Outlook Reading List

We spend a lot of time using Outlook – but very little time THINKING about how we are using it. Here is the reading list… in the recommended order of reading.  Spend time reading these articles – trust me it will improve your life. You will feel more in control and will be able to manage your work proactively!

But wait. Outlook is used for working with others. So share this with your entire team / department / organization. Try it as a group… you will get unimaginable results – faster execution, more accountability, more output with minimal effort!


Continue reading

Stop New Mail popup interruptions

Life Log


Recently went to see the India-NZ match one day match at Wellington – thanks to my good friend Murray Beer. Although India lost miserably, it was great fun to be there.

Now back to business …


Older Windows


Windows 8



File – Options – Mail



Windows 8 – Change PC Settings – Notifications


Windows 8 notification does not provide Flag and Delete options.




Home tab – Rules and Alerts – New Rule



Specify what Outlook should look for (the condition)


Specify the Action (show popup)


In some versions of Outlook, this option may not be available. In that case, choose the option display a specific message …

With Windows 8, remember to turn the notifications for Outlook 2013 ON (Settings – Change PC settings – Notifications)

Create as many rules as required for displaying alerts for only those messages which are important to you.

Manage Other Distractions

New Mail notification is just ONE of the distractions. But that is just one of many!

Colleagues, bosses, visitors, phone calls, meetings, chat notifications, SMS / Text messages, FB / Twitter updates, the list is endless.

Distractions are only going to increase. Which ones to suppress is entirely up to you!

Next article

We will see how to prioritize messages…

The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?

This article assumes that you are using Outlook (and Exchange server) for managing mails. However, the concepts explained here are applicable to any mail / messaging system. However, the remedies mentioned are specific to Outlook-Exchange only and may not work with other products.

Here are some (obvious) facts

  1. We spend a lot of time handling mails (replying to mails)
  2. We also spend a lot of time attending meetings
  3. Most of us are running against time – there is always significant backlog of pending work
  4. Even though we are capable of doing all the pending work, we simply do not seem to have enough time to execute it
  5. Due to this, our capability is not fully actualized – it hinders your growth

Here are some – not so obvious – facts

    1. Everything in Outlook requires at least two parties (sender and recipient)
    2. It is an interaction between YOU and OTHERS (everyone else who can interact with you including all your staff as well as external people like customers, vendors, etc.)
    3. You send mails and others send mails to you. Naturally, the number of mails you mails you RECEIVE are going to be more than mails you SEND.

When you send a mail you are trying to do YOUR WORK. When you reply to someone else’s mail, you are helping OTHERS do their work.

  1. Similarly, the number of meeting requests you SEND are bound to be much lesser than the number of meeting requests you RECEIVE.When you arrange a meeting, you are trying to get YOUR WORK done. When you attend a meeting called by someone else, you are helping OTHERS get their work done!
  2. When you say I spend so much time cleaning inbox, do you realize that you are spending that time helping helping OTHERS ?

Question: When do you do your work?

Very important question. The answer is surprisingly depressing.. the answer is…

Whenever I get time!

And whatever time you have you are literally WASTING in helping others!

Of course, I am not against you helping others. Everything we do is teamwork. But this is a highly skewed version of teamwork.

You are helping others at the cost of your own work!

This is what I call Outlook Paradox

Now let us try to pin down the root cause.

Root cause: false sense of “free” time

When you or others look at your calendar, the time which is not blocked for formal meetings is considered as FREE.

Others are free to request a meeting with you during the FREE time!

The question is – are you really FREE during that time? Is it not the time you get to do your own work?

But somehow, your actual work is never visible in the calendar. That is the root cause of Outlook paradox.

It is surprising that this simple and obvious fact is ignored by billions of people every day.

What is the solution?

The solution is simple. Stop using Outlook the way you currently are.

Turn the tables. Be focused.

Do your work first and then help others!

