Great ways to boost your productivity on Microsoft Outlook

Do you depend on Microsoft Outlook for your e-mail and scheduling needs? Are you annoyed with the e-mail client?

Well, join the club–thousands of Outlook users are lobbying Microsoft for improvements in the next version.

But this week let’s not just complain about Outlook; I’m here to tell you how to make it better. Read on for tips and tools that’ll make you more productive, right now.

Turn Off Outlook’s New-Message Alerts

Wait, did you read that right? Turn off Outlook’s you’ve-got-mail alerts? Why on Earth would you want to do that? In a word: productivity.

Think about it: New messages are constantly flowing into your inbox, and by default Outlook alerts you to each and every message.

That’s not much different from a co-worker popping his head into your office every five minutes to ask a question. Talk about productivity-killing interruptions!

Consequently, you might want to try life without the alerts. Disabling them is easier than you might think:

Choose Tools, Options, and click E-mail Options. Click Advanced E-Mail Options. Uncheck the box next to “Play a sound.” Uncheck the box next to “Briefly change the mouse cursor.” Uncheck the box next to “Show an envelope icon in the notification area.” Uncheck the box next to “Display a New Mail Desktop Alert.” Click OK, and you’re done.

Outlook will continue to fetch (or receive) new mail at regularly scheduled intervals, but without any of the usual interruptions.

In other words, you can review your inbox on your schedule, not Outlook’s.

Modify the Subject Lines of Archived Outlook E-Mail

Let’s look at another e-mail annoyance: Subject lines that no longer match the content of the message.

Suppose, for example, you and some co-workers start exchanging e-mails about the company picnic. Somewhere along the way, the conversation shifts to sales forecasts, at which point someone pastes in some new figures. Now it’s an e-mail you want to keep for future reference.

Just one problem: The subject line still reads “company picnic.” That won’t be particularly helpful when you go looking for a message about sales figures.

Fortunately, Outlook has a hidden feature that lets you edit an e-mail’s subject line. Here’s how:

In Outlook, open the e-mail in question (You can’t do this with message previews; you have to double-click the message to open it in a new window.) Click anywhere in the Subject line to place your cursor. Edit the subject as you see fit. Hit Enter, then accept whatever warning Outlook gives you.

That’s it! Now you can file the e-mail with a more fitting — and recognizable at-a-glance — subject line.

Use Outlook to Access Your Twitter Account

If you use Outlook to manage your contacts, calendar, e-mail, and the like, why not use it for Twitter as well? That’s the idea behind TwInbox, a free plug-in that adds a Twitter toolbar to Outlook.

Once installed, TwInbox adds a new folder to your inbox. (It can also create individual folders for each sender, which can be helpful from an organizational standpoint–unless you follow lots of people.)

From there you just supply your Twitter user name and password, and presto: It fetches all the tweets from your account and lets you read them just like you read e-mail.

A click of the toolbar is all it takes to send out your own update, send a direct message, reply to a message, or retweet something. TwInbox cleverly auto-shortens long URLs via TinyURL.

The toolbar also shows you a preview of new tweets as they arrive, which saves you having to switch to the tweets folder every time you want to check for updates.

In short, TwInbox is a terrific little tool, and a must-have for any Twitter-loving Outlook users. I do wish it could handle more than one Twitter account, but I can’t argue with the price: TwInbox is free.

Add a Spell-Checker to Outlook Express

Reader Karl needs help with his spelling. Specifically, he needs a spell-checker for Outlook Express, because the method he’s using now is the very definition of “hassle.”

Karl says he composes new messages in WordPerfect, spell-checks them there, then exports the text for import into Outlook Express. That’s insane! (Seriously, Karl, ever heard of copy and paste?)

Fortunately, this hassle-packed procedure can end right now. The first option is to install a third-party spell-checker, like the aptly named Spell Checker for OE. (Although our download page says it’s shareware, the author’s product page says the add-in is free.)

But instead of that, I recommend upgrading to Windows Live Mail. This free OE replacement from Microsoft offers a more streamlined interface and some much-needed new features, including dynamic search (results appear as you type), spam filtering, and a calendar that can sync with your online Windows Live calendar. It has a spell-checker, too.

This works in Outlook 2003 and 2007; I’m not sure about earlier versions.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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