Show Off Demo: OneNote and Outlook

This is a new type of article. Impress your colleagues, boss, spouses, partners, soul mates, children by showing this impressive demo! I show you the steps and tell you what to speak Smile

Before you start this demo, check the requirements

Office 2010 or Office 2013

OneNote and Outlook installed.

Outlook must have at least one mailbox configured.

Demo: Meeting notes

What you have to do is in black color. What you have to say is in blue color.

  • Open Outlook calendar
  • Click on any meeting
  • How will you take notes for this meeting? Open a blank Word document and type meeting details all over again? Obviously not!
  • Right click on the meeting, choose Meeting Notes
  • If it asks what type of notes, Choose

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  • Now Outlook will ask you to choose the notebook in OneNote. Choose any one.

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  • A new page will be created with meeting name.

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  • Unlike Word, all the meeting details are automatically added. Did you expect that?
  • Now type some random notes. One sentence should be “Action Point Demo”
  • Let us say this is an action point which must be completed by tomorrow.
  • Right click in that sentence and choose Outlook tasks – Tomorrow

    OneNote Task demo

  • Now go to Outlook and open Tasks folder. Select Tasks. Not Follow up.
  • Point to the task which was automatically created by OneNote.

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  • See – even before I finish the meeting, I already know my tasks.
  • Pause for people to appreciate the integration
  • Now when I mark this task as complete (mark the task as complete in Outlook) what do you expect?
  • Your audience will say something like, the OneNote task should be updated
  • DO NOT go to OneNote yet.
  • This is an amazing example of how these OneNote and Outlook integrate with each other. Usually we would have received the Minutes of Meetings a day later and I would have forgotten to execute my action point on time. What happens then? Delays and fire fighting! Sounds familiar?
  • One more thing – this was my own task. But what if I wanted to delegate task to someone? No problem, we could have chosen Custom task and Assigned it to someone else. That way I can still monitor the task and check for delays.
  • Wait for some response from the audience
  • Basically you have to spend at least 20 seconds before you return to OneNote
  • Now go to OneNote and notice that the Task is already marked as complete

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  • That is OneNote for you. Use it next time you are in a meeting. 

    Practice this few times to perfect the demo.

    Cheat sheet

    Mark as task in OneNote – it reflects IMMEDIATELY in Outlook task folder.

    The catch is – when you mark it as complete in Outlook, it takes around 20 seconds to refresh the OneNote task status. That is why you have to mark it as complete in Outlook and kill some time by talking some relevant stuff before you return to OneNote.

    If you return to OneNote too soon, the task will not be shown as complete and the demo will fall flat Sad smile

     

    Enjoy.

Outlook Tasks: Take an appointment with yourself

Please read the previous article before you read this one.

Remember. Your work is higher priority than work with others want you to do.

Where is your pending work listed?

Usually scattered across multiple locations : Mind, Notepads, Tissue papers, Mobile notes, mails, minutes of meetings, etc.

That is not a good idea because you can’t see all the pending work in one place. If you don’t see something you don’t end up doing it.

Step 1: Create Outlook Tasks

Go back to your core job description or KRAs or organizational commitments sheet – whatever you have signed up for. Take each item from there and break it down into smaller pieces of work and add them to tasks. Using color categories mark them as Core work.

Outlook Tasks

Think of all the other pending tasks and add the to task folder as well.

Anything in this color is additional information and optional reading. You can move to the black area ahead without losing context.

Common mistake: Adding work to Calendar

Calendar and Task are two different things. If you are blocking specific time for whatever reason, put it in the calendar.

Work is different. We decide What to do and When it should be completed (the deadline). However, we don’t specify when exactly it will be done. That is called a TASK.

Calendar is for meetings, events, leave , seminars, off-sites, fieldwork, training programs, etc. Here we block time to say EXACTLY WHEN something is going to happen. If it does not happen, it may be rescheduled but that is not very important.

Step 2: Block YOUR time to do YOUR work

This is a genuine problem. We simply don’t have time to handle all the mails, attend all meetings and handle all tasks. But now that we know that tasks are the priority, we must focus on them.

If others see that your calendar is free, they are bound to send meeting requests. So before that happens, make sure that you block your time for your work.

  1. Open the calendar. Better to be in the Work Week View
  2. Right click on Tasks folder and choose Open in New Window
  3. Make the tasks window smaller so that you can float it above the calendar window and see both
  4. Look a the tasks. Choose which ones are important
  5. Decide which date and time you want to do that work
  6. Drag the task and drop it on that date
  7. Adjust the time based upon your estimate of how long the task will require

Now think what you just did.

Remember, dragging the task to calendar is just a convenience. It DOES NOT mark the task as complete. When you finish the task, you must go and mark it as complete in the task folder.

“I took an appointment with myself to do my own work” = Time Management

Sounds funny. But this is the simplest form of time management.

Homework

Start creating the task list and drag the tasks to calendar to block time. Start it immediately.

Creating tasks is your first task Smile

Next article

In the next article we will understand how you can refine your work in Outlook using custom fields.

Busy responding to emails? When do you do your work?

Yes I am serious. That is the simplest best practice you can follow in order to manage Outlook better.

When you send a mail – you are doing your work. When you reply to others mails – you are helping them do their work. Agreed?

Similarly, if you attend a meeting called for by others – you are helping them get their job done.

The Outlook Paradox: Busy responding to emails?

Now to be fair – you should do your work first and then help others do theirs. Right?

So the number of mails you send must be more than the number of mails you reply to. The same concept goes with meetings.

UNFORTUNATELY

… that is not so. The ratio is always against you.

That is why we waste so much time responding to emails in Outlook and there is no outcome at the end of it.  Just take a look at your Inbox and see how many unread emails you have? How many meetings you must attend in the next 5 days?

It is no wonder that many people brag about aving cleared all their mails.  Having zero unread email has become a rare achievement in the modern workplace itself.

Altruism??

You wasted time but did the other people benefit? Not really. Because from their point of view also the same imbalance exists!

In short, we are just hampering each others life and we call it TEAMWORK Sad smile

The net result?

You spend so much time helping others that your own work (KRA, Responsibilities, Dashboard) suffers. You are capable of doing everything you have signed up for. But you simply don’t have the time.

Solution?

Don’t blame Outlook. In fact, Outlook has a perfect solution for these issues. It is just that we have never utilized Outlook to our advantage.

In the next article, I will give you a simple and practical way of handling this modern day dilemma called email management.

Till tomorrow, I will give you a hint. Look at all the folders in Outlook and see which one is fully under your control.