Many Office users rely so much on Outlook, it’s their most-used application by far. Over the years, numerous other apps – such as Yammer, Slack or Teams – have presented other ways to collaborate and communicate yet with billions of messages being sent every day, email just doesn’t seem to slow down.
The bones of the current Windows release of Outlook date back to Outlook 97, with some dialogs and settings having changed little since even if the main UI has been refreshed over the years. One recent change was the further evolution of Outlook 2003’s “Wunderbar”, the menu on the bottom left of the main Outlook window that switched views between mail, calendar, tasks etc (yes, it really was called that internally – look in the Registry).
By Outlook 2016, the navigation bar had collapsed into a series of icons along the bottom, which did the same thing but took up less screen real estate. It’s long been possible to use keyboard shortcuts to jump between the options on the navigation bar – CTRL+1 will go to the 1st one (usually Mail), CTRL+2 to the second and so on. You can reorder the options on the bar if you like, so CTRL+1 could be Calendar if that’s what’s most important to you.
Other apps can be pinned to the new bar, too – including things like the Org Explorer, which presents a much more graphical way of looking at the org chart than the old Address Book in Outlook.
Moving these icons to the side of the screen might help organize screen real estate; another option would be to collapse the Ribbon, so you only see the many icons and options along the top of Outlook, when you need to use them.
You could try Simplified Ribbon to reduce the size and hide some of the more esoteric functions.
Show tabs only reverts to a simple menu bar, and when you click on one of the options, the ribbon for that tab is displayed. You can toggle easily between Tabs Only and the full ribbon by pressing CTRL+F1. There are loads of other shortcuts for Outlook though some are a little obscure.
If you need to search your mailbox while in full-screen, press ALT to temporarily display the ribbon, and look for the highlighted keys that can jump to specific tab or function.
Even in 1990, NOSS allowed any user to browse a hierarchical directory (showing contact info, job titles, manager/reporting relationships etc), email or instant message anyone, and look at their calendar to see what they were doing. It was 10 years before you could do all those things using Microsoft Windows and Office. In recent years, Big Blue’s email environment has seemingly been less happy.
When Microsoft Exchange first came out, email was handled with the Exchange client and calendaring was from Schedule+, which had been updated to support Exchange (and lives on in some backward Microsoft lingo, where people who start every sentence with “So,” ask you to send them an S+, meaning, invite them to a meeting). Outlook came along in 1996 and became the preferred and unified way to do email, calendars, address books etc.
Some organisations had a default policy when new mailboxes were created that their calendar was shared Read-only, so anyone in the company could see it. You could open someone’s calendar fully in Outlook or by viewing the scheduling tab in a meeting, where you will typically see if a list of people are available or not. Others might have it that only free/busy info is visible by default, and that is pretty sub-optimal.
With M365 in general, newly-created mailboxes have no calendar sharing set up, and the action is on the user to choose how to let co-workers see their info.
Be a nice person, and check to make sure your colleagues can view your calendar.
Ideally, share so that others will see the title and location of any appointment; useful when someone is trying to arrange a meeting, as within the schedule view they can figure out if you are likely to be able to make the proposed meeting time – if your diary is full of blocks marked busy or tentative, they’ll have no idea if you really are in a meeting or have just marked time to do something that you might be happy to move. Or had a colleague’s FYI notice of being on holiday obliterate the view of your calendar.
In the early days of Exchange/Outlook, if you had read access to someone’s calendar, you could open up appointments, see who else was attending a meeting, download any attachments and so on, unless the appointment was marked “Private” – though it’s somewhat possible to open Private appointments programmatically if you know what you are doing.
Nowadays, calendar sharing is more granular – in Outlook Web App, go into Calendar and you’ll see the Sharing and permissions option, which will let you choose specific people and give them ability to see various details, or you can change the default for the whole organisation.
In full-fat desktop Outlook, click on the Share Calendar option on the ribbon, and you’ll get a 1990s-style dialog box allowing you to set the default permissions or to invite particular team-mates to have higher level access should you want them to know where you are and with whom.
