Outlook 2007 Best Practices: Frequently asked questions

By Melissa MacBeth

This article is part of a series from Melissa MacBeth's Best practices for Outlook 2007.

Note For details on applying these principles, follow the links in the list and inline below to additional articles.

ShowSee links to the rest of the articles in this sequence.

In this article


Why show the Reading Pane on the right and not on the bottom?

Reading a longer column of narrow text is easier than reading a shorter, wider section of text. This is because it is easier to move your eyes down than left to right over long distances, which can cause you to move your head and neck and lead to fatigue. It is better to have the Reading Pane on, so that you don't have to open each message to read its contents.

What to do with folders I don’t need anymore?

The Navigation Pane folder list should be reserved for folders you use often. If it's filled with folders you don't even recognize, move all mail into the reference folder and delete your existing folders.

How can I make all messages sent only to me blue?

  1. On the View menu, point to Current View, and then click Customize Current View.
  2. In the dialog box, click Automatic Formatting.
  3. In the Automatic Formatting dialog box, click Add.
  4. In the Name box, type Me, and then click Font.
  5. In the Font dialog box, select Blue on the Color menu, and then click OK.

Automatic formatting options in Outlook 2007

  1. In the Automatic Formatting dialog box, click Condition.
  2. In the Condition dialog box, select the Where I am check box next to The only person on the To line and then click OK until all of the dialog boxes are closed.

Setting conditions for filtering e-mail in Outlook 2007

Fig. 2  Setting conditions for automatic formatting.

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When should I use conversation view?

Conversation view is useful when:

  • You check your e-mail less frequently, and therefore have more messages to view at a time.
  • You have many e-mail threads that have a lot of back-and-forth discussion.
  • You need to see the context of who has responded to whom.
  • You get a lot of e-mail.

By viewing your messages in conversation view, you can easily see which conversations have had the most back-and-forth discussion. In those cases, you might want to read and respond to only the last message in the conversation. You can also select an entire conversation and act on it. For example, there might be a lengthy series of messages where the last one simply states, "Thanks, that answers my question," so you can just delete the whole conversation.

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Should I keep personal and business e-mail together?

Reducing the number of places where you read e-mail does not mean that you should mix your work e-mail and your personal e-mail. A best practice is to use separate mail accounts for work and personal communications. You should, however, reduce the number of e-mail addresses that you have to deal with. Fortunately, with Outlook 2007, you can view multiple accounts at once (though only one Exchange Server account at a time). Hence, you can view your work e-mail (Exchange Server) in one data file and your Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) Web-based mail service (with the Office Outlook Connector) and/or Gmail account in another data file, all while in working in the same profile in Outlook 2007.

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How do read and unread states help me?

Read and unread states in Outlook 2007 help by showing you quickly which messages have been read at least once and which have not. However, the read and unread states of e-mail can be easily manipulated, so they're not a perfect record — just a tool.

To quickly mark a message as read, press the keyboard shortcut CTRL+Q. To mark it as unread, press CTRL+U.

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Why isn’t read/unread state enough?

Some people try to use the read and unread states to indicate whether a message is new or a reference item. But unread state is unreliable, because as soon as a message loses focus (when you click another message), it is automatically marked as read. Inevitably, messages will be reread, and the mental tax of figuring out what you need to do will be paid again. A far more efficient Inbox plan is to go through your messages and decide what to do with each one as you open it. Then it should leave your Inbox — not remain "unread."

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Why should I file my messages?

It is a best practice to have a central repository for your e-mail messages, so that you can refer to them after you've "dealt" with them. By having a limited number of folders to look in (1-Reference and 2-Personal), you don't have to worry about misfiling a message or needing to copy it into multiple folders if it applies to more than one topic or project.

That's not to say that there isn't a need for browsing through messages that are all on a particular topic or project. Outlook 2007 provides better tools — such as categories and search folders — so you can search effectively.

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Why should I have only one reference folder?