That is the concept. In reality we have to follow more specific steps. We will cover these steps in detail in upcoming articles. Here are the steps:

  1. Realize that TASK folder is the most important one!
  2. Focus on your work
    1. List down all the work (personal as well as professional)
    2. Specify the estimated time you will need for each work item
  3. Even if others ask you to do some work, monitor it in Task folder (not in Inbox)
  4. Find time to do your work
    1. Allocate time for your work in the calendar
  5. Delegate work in an efficient and effective manner
    1. Use Task delegation features of Outlook
    2. Use SharePoint Task list
    3. Use Microsoft Project for complex projects
    4. Use OneNote to capture and delegate tasks DURING meetings rather than AFTER meetings
  6. Prioritize mails which you respond to – don’t read and respond to every mail which arrives
  7. Learn to manage mails and tasks across multiple devices

Next article

In the next few articles, we will learn these steps in detail.

For now, just go to your task folder, create a new task and see all the options! Get ready for action…

Live search in Outlook

Usually we search for something when we need to…. ON Demand. This type of search works on the mails you already have in your mailbox.

However, in some cases you may want to know everything which is happening about a specific topic, specific person, an ongoing project or a specific type of work you do. The last one is called Color Categories… You can read about them in this article.

In this case, you want Outlook to automatically search for the area of interest on an ongoing basis.

This is called search folders. You specify what you want to search for and Outlook will create a special folder which contains the search results. When you receive more mails in future, Outlook will automatically search and update the folder.

This is called a Search Folder.

How to create a Search Folder?

Right click on the search folder…


It shows some common search conditions.


Scroll down and choose Custom to create a new type of search. Click Choose… button.


Now specify a name and click on Criteria… button.


Now the Advanced search dialog opens. This dialog has lots of options.. it looks inundating.

But don’t worry… it is very powerful.


In this case I want to search for any mail where the subject contains the word “Demo” and my name is in the TO line (no CC or BCC)

Explore the More Choices tab to understand all available options.


For illustration purpose, I have chosen many options here.

Don’t get put off by the Advanced tab.

Remember: Advanced = Very Powerful


This dialog gives you access to all fields. And trust me.. there are many many fields. Open the Field dropdown to see for yourself.

Here are the fields available in a Contact – for example…


I know this is a bit inundating… but look at it from another point of view… Microsoft has thought of even the smallest possible needs which we may have. You need not use all these fields. But now you KNOW that if you need them they are available!

Finally, click OK to create the search Folder.


Now you can just click on the Demo folder to see all the mails which satisfy the search criteria. Clicking on the folder is as good as going to Search textbox and adding all those criteria. Now it has become much simpler for you… just ONE click.

Of course the same message may be in Inbox or other folders. Search folder just DISPLAYS the message which meet the search criteria. It does not make a copy of these messages.

Therefore, you don’t have to worry about the Search folders consuming space in your mailbox.

The search results are segregated by folder location for your convenience. Of course you can customize the view to suit your needs.

What type of searches are good candidates for Search Folders?

Of course it depends upon your work and individual needs… but here are some common examples:

Search folders based upon color categories are a good idea.

Filtering on mails related to a specific customer, project or topic is another common usage scenario.

Sometimes just searching on a particular word may be useful. For example, you want to search for all resumes – Search on the word Resume and add one more condition – Has an attachment.

This is a very useful features. Go ahead and refine your search. Do let me know if you create some interesting search folders you create in your work context.

Happy Searching!

How to select (and delete) all old appointments in Calendar

Calendar view shows only Day, Week, Work Week and Month views. You can only select all appoints within a month. Even in the month view, CTRL A does NOT select all appointments.

In short, any bulk operation you want to do for appointments is a pain.

Solution is simple. Just change the view in Outlook.


Now all the appointments and meetings are shows as a simple list – like Inbox or Tasks..

Now you can sort, filter, multi-select any number of items and perform any operation you like – for example, Delete 0ld appointments or archive to another folder or PST.

AutoArchive does this automatically

Most of us don’t want old appointments to waste space in the mailbox – because the space is limited. The smartest way to clean this up is to run AutoArchive. We will cover this in the next article.

Share your calendar in few clicks

Often we need to arrange a meeting with some external party. Both are busy people. How do you share your free time with the other person?