If you choose titles & locations, viewers can’t open your appointments to peer inside, so can’t see who else is attending or what the body of the meeting says, but they can at least see if you’re likely to need travel time between meetings. See here for more info on calendar sharing & delegate access.
Time Zones have featured lots on ToW; in an epoch when everyone was holed up WFH, the relative time people were at became especially important when trying to meet with them. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable that meeting times are unpalatable to some attendees if they’re in a far-flung time zone, but it’s worth reminding yourself how distant they are when trying to find the best time slot to speak with them.
There are whole genres of mechanical watches which can display multiple time zones (check out GMT or World Time if horology is your thing), or you could rely on phone or computer-based aides-memoire, such as displaying multiple time zones alongside your calendar in Outlook, using the Windows Clock app with its world clock view, or even showing several clocks on the Windows task bar.
A new addition to the arsenal of time zone tooling is a neat feature that’s appeared in the contact card in Teams and Outlook, showing you what the time is for the person you’re looking at. The time displayed is set by the device they’re using, so if on Windows, that’s the Time Zone setting.
When travelling, rather than just manually winding the clock back or forward, it makes sense to set the correct time zone on your machine – either by allowing Windows to change it automatically or by specifically choosing it from the list.
If you have multiple time zones displayed in Outlook, you can switch between them from the settings page – just right-click on the timeline to the side of the calendar and choose Change Time Zone, or go to File | Options | Calendar and look for the settings in there.
When you swap them around inside Outlook, it will change the time zone on your PC.
In some parts of the world, there’s pressure to prevent “work” from creeping into personal time, meaning emails and other messages should be held back and not sent during what’s supposedly down-time. Ireland has published a “right to disconnect” code of practice, and Portugal even made it illegal for an employer to contact their workers outside of working hours.
Choosing this action has a similar effect to the Delay Delivery option which is visible on the Outlook toolbar, except that it won’t need Outlook to be running; the regular Delay feature leaves a message in your Outbox folder, and that normally means the Outlook client needs to be running at the time you want it to be sent.
The Viva-powered delay option holds the message on the server until the allotted hour, and then delivers it to the recipients – handy if the sender is already outside their working hours by that point…
“The years go by so fast, let’s hope the next beats the last”– a sentiment that rings so true over the last couple of new year celebrations. Whether setting resolutions to do new things, read more, lose weight, be a better human etc, we all tend to reflect, even if just trying to do the same things as before but a bit better. Steve Clayton’s Friday Thing for the end of December had some great tips on things to do and try in the coming year.
If we can’t reduce volume of professional communications (be that emails, Teams messages, whatever – just look at Steve cleaning his mailbox and removing >100,000 Sent Items from a single year), then maybe we could do a better job of managing the stuff that we have to deal with. Much ink has been spilled on how to be more effective and how to get things done, but one useful time/focus management principle to revisit is sometimes known as Eisenhower’s Matrix, of which a variety of depictions exist:
The premise is that any task has separate degrees of importance and urgency; we tend to prioritize urgent and overdue things versus things that are actually important. Discipline in task management can give us the clarity to not worry about seemingly urgent yet non-important tasks, and to stay focussed on things which are important, regardless of their urgency.
Carve out 75 minutes if you can – because this stuff is important – to watch Randy Pausch’s lecture on Time Management, with the context that when it was recorded, he knew he only had weeks left to live: talk about prioritizing important vs urgent.
How you put time and focus management into practice will differ depending on your own style and what tools you want to use. For the Windows / Microsoft 365 user, there are a few quick wins to consider:
ToW has talked before about appointments and meetings in Outlook – in summary, an appointment is something you put in your diary, a meeting is one to which you invite others (or have been invited to by someone else).
Thinking of meetings you have organised, you can do a few things to make them stand out, like configuring your calendar view to show your own meetings in a different colour.
… click Conditional Formatting, add a new rule and click Condition… to set it up.
Go to the Advanced tab, click on Field and choose All Appointment Fields, then Meeting Status, then set equals Meeting organizer as the condition, set your colour, font etc choice and save it all out.
