This was first published in Exchange Messaging Outlook, August 2005. It was written prior to the Outlook 2007 beta release but applies to current versions of Outlook as well. As the saying goes: "the more things change, the more they stay same". It's certainly true in the Outlook world.
This is a list of my favorite features in Outlook. These features are available in all versions of Outlook, although the menus may have changed in later versions
1. Copy Data From Table View
Did you know that instead of using export to move Outlook data into other programs, you can copy data from a table (or card) view and paste it into any program that accepts paste? By creating custom views with just the fields you need and filtering the data, you can easily control the data that is displayed and copied.
When the application is OLE aware (such as Microsoft Word) you'll need to use Paste Special, As Text or paste into Notepad first, then copy it again, otherwise you'll paste Outlook items and forms into the document.
2. Search Any Folder (or Folders) From the Inbox
You can use the Find pane or Instant Search to search any (or all) folders without leaving the Inbox. If the Find pane is not displayed above your folder list, press the Find button on the toolbar. You can Ctrl+E to jump to the Search field or show the Find pane. Type your search words in the Look for field, select the folders you want to search from the Search In, Choose Folders menu and click Find Now.
Find is a little slower than using Advanced Find and has fewer search options, but it's really handy if you know the folders the items you need are in and need to search for different item types. My only complaint is that the search subfolder option in the Choose Folders menu is disabled by default, while most people complain because Outlook searches older items first. This is because I'm usually looking for older items, but I almost always want to search subfolders.
With all of the third party search tools that are available for Outlook, you may think that Outlook doesn't have good search tools. While they could be better (and Instant Search is much better), both Find and Advanced Find work very well once you understand how they work. Along with Find and Advanced Find, you can use filters with Views to control what is displayed and how it's displayed.
The filter dialog is used for Advanced Find, Search Folders, and in Automatic formatting in Views as well as filtered views. When you need more powerful filtering, you can use the SQL tab to construct better search criteria, or use the hidden QueryBuilder to create AND and OR searches in Outlook 2002 and up. (Note, the SQL tab is not available for Automatic formatting.)
Get the registry key at Query Builder.
Tip: In older versions of Outlook, you can create Advanced Finds and save the searches as *.oss files. Copy the *.oss files to a folder in Outlook and you won't have to look for the searches when you need them. It's not quite as fast as a search folder, because it's not continually searching, but it works with any version of Outlook that supports Office Saved Searches (oss).
4. Drag and Drop to Create New Items
Need to create a task or appointment for a message you just received? Just drag the message to the Task or Calendar folder icon and you'll create a new item containing the information from the original item.
When you right click and drag to the folder, you can choose between move and copy and whether to insert the item as text or an attachment.
If you aren't into dragging, look on Outlook's Edit menu for Move to Folder and Copy to Folder to create a new item in another folder, or look on the File menu of an open message. You can also right click on the message in the message list, but your only option is Move to Folder.
5. Natural Language Dates and Times
You may not know what date 3 weeks from tomorrow is, but Outlook not only understands what you are asking, it also knows the answer. Pretty smart, huh? Outlook knows most holidays that always fall on the same date, such Christmas and Halloween, along many phrases like "now", "today", "next week", "next month", and "the day after tomorrow" and you can use them in any date field in Outlook, including Tasks and Calendar as well as on the Advanced filter tab.
Learn more about Natural Language Shortcuts at Using Natural Language Phrases and Time or Date Shortcuts
6. Date and Time Shortcuts
Date and Time shortcuts are technically part of the natural language feature, but it's so cool (and my favorite Outlook feature) that these shortcuts deserve their own place on my list.
Why type 12 days after christmas when you can save a few keystrokes? Just type
12/25 +12d or 12/25 12d instead.
3 weeks from tomorrow is 3w 1d (or 3w +1d).
Outlook uses the date in the date field as the beginning date for the calculation. If the date in the field is the date you want to begin from, either type over it with the period you want to move ahead to or leave the date in the field and add the time period at the end, like this:
Thu 8/18/2005 3w 1d
Outlook's shortcuts are especially handy when setting times. Typing 125p is much better than selecting from the time picker or typing out 1:25 pm. Outlook usually uses your business hour settings when you enter a time so you don't need to specify an a or p, but I make it a habit to use a or p every time so I'm sure it's for the correct time.
Learn more about Date and Time Shortcuts at Using Natural Language Phrases and Time or Date Shortcuts
7. Create a Contact From an Email Message
Do you need to create a contact from someone who just sent you an email? While you can drag the message to the contacts folder to create the contact, if you don't need a copy of the message saved with the contact, you can save time by right clicking on their address in the preview pane or open message and choosing Save as contact.
That right click menu has other useful options too, including bringing up their contact record, dialing their phone number, and creating a rule based on their address.
8. Colorizing Views
Did you ever wish you could mark messages from your boss in big hot pink text so you could easily see his messages mixed in with all of the junk mail you receive? Well, you can. It's called automatic formatting (conditional formatting in Outlook 2010) and works on any table view in any folder.
You can set up simple automatic formatting rules using Outlook's Organize, Using colors (open Organizer from the Tools menu) or create more advanced rules using the Automatic formatting dialog. Note: Organizer was removed from Outlook 2010 and up, however you can still use Automatic, or Conditional Formatting as it's now called. Look for on the View ribbon, View Settings dialog in Outlook 2010 and up. See Where is the Organizer? for more information.
We have a tutorial here: Use Automatic Formatting to Highlight Messages
When you create the automatic formatting rules using the organize pane, the colors are part of the current view, but if you create the rules from the Define Views menu, you can create the automatic formatting rules for any view. To open the Define views dialog browse View, Arrange By (Outlook 2003), Current view, Define views. Choose the view you want to add automatic formatting rules to and click Modify, then Automatic formatting.
Remember that automatic formatting is a feature of Views, not Rules Wizard, and the formatting is "lost" if you change views or move items to another folder and you need to reapply the view to bring the colors back. Also, automatic formatting does not work in the Day/Week/Month view, you'll need to use labels to colorize items in that view if you have Outlook 2002 or 2003. Automatic or conditional formatting colors do not override colors assigned by color categories in Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010.