Within the company, if you are using Exchange and Outlook, you can see each other’s Free / Busy time. But for external parties, this facility is not available.

Trying to make a list of free slots in next few weeks manually is obviously a lengthy process…

That is why there is an elegant way available.. in few clicks…

  1. Go to the Calendar… let us say it looks like this for next two weeks.image
  2. Now right click on the calendar and choose Share – Email CalendarSNAGHTML4b0c21f8[6]
  3. Choose the duration and level of detail you want to show. Usually there is no point in showing more than couple of weeks because the schedule is bound to change.image
  4. Click OK. Now a new email message is created with a calendar showing free and busy dates. Ctrl Click on each date to see the availability.
  5. Clicking on the hyperlink jumps to the details for that day.image
  6. This way the other party can find mutually convenient time without trial and error!

Key Learning: Right Click > Read Each Option >Learn!

Quick Parts in Word: Stop copy pasting from old files!

Common activity

Often we need to open an existing document, copy some part of it and paste it into another new document. Why does this happen? Because that part of text (or content) was reusable across documents.

There is a much better way to reuse text – called Quick Parts.

Solution: Quick Parts

Two simple steps.

  1. Create Quick Parts and
  2. Use the parts

Creating quick parts

Be on the lookout for text which is reusable. Select it and choose Insert – Quick Parts – Add to Quick parts gallery.



You can now specify a name for the content. You can even create different categories – by activity or department, for example. Notice that this content is stored in a special file called BulidingBlocks.dotx.


Reusing the content

Now the content is stored. You can use it in any document quickly.

Insert – Quick Parts – the content is now shown as a drop-down list. Click on it to insert it into the current document. That’s it.


Outlook also has quick parts

Outlook uses Word. Therefore, the same functionality is available in Outlook as well.

Quick parts for Word and Outlook are independent of each other. For Outlook it is stored in NormalEmail.dotm file

Techie Stuff: Deploying a common building blocks file

You can easily standardize the usage of building blocks across the organization.

  1. Create a building blocks template
  2. Store it in a shared location – SharePoint or File share
  3. If it is SharePoint, map the document library as a drive in the login script
  4. Use Group Policy to change the Building Blocks template path setting to point to this mapped drive
  5. That’s it.

There is more

We also have similar use concept for tables – Quick Tables, textboxes, headers and footers. All these are stored in the same building blocks file.

Add color to your life: Color Categories

The need

Outlook is a crowded and confusing place. There are mails, meetings, tasks, contacts … in large numbers. We tend to get lost in this deluge of information.  Incoming mails and appointment requests rule your life – Others are managing your time – not you Sad smile

Using color to categorize things visually can simplify this situation and put you back in control of your time and life.

Color categories

Inbox and tasks show categories by default (Outlook 2010 onwards) as a column.

Calendar also shows color categories.


25 colours available


Outlook does not know how you want to use the colors available.



You can and you SHOULD customize it…


Now you can use the colors in Inbox, Tasks and …


Calendar as well..

At a glance you can see how your time is being divided.


Try it NOW.

Tech Stuff

In case you goof up and create wrong categories, you can reset all to default by using a command line switch

…\outlook.exe /cleancategories

Show Off Demo: OneNote and Outlook

This is a new type of article. Impress your colleagues, boss, spouses, partners, soul mates, children by showing this impressive demo! I show you the steps and tell you what to speak Smile

Before you start this demo, check the requirements

Office 2010 or Office 2013

OneNote and Outlook installed.

Outlook must have at least one mailbox configured.

Demo: Meeting notes

What you have to do is in black color. What you have to say is in blue color.

  • Open Outlook calendar
  • Click on any meeting
  • How will you take notes for this meeting? Open a blank Word document and type meeting details all over again? Obviously not!
  • Right click on the meeting, choose Meeting Notes
  • If it asks what type of notes, Choose


  • Now Outlook will ask you to choose the notebook in OneNote. Choose any one.


  • A new page will be created with meeting name.