Ghost meetings – you’re organiser, nobody else shows up
How many times have you joined an online meeting that you organised, waited a few minutes and then realised that the other party/parties have actually declined but you didn’t notice? Sure, you can see in the tracking tab of a meeting, but might not check until you’ve already started the meeting and wonder why you’re on your Jack Jones.
At this time of year, it’s quite likely you’ll have regular meetings with colleagues, customers or partners, and that instance has been declined by all of the invited attendees: the only real solution is to look ahead at your calendar, check the tracking responses and delete meetings which nobody else will attend. What a palaver.
Never fear, dear reader. Here’s an Excel spreadsheet with a macro which will list all the future meetings where you are the organiser and all of the attendees have either not responded or have declined, so you can easily decide which ones to go and remove.
Download the ZIP file from the link above, save/open it on your PC and you’ll see there’s a single XLSM file within. Open that in Excel, allow changes and enable Macros so it will run, then click the Scan Calendar button to show you a list of meetings that you might be able to delete since everyone else has already bailed out. It will take a couple of minutes to run but will eventually show you a list sorted with the earliest at the top.
Microsoft has always been good at having several ways of doing the same thing. Internal competition was encouraged with the idea that if several teams built solutions for the same problem, it would spur them all on and the best would win out. The Best Laid Plans don’t always work, and sometimes politics and machination gets in the way.
One modern incarnation of the multiple-ways principle is electronic mail; despite many attempts to replace email with other means of messaging, persistent chat etc, it’s still a huge deal (especially in business) and it’s still growing.
In the days when companies ran their own IT on-premises, there was Exchange, and the companion mail client Outlook arrived shortly after. Web-based consumer services like Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail changed the expectations of many users. Home and work email services have been getting closer in form and function since.
Microsoft’s current email clients are quite diverged: you can use the full-fat Outlook application to connect to your business email as well as your private
The Mail app is pretty good – it can connect to a variety of sources including Office 365, so while it might not be an ideal primary business email application, it can be a good way of connecting to multiple personal email services.
One feature which appeared in different ways across multiple services and apps is the idea of Snoozing your email; initially pioneered by Gmail, others followed suit. It’s a different concept to flags and reminders, rather if you select an email and say snooze until 10am tomorrow, it will literally disappear from your inbox and it would reappear at the top of the pile the following morning.
Well, that’s how it works on some combinations. In the browser versions of both Hotmail / Outlook.com and Exchange/Office365, it works as you’d expect – you Snooze an email and it is actually moved into the Scheduled email folder (and you’ll see when it is later due to reappear in Inbox if you look in there). At the elected time, it shows up again on at the top of the mailbox. Let’s compare to some other Microsoft clients & services…
Outlook client and Office 365 – there is no snooze feature. Sorry. Just be more organised. If you snooze an email from another client, it will disappear from Inbox, but when it reappears, it’ll be in the same place as it was before – eg. if you Snooze a 9am email from the web app until 1pm, it will move into the Scheduled folder – but when it moves back into the Inbox, the Outlook and Windows Mail clients will show it down at 9am again so you might as well flag it and be done.
Windows Mail client with Outlook.com or Office 365 – Zip. Too bad.
Mobile Outlook and Web clients on Outlook.com or Office 365– Mail disappears and shows up again at the allotted time, right at the top of the mailbox. In the web clients, you’ll see the time stamp of the message as if it has literally just arrived; in the mobile version, though the message is ordered correctly (eg a 9am snooze to reappear at 1pm will show up between 12:30 and 1:15 mails), the displayed time is correct but a little clock icon is shown alongside. Clever.
At some point, there is a plan to deliver a single, unified, email client. An Ignite 2020 session talked about the roadmap and further commentary speculated that the One Outlook client may be coming, but isn’t going to be with us for some time yet.
There was a time when visiting a website gave you a 1/10 chance of being offered a user survey, asking why you’re visiting today and how you feel about the company. Presumably, response rates were low enough that such surveys are largely replaced with annoying cookies and tracker software so the company can see what you’re doing without needing to ask you why.
