A different Outlook

By Ahmed Shaikh Published Date
01 - Dec - 2004
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2004
A different Outlook

We take you beyond the Send/Receive button. Make Microsoft Outlook work for you

E-mail clients are available by the dozen. Half of them are free to use. What makes Microsoft Outlook a favoured choice? Outlook is more than an e-mail client: it is a personal information manager; it is a tool for collaboration; it is a task master. Deeply tied to the other Microsoft Office modules such as Word, Excel and even Messenger, Outlook delivers a comprehensive and single package for working smart. Let’s take a look at how Outlook can do more than Send/Receive. Note that all the following is only valid for Microsoft Outlook 2000 and above.

Sum Of The Parts

Outlook consists of six interconnected modules. It oversees your e-mail; tracks your meetings and appointments via a calendar; has a database of your contacts; maintains a list of all your assigned, pending and completed tasks; automates a journal that tracks your e-mails and other documents; and, finally, lets you take ad-hoc “sticky” notes. These modules form the heart of Outlook. More importantly, these are interdependent and interconnected. For example, dragging the content of an e-mail from the inbox to the Notes shortcut on the Outlook Bar will create a new note with the dragged text.

This brings us to an interesting way of cross-referencing each of these modules within an e-mail. An HTML mail may contain hyperlinks; you can tell Outlook to jump between modules by using the codes alongside as hyperlinks inside a mail.

This is especially useful if you share contacts or the calendar with co-workers and friends: as an example, you can link to a shared e-mail as a means of reference. To hyperlink a text, make sure you are creating an HTML mail first, then right-click on the text to be hyperlinked and use the codes alongside within the “Address” field.

Dial D For Delegate

You can assign a task to your co-worker. An assigned task is e-mailed to the person(s) you have delegated it to. To assign a task, right-click on a task and select “Assign Task,” type an e-mail id in the “To” field, or click the “To” button and choose a name from your contacts list. To track the progress of the task, tick the box marked “Keep an updated copy of this task on my Task List.” Any changes the recipient makes to the task as it progresses will appear in your Task List.

If you’d like to be notified when a project is complete, tick the box marked “Send me a status report when this task is complete.” You can also add any comments you’d like to in the window at the bottom of the dialog box.

Mail En Masse

It is a good idea to file a contact under a category. For example, everyone from the online team of your organisation can go under, well, “Online Team.” This way it becomes easier to send a mass mail to everyone within the online team: in the Contacts module, select View > Current View > By Category from the menu bar. Now select a category (“Online Team,” in our example) and drag it to the Inbox icon on the Outlook Bar. Outlook will generate an empty e-mail message and fill the “To” field with the e-mail addresses of all the contacts in that category.

Vote For Outlook

When you are not sure about how to take a task further, do what the pros do: vote on it!

When creating a new e-mail, click the Options button. Select the “Use voting buttons” checkbox, and select the voting button names you want to use in the box. These buttons will appear at the top of the mail you will send. To create custom buttons, type in any text you want, making sure to separate options by semicolons. The “Save sent message to” checkbox allows you to specify the folder where you want the sent message saved—“Sent Items” by default. In the “Have replies sent to” box, select the recipient or the folder where you want replies sent to. Outlook will automatically total the votes for you and tell you who voted for which option and the time they did so.

Meeting Time, Internet Time

If you have Directory service running on your organisation server, Outlook can create meeting requests that are not tied to a particular location. A NetMeeting can take place anytime, anywhere.

Microsoft Outlook also includes the ability to have the reminder for the meeting automatically start NetMeeting. You can also launch a particular document as soon as the meeting commences, such that every virtual attendee knows the agenda.

The document can be anything that supports collaboration within Microsoft Office—Microsoft Word, for example. Press [Crtl] [Shift] [Q] to create a new online meeting request, and click on the “This is an online meeting using” checkbox.

Follow Up With That Contact

You would like to follow-up on an important e-mail, but the dozen spam messages surrounding it are begging to be deleted first.

What do you do to ensure that you do not forget the important task of getting back to your contact? Create a follow-up: right-click on a message in your Inbox, and click on “Follow Up.”

In the dialog box that appears, specify a date and time for Outlook to remind you about this flagged contact. Delete that spam in peace!

Recall That Message

Did you mail something you would rather not have? Outlook allows you to recall or replace a message. It is important to know that you can only recall or replace messages you sent to recipients who are logged on and using Outlook and who have not read the message or moved the message out of their Inbox.

Open the message you want to recall or replace—these are found under “Sent Items.” On the Tools or Actions menu (depending on your version of Outlook), click “Recall This Message.”

To recall the message, click “Delete unread copies of this message.” To replace the message with a different one, click “Delete unread copies and replace with a new message,” click OK, and then type in a new message.

To receive a notification about the success of the recall or replacement for each recipient, select the “Tell me if recall succeeds or fails for each recipient” checkbox. To replace a message, you must send a new one, failing which the original message is just recalled.

Drag And Drop

Outlook lets you automatically create new items and add shortcuts and links to items by drag-and-drop action.

For example: drag a Contact to the Calendar folder to create an appointment with that person, or drag an e-mail message to the Tasks folder to create a task based on that message.