  • Unlike Word, all the meeting details are automatically added. Did you expect that?
  • Now type some random notes. One sentence should be “Action Point Demo”
  • Let us say this is an action point which must be completed by tomorrow.
  • Right click in that sentence and choose Outlook tasks – Tomorrow


  • Now go to Outlook and open Tasks folder. Select Tasks. Not Follow up.
  • Point to the task which was automatically created by OneNote.


  • See – even before I finish the meeting, I already know my tasks.
  • Pause for people to appreciate the integration
  • Now when I mark this task as complete (mark the task as complete in Outlook) what do you expect?
  • Your audience will say something like, the OneNote task should be updated
  • DO NOT go to OneNote yet.
  • This is an amazing example of how these OneNote and Outlook integrate with each other. Usually we would have received the Minutes of Meetings a day later and I would have forgotten to execute my action point on time. What happens then? Delays and fire fighting! Sounds familiar?
  • One more thing – this was my own task. But what if I wanted to delegate task to someone? No problem, we could have chosen Custom task and Assigned it to someone else. That way I can still monitor the task and check for delays.
  • Wait for some response from the audience
  • Basically you have to spend at least 20 seconds before you return to OneNote
  • Now go to OneNote and notice that the Task is already marked as complete


  • That is OneNote for you. Use it next time you are in a meeting.


    Practice this few times to perfect the demo.

    Cheat sheet

    Mark as task in OneNote – it reflects IMMEDIATELY in Outlook task folder.

    The catch is – when you mark it as complete in Outlook, it takes around 20 seconds to refresh the OneNote task status. That is why you have to mark it as complete in Outlook and kill some time by talking some relevant stuff before you return to OneNote.

    If you return to OneNote too soon, the task will not be shown as complete and the demo will fall flat Sad smile



  • Take an appointment with yourself!

    Please read the previous article before you read this one.

    Remember. Your work is higher priority than work with others want you to do.

    Where is your pending work listed?

    Usually scattered across multiple locations : Mind, Notepads, Tissue papers, Mobile notes, mails, minutes of meetings, etc.

    That is not a good idea because you can’t see all the pending work in one place. If you don’t see something you don’t end up doing it.

    Step 1: Create Tasks

    Go back to your core job description or KRAs or organizational commitments sheet – whatever you have signed up for. Take each item from there and break it down into smaller pieces of work and add them to tasks. Using color categories mark them as Core work.


    Think of all the other pending tasks and add the to task folder as well.

    Anything in this color is additional information and optional reading. You can move to the black area ahead without losing context.

    Common mistake: Adding work to Calendar

    Calendar and Task are two different things. If you are blocking specific time for whatever reason, put it in the calendar.

    Work is different. We decide What to do and When it should be completed (the deadline). However, we don’t specify when exactly it will be done. That is called a TASK.

    Calendar is for meetings, events, leave , seminars, off-sites, fieldwork, training programs, etc. Here we block time to say EXACTLY WHEN something is going to happen. If it does not happen, it may be rescheduled but that is not very important.

    Step 2: block YOUR time to do YOUR work

    This is a genuine problem. We simply don’t have time to handle all the mails, attend all meetings and handle all tasks. But now that we know that tasks are the priority, we must focus on them.

    If others see that your calendar is free, they are bound to send meeting requests. So before that happens, make sure that you block your time for your work.

    1. Open the calendar. Better to be in the Work Week View
    2. Right click on Tasks folder and choose Open in New Window
    3. Make the tasks window smaller so that you can float it above the calendar window and see both
    4. Look a the tasks. Choose which ones are important
    5. Decide which date and time you want to do that work
    6. Drag the task and drop it on that date
    7. Adjust the time based upon your estimate of how long the task will require

    Now think what you just did.

    Remember, dragging the task to calendar is just a convenience. It DOES NOT mark the task as complete. When you finish the task, you must go and mark it as complete in the task folder.

    “I took an appointment with myself to do my own work” = Time Management

    Sounds funny. But this is the simplest form of time management.


    Start creating the task list and drag the tasks to calendar to block time. Start it immediately.

    Creating tasks is your first task Smile

    Next article

    In the next article we will understand how you can refine your work in Outlook using custom fields.