Surveys in email can be a lot more useful, though, when trying to garner feedback about a particular topic. Outlook has had Voting Buttons since it first appeared in Office 97. They provide a simple way of asking a single question and getting recipients of the email to respond so that the sender can see what the votes cast are. You can take the defaults or add your own custom options, separated by semicolons.
Recipients get prompted in Outlook and can vote with a single click, rather than having to type a response, and the sender can see a Tracking tab on the message in their Sent Items folder to get the results.
One downside of voting buttons, though, is that they only work in Outlook – there’s no Web App or mobile support, so it does restrict the usability somewhat. Great news, though – a more modern approach is available; not only does it work using the Outlook mobile apps and the browser but it’s a bit more in-your-face for most Outlook users too, with a simple and quick way of responding.
The Poll feature in Outlook appeared in March 2020 but may have been easy to miss, given all the other stuff that was happening then. It’s accessible from the Insert menu on a new message, or if you look at the bottom of the Use Voting Buttons drop-down menu, it’s been added there too.
Clicking on the icon gives you a single question with two or more options; it’s powered by Microsoft Forms, but there’s no fancy branching or data validation – it’s a straight “choose one of these short text responses” feature and all the better for it.
If using Outlook (desktop or mobile) or OWA, when a recipient in your organization receives an email with a Poll included, it’s shown right at the top and is super simple to reply to. If the recipient is using a mail client that doesn’t understand the Poll, there’s also a link to the web-based version too.
Since it’s delivered as part of a Microsoft 365 / Office 365 subscription, it’s a little less slick when dealing with users outside of the organization / tenant (the inline previews don’t show up, so outsiders will need to click the link and use the web UI, and will need to type their email address into the response too), so think of it as a friendly and visible way of collecting simple internal votes.
When you create an appointment in Outlook and decide to turn it into a Teams meeting by clicking the icon on the Meeting tab, a bunch of custom fields are added to the meeting item in your calendar to define how it should be handled by the Outlook application, allowing such functionality as right-clicking on an item in your calendar and joining the meeting from there.
Then there’s the text that gets added to the end of any existing appointment text, which gives dial-in info and provides a link for users who like to click on URLs or who are running a calendaring client which doesn’t support Teams natively. Some degree of customization can be done to this auto-text, but it’s an admin task rather than an end-user one.
LinkedIn’s #1 fan, Brian Galicia, got in touch to draw attention to an option in Outlook which lets you make every meeting a Teams meeting (since the days of meeting people face to face now feel like a distant memory). Fortunately, it only adds the appendages to a calendar appointment when you start to invite people to it, so if you put stuff in your calendar to remind you to do things In Real Life, it won’t get in the way.
The option is accessed from the main Outlook window, under File | Options | Calendar, and is just above the groovy feature which lets you choose to shorten the default meeting time, so as to allow you and the attendees to get out of your chair once or twice in a working day.
From the ToW history files: When you create a thing in your calendar that’s just for you, that’s an Appointment. When you start to invite other people to your thing, then it becomes a Meeting. The Outlook UI changes when you’re dealing with Meetings vs Appointments (e.g., see tracking information on who accepted your meeting invitation, etc).
When the Teams integration to Outlook was first rolled out, the workflow to create a meeting was typically to put the time in your diary, invite your desired attendees, then click the Teams Meeting button to add all the extra stuff that anoints the meeting to become a Teams one.
That was a one-way process, though – if you clicked in error or decided to forego the online element, you either had to hack out the properties and text (since merely removing the “join” links in the text didn’t get rid of the Join Meeting UI in Outlook, as that was lit up by the contents of the various custom fields in the item) or, more likely, ditch the meeting and create a new one.
Happily, Outlook now lets you do the removal from within its UI. You’ll find that under Settings on the Meeting tab, where you can also control some other functions, like whether external attendees need to be held in the lobby or whether you let them straight in.
The bypass feature is meeting-specific, so if you are scheduling 1:1s with customers or partners, you might want to let the striaght through, but if hosting a larger meeting then having a lobby could let you get your internal team straight before bringing in your guests.