For additional options, drag and drop an item with the right mouse button depressed. You’ll find you can create attachments, and add the contents as text.

Track Your Contact’s Activities

Within Outlook, every contact has an associated activity tab. This tab tracks all your interactions with the contact as per e-mail messages, appointments, assigned tasks, documents, and phone call journal entries. This view on your history with the contact is a one-stop for gauging dynamics between a contact and activities. For this reason alone, it is a good idea to add your colleagues and friends as contacts within the Outlook Bar— right-click on their e-mail id to do this. The Activities tab on the Contact item allows you to view, group, sort, and filter the set of associated items.

Sort It Out

You can sort e-mail and tasks by clicking on the column heading. When you click on a column heading, an arrow shows you that the listing is sorted by that column and in which direction: if the arrow points up, the list is sorted in ascending order; if it points down the list is in descending order.

Moreover, you can sort based on more than one column. To do this, click the first column that you want to sort the list on. Click a second time if you want to reverse the sort order. Then hold down the [Shift] key and click the column you want to use to break any ties that occur in the first sorted column. To reverse the order of the second sort column, continue to hold down [Shift] and click the second column again.

If you don’t like the order in which the columns appear in the  Tasks or Inbox folder, you can easily move the columns around: just position the mouse pointer over a column heading, then drag it to the right or left until red arrows show where the column heading will be dropped when you release the button.

A Serial Task (“see you next Wednesday”)

When you create or assign a task, it can have a recurrence property. A recurring task repeats itself after a set period. For example, if you create a project completion task to start on December 1 and ask Outlook to recur the task every one week—the project notification will pop up on the 1st, and will recur on the 8th, 15th, 22nd, etc. of December. This happens regardless of whether the task has been completed. This is a recurring task.

Take, now, a task that needs to recur, but only after a previous task has been completed. Sticking with our project example just discussed, let’s assume you wish to check the status of the completed project. This will require that the project is finished first. If you wish to do this once, the solution is simple, but to do this on a regular basis, you need to create a regenerating task. Regenerating tasks are handy for activities that recur often, but not in a regular pattern—such as checking the status of a project.

A Regenerating Task recurs only after the previous instance is marked complete. For example, if you create a task that regenerates every 10 days, then the second instance appears 10 days after the first instance is marked complete. Thus, if a project is marked complete on the 20th of December, the second instance appears on the 30th of December.

Collaborate, Share

With Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Server you can share resources. Using Exchange Public Folders, users can share tasks, contacts or calendars with others. In Outlook, click on File > New, then “Folder”; to create a group contact database, select Contacts in the “Folder contains” box, etc. After creating the new folder, right-click on it and select “Send Link to This Folder” to mail a shortcut to other members on your team so they can place their information in this now-shared folder. You can also carry the shared folder with you when you are working on a laptop and are not connected to your network.

Create Personal Distribution Lists

You can create a personal distribution list from within the Contacts folder. A Distribution List can contain contacts from your personal Contacts folder(s), from shared Contacts folders on an Exchange Server and from the Exchange Server Global Address List. A Distribution List can also be easily forwarded to other users via e-mail, synchronised to other computers and printed.

To create such a list, do the following:
1 Select File, then New, then “Distribution list,” to show the distribution list item (The shortcut key is [Ctrl]
[Shift] [L])
2 Add whom you want to in the distribution list, name the distribution list, and save it
3 Open a new e-mail and type the distribution list name. You’re ready to send

Adding New Contacts Easily
To add a friend or colleague to your Contacts folder:
1 Drag the message to your Contacts folder
2 Save the new contact;
1 In the mail item, right-click on the sender’s name in the “From” field
2  Select Add to Contacts

Mail Via Excel

Outlook allows you to choose between MS Word, plain text or rich text for your e-mail writing. In addition to this, Outlook allows you to use any other Office component on a per-message basis to compose your e-mail message.

You can compose using , say, Microsoft Excel. The mail is then sent using HTML such that the recipient does not need
MS Office installed to view the message.

To do this, click on Actions > New Mail Message Using > Microsoft Office.

Creating Rules For Shared Resources

To administer a shared folder—for generating auto-replies or to automatically reject a contribution based on preset criteria—the Folder Assistant steps in.

The Folder Assistant makes it easy to add rules to folders without any programming. Right-click on a shared folder and select Properties, click on the “Administration” tab and click on the “Folder Assistant” button.

Here you can specify rules as you see fit: limit size of messages, check for specific words in a message subject, an auto-reply upon submission, and check specific properties of documents copied into the folder, such as the author property of a Microsoft Word document.

Share Your Contacts

To forward a contact to another Outlook user, right-click on the contact and choose “Forward”; Outlook puts the contact item into an e-mail message. The recipient can now drag the contact from the mail message over the Contact icon on the Outlook bar.

Tracking It Via The Journal

Outlook’s Journal keeps track of all your activities within Microsoft Office modules, letting you see when you last updated a certain Word or Excel file or sent an e-mail message, for example. The Journal also records all outbound calls made with Outlook’s automatic dialling feature; it includes information on whom you called, when, and for how long. Turn on Journaling to enable this feature: click on the Journal icon within the Outlook Bar.

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