Outlook Categories – Improving Productivity

Everyone wants to work more efficiently because they would then have more time to do the things they would rather be doing.  This is an obvious statement of course but it is why I am frequently asked to give advice on how to best manage and setup users Outlook.  They are overwhelmed with huge inboxes and have no system in place to manage the constant stream of information.

There are many features in Outlook that will help you manage it better.  One of these features is using Categories.  I have come across so many that have not used categories at all.  They are just not sure of their purpose or never took the time to learn how to use them.  One way to picture using them is the same way you use tabs in binders or hanging files. 

Categories can be customized to so that you can add those you want or remove those you do not.  Just click on Categories – All Categories.   On Outlook 2007 and 2010 categories is on the Home tab.

Once the categories are setup you can use the Quick Click.  This is great if you need to change to the same category for multiple items.  It removes multiple steps and saves a lot of time.    I use the feature frequently.  I also use the Filter option on Outlook.  This is so much more convenient in the new versions of Outlook.  Now all you need to is go to the Filer option located on the Home tab and select what your filter is based.  I frequently filter on the Categories option as it allows me to only see the emails for that specific category aka project without having the clutter of all of the other items.

I also use categories to create rules to automatically move emails to specified folders.  Yes there are other ways to do this of course but I have found this works for me as the content of the email changes but the category is more broad e.g. Financial. 

Check out Categories and how they can help you improve the management of your Outlook and improve productivity. 

Do you use Categories? Post a comment on how you use them or feel free to ask question.



Outlook – IMAP and Gmail account – What are those extra folders

What is the best method for synchronizing your Gmail with your Outlook?  The best method is  IMAP as it allows a two-way synchronization as well as allowing multiple devices to synch with your Gmail account.  It also results in folders being created for all of the labels on your Gmail account, including the All Mail Folders as well as others that you may not want to have in your Outlook folder structure.


Gmail does not use folders instead labels are used.  The Gmail/All Mail Folder contains all of your messages in Gmail, including sent and archived messages. Any messages that you see in your inbox will also appear in the [Gmail]/All Mail folder. This is why there will be so many more items in that folder than any other.


Solution Options – how to remove the unneeded folders from Outlook?  Well there are actually two way to address it, either via your Gmail account or Outlook.  


Outlook, you can do either of:

1. Unsubscribe the folder

2. Change the synchronization options for the folder, so that it ignores it or downloads headers only.


Gmail, you can enable the Advanced IMAP Controls lab, then hide All Mail from IMAP on the Labels page


Why Google thinks labels are better than folders:



A conversation can have more than one label

You can only put a message in one folder

A conversation can be in several locations (Inbox, All Mail, Sent Mail, etc.) at once, making it easier to find later

You have to remember where you filed a message to retrieve it

You can search conversations by label

You can’t always do folder-specific searches


Multiple Calendars

Can you have them on Outlook? Absolutely yes and I find it quite useful especially with the Overlay feature.


Having so many items on one calendar for personal, business and family was getting to be a lot to manage on one calendar.  So I created an additional calendar on my Outlook for my family’s schedule.  Right-Click on your Inbox Folder (if you select your main calendar instead it will be put below it) – select New Folder – type Calendar.


I am now able to keep each of the calendars separate to easily manage my business day but if I need to see an overview of all the day’s activities I overlay the calendars by clicking on the arrow on the tab on the calendar





Can’t Find an Email

Oh No! I can’t find that email.

Are you like me in that Outlook is your lifeline to organizing your professional and personal life?  Do you have multiple folders and sub-folders to help you do it.

Even the best organized person needs help finding emails at times.  But when you do a search it can not find the email – you know you saved it.  It may be because Outlook searches on the main folder not the sub-folders.

Now what to do?  Do an advanced find by entering ctrl+shift+F. Select the box at the bottom to search all sub-folders or to search specific sub-folders click the browse button next to IN box.

If found, it will show in which sub-folder it is located under IN FOLDER heading.



Personal Folders- Purpose and Mgmt

How do you manage your Personal Folders.  Do you keep everything that was ever sent to you in one large folder.  Or do you deligently review emails and sort them into sub-folders.  Of course, how we manage our emails is very much a part of how we manage things in general. 

Typically when I am assisting someone with improving their management of Outlook.  I start with asking them to think of Outlook Personal Folder as a physical filing cabinet.  We would not just put everything into a file cabinet without organization or folders, without regard to size.  Sooner or later, the filing cabinet would come to full and it would be highly inefficient way to manage your files.  Well Personal Folders are the same, just electronic.

 Once I explain this and what I plan on doing e.g. setting up sub-folders and removing any unnecessary email.  By and large my customers walk away with a sense of empowerment with their new organization and efficient way to manage their emails, but more importantly improving their productivity.

Outlook can and should be used to improve your productivity and time management.

Francine Otterson

Mailbox Space and Attachments

Need more space on your Outlook mailbox?  Removing the attachments may be the solution you need.

 This can be done manually by right-clicking the attachments on each email then selecting Save As.  Once done repeat the steps and selet remove.  This does remove it and save space on Outlook but unless you do 3rd step and put a link to the attachment there is no cross reference between the email and the attachment

 Another, more automated option would be to use a third party tool such as the one from Sperry www.sperry.com    these tools automatically strip off attachments and place it in a designated directory and replace the attachment with a link to it instead.  Therefore, saving needed space on your Outlook mailboxes.  Plus the added benefit of having attachement saved to a network directory for central access that is backed-up. 



Customizing Outlook Today

Do you want Outlook Today to start-up showing the calendar or perhaps the Task folder.  Well, if you do not like the standard Outlook Today page you can change it to start-up with any Outlook folder by going to Tools- Options -Other – Advance Options.  From there just select the folder you want Outlook Today to open. 


Keeping track of email conversations

Managing emails is like managing multiple conversations at once, with a delay.    It can be difficult to keep track of what was said as well as when to whome you replied or forwarded the messages.

 Some solution to make it easier.  You can sort your Inbox by conversation or subject.  Another option that is more concise is to open the email, select Find – Related items.  It will dispaly all emails relating to that email.  

Sharing Contacts

Sharing Outlook contacts seems simple enough and it is simple.  Well at least until you need to have those shared contact show in the Address book. I had installed a third party tool for our customer to use with their shared contacts and it worked great with each of there main contacts but not the shared. 

After some research I discovered the shared contacts needs to be in each of their Address books in order for it to work. Now I tried every which way to accomplish this to no avail, my next step check the Microsoft Newsgroups. And yes, I found the solution provided by Sue Moesher and it worked.  I was quite impressed with the work-around that was posted by Sue and my customer is very pleased.

 But, why is this so cumbersome to have shared contacts in the Address book.  Is there an easier way to do this I have not been able to find it.  But I do know it needs to be easier especially if having shared contact in the Address book is a necessity for Third party tools and various functions in Outlook


Mutlple Accounts and Organization

Setup Outlook to help organize and manage your day.  We all receive a number of emails for various reasons including those from family, business and generic. 

Outlook can be setup to use mutliple accounts so take advantage of it by setting up account for specific purposes.  You may want to create mutliple Yahoo or Gmail accounts, one for family and friends another for business.  Personally, I use Yahoo for family and friends, another account for business and Gmail for generic.  

Setting this up give you the ability to setup Rules based on “Through Specified Account”.  I have setup  Rules for all incoming messages for each of my accounts to move emails into specific folders.  I then added these folders to favorite.

Now with a quick glance in Outlook favorites I can see quicky what I have and what has priority allowing for a much more efficient processing of email.   This is just one way of many to use Outlook to help you work smart – setup what works for you best.