There was a time when archiving email meant taking a few Megabytes of data away from the restricted space within your mailbox, and possibly storing it for posterity in an a PST file on your PC, where the mail would stay until eventually the file is either corrupted or deleted with no backup being taken first, whichever inevitable event happened first.
Thanks to Moore’s Law, mailbox capacity is now less of a constraint. Having too much clutter and the distraction that it causes is a more pressing issue than not having enough space.
There are tools – some mythical and magical – to reduce volumes of unnecessary emails, and automatic processing via features like the Focused Inbox or Clutter can help to filter out stuff that is getting in the way, but fundamentally the decision on whether to delete, defer, delegate or just leave it lying about, rests with the user.
There is still an AutoArchive function in Outlook, but you probably don’t want to use that.
Instead, look at the simpler “Archive” feature, which is available for Microsoft 365 users and appeared first in the web client before making it into desktop Outlook. If you haven’t used the Outlook Web App for a while, it’s worth having a look since it has evolved massively over the years, and often leads the way for new functionality and integration, compared to its desk-bound precursor. There is a view that eventually, the web client will replace Outlook on the PC.
If the Archive option shows up in the web UI (with suitable icon), the folder should also be visible in desktop Outlook in the main folder tree. Just like you have an Inbox, Drafts, Sent Items and so on, it will have been created for you but you may need to expand the view to locate it. And no, you can’t rename it…
Check out the Archive folder properties, and you can see its size on your own machine or on the server (assuming that you’re not storing everything in your mailbox within your Outlook cache).
To fire an email into the Archive folder from the desktop Outlook client, just press backspace if you’re currently viewing the message in the preview window. The default shortcut key to archive a message in Outlook Web App is E though you can reconfigure the app to use different shortcut schemes, in case you’re more familiar with other web clients. To see the shortcuts in Outlook web app at any time, just press the ? key.
Organising a meeting in Outlook means sending out requests to participate – effectively you’re creating an appointment or event in your own calendar, then converting into a meeting by inviting other people to join you. If you’re putting something in your diary and want other people to know about it, but without expecting them to join you (eg you’re going on vacation and presumably don’t want your teammates to tag along), simple tricks can reduce the annoyance you might foist onto your co-workers…
Who has responded? Have most people declined?
When you open a meeting you’re organising and which you do want people to respond to, you’ve always been able to see (in the Tracking tab) how many people have accepted or declined etc. A couple of years back, Outlook added the feature of Tracking if you’re an attendee, so anyone in the same tenant as the organizer can see who else has accepted etc.
If you are organising or attending a large business meeting with lots of attendees, it’s useful to be able to slice and dice the attendees more effectively – have most people declined and should I move the date, for example – click on the big Copy Status option at the top of the list.
It’s now easy to paste the info into a blank Excel sheet, and before even changing selection, hit the Format as Table option on the Home tab; confirm the selection area is OK, tell it you want to add a header row and choose a style that suits.
If you right-click the table and select Table > Totals Row then if you filter the headings – like the responses, for example, you’ll be able to quickly see how many Accepted, Declined and so on.
Well, thanks to the magic of macros, use this Address Book Resolver spreadsheet, and just paste the responses from the Copy Status… step into cell A1, then hit the Resolve button.
Some attendees might be external users (so won’t be known to your address book), and some of the names in the first column might not be unique enough to resolve, and will be highlighted (alongside external users) by a red Unknown in the Job Title column.
If you manually look up an unresolved internal user in the Outlook address book, and find the correct alias name for that person, paste it into the first column instead of their name, and re-run the Resolve function.
To use this sheet for resolving any list of bulk display names or alias names, just paste them into column A (and hide Columns B and C if you’re not using the output from a meeting invite tracking list).
To prepare the spreadsheet for use, download the Address Book Resolver file as above (here it is again). Open the ZIP file and open the enclosed XLSM file or save it somewhere on your machine, then open it. Make sure you Enable Editing, then Enable Content so you can run the Macro that does the lookups.
This is an evolution of the Alias resolver sheet posted back in ToW 417.