Outlook's Overlooked Features

Most computer programs follow the old 80/20 rule--80 percent of the users use a mere 20 percent of the features. Although not every feature in Outlook makes sense for every user, you can help your users be more productive by introducing them to some of Outlook's often-overlooked features.

One of these features is the ability to configure Outlook to start in a folder other than Inbox--perhaps, Outlook Today. Outlook Today gives you an overview of your upcoming appointments and meetings and your active tasks, and shows you how many new messages you have in a variety of folders. If you're an avid user of Outlook Today, you might want to show the Outlook Today folder at start-up. To do so, click "Customize Outlook Today" on the Outlook Today screen and select the "When starting, go directly to Outlook Today" option. You can also configure Outlook to start in any of your other default folders. To do so, select Tools, Options and go to the Other tab. Click Advanced Options and use the "Startup in this folder" drop-down list to choose the folder you want to display when Outlook starts. The folders you can choose from when starting Outlook depend on your Outlook version. In Outlook 2000, you're limited to Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks. In Outlook 2002, you can also choose the Journal or Notes folders. I have Outlook start in my Calendar folder so that I can see first thing what appointments I have that day.

Calendar labeling is another lightly used feature. Present only in Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2002, calendar labeling lets you color code your appointments, meeting requests, and events based on customizable labels. I've customized labels for Programming, Technical Support, Writing, Family, Travel, Medical, FYI, and Personal events. When I look at my calendar, I know that any green appointment has something to do with programming. Color-coded appointments help me better plan my day by preparing me mentally for the types of tasks I'll need to work on that day. To assign a label to a particular appointment, meeting, or event, click the Label drop-down box on the first page of the appointment form. You can't add or delete labels, but you can change the name of any of the 10 provided labels. To do so, select Edit, Label, Edit Labels to display the Edit Calendar Labels dialog box. When you're done editing label names, click OK to save your changes.

If you're operating in an Exchange Server environment, you can take advantage of Outlook's ability to open additional mailboxes and folders. For example, when I'm traveling out of the office on business, I try to keep my calendar up-to-date. I then grant my boss permission to view my calendar. He can open my calendar and see where I am at any given time during the day. If there's a problem at the office and I'm in a meeting, he doesn't call me unless the situation is urgent. However, if I'm between meetings and he has a question, he can call me and expect to find me available. To grant another user permissions on your calendar folder, right-click the Calendar folder in the folder list and choose Properties. Go to the Permissions tab and grant the appropriate permissions to the user. The user can then open your calendar folder in his or her Outlook client by selecting File, Open, Other User's Folder; entering your name; and selecting the folder he or she wants to access. The folder will open in a separate window in the user's Outlook client. Outlook 2003 takes this functionality one step further by letting you display multiple calendar folders side by side in one window. Each calendar folder has its own color so that you can easily tell whose calendar you're viewing at any moment.

Outlook is a powerful program that few users explore fully. By implementing some advanced features, you can use Outlook to greatly increase your productivity.

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