By having a single folder, you don't have to think about which folder holds which messages, and you know that everything in this folder is something that you have looked at before and wanted to keep.

Having multiple folders means that each time you file a message, you are forced to decide which folder to use. This becomes even more complicated if there is more than one appropriate folder per message. Since many folders go unused when there are multiple choices, this creates clutter.

Although it might seem like a big deal to leave all of your messages in your Inbox, there is a hidden cost you pay every time you look at a message and wonder, "Is this something I have to deal with or is this just here for reference?" There is also peace of mind gained from having an Inbox filled only with new things. Your Inbox is a place that other people can manipulate; what you put in your reference folder is strictly up to you.

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Why do I need different folders for DLs?

  • Different archiving rates: You should have different folders for different distribution lists (DLs) based on topic and frequency of AutoArchiving. For example, if you are on a carpooling DL, the e-mail in the Carpool folder should be deleted daily. A DL covering a work-related topic should be archived less frequently, such as annually.
  • Efficient conversation grouping: When you have separate folders for topical DLs, you can see entire conversations grouped together. Should you need to, you can efficiently search within a folder.

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Why do I need separate folders for DLs and RSS?

E-mail sent to large distribution lists and to RSS feeds can easily overwhelm your Inbox. Treat these streams of information much as you would the Sunday New York Times: There might be a useful or interesting article, but reading the whole paper would take more than a day. Let rules help you to read what is most interesting and pertinent to you.

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Which DLs should go to a folder instead of my Inbox?

Good candidates for a distribution list rule and folder are distribution lists that:

  • Receive a lot of e-mail.
  • Are directed to many people.

Corporate-level e-mail with important news (for example, from the CEO) and messages from your IT department about server downtime should not go into a folder. Messages to a DL that only occasionally contain useful or interesting content, regardless of frequency, should have a rule and a folder.

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How do I set up rules for RSS?

If you subscribe to several RSS feeds, treat them like another distribution list. Move the interesting RSS items (based on keywords) to the Inbox; otherwise, let them be automatically filed into RSS folders.

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What if I have Managed Folders or another retention or archiving solution?

Use the different Managed Folders in place of Auto Archive, and as always, follow your corporate policy! If your corporate policy dictates that you have multiple folders for each type of item, follow that policy.

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How do I set up the Automatic Replies rule?

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.
  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, click New Rule.
  3. In the Rules Wizard, click Check messages when they arrive, and then click Next.
  4. Under Step 1, select the Uses the form name form check box. (You may need to scroll down to find this option.)

Choose Forms dialog box in Outlook 2007

  1. Under Step 2, click Form name, and then select Accept Meeting Response and Tentative Meeting Response. After you add the two forms, click Close and then Next in the main Rules Wizard window.

Make sure to select Application Forms from the drop-down list at the top of the dialog box, or you might miss Accept Meeting Response and Tentative Meeting Response.

  1. Select the following exception: Except if the body contains specific words.
  2. In Step 2, click Specific words, type a space, and then click Add and then OK.

Step 2 Edit Rule dialog box in Outlook 2007

  1. Click Finish.

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How do I set up the “To: Me” rule?

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.
  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, click New Rule.
  3. In the Rules Wizard, click Check messages when they arrive, and then click Next.
  4. Select the Where my name is in the To or Cc box check box, and then click Next.

Rules Wizard in Outlook 2007

  1. Select the condition Stop processing more rules (you may need to scroll down to find this option), and then click Finish.

Step 2 Edit rule description click underlined value in Outlook 2007

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How do I set up the “meeting invitations sent to Inbox” rule?

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.
  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, click New Rule.
  3. In the Rules Wizard, click Check messages when they arrive, and then click Next.
  4. Select the condition Which is a meeting invitation or update (you may need to scroll down to find this option), and then click Next.
  5. Select the action Stop processing more rules (you may need to scroll down to find this option), and then click Finish.

Step 2 Edit rule description click underlined value in Outlook 2007

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How do I set up the “defer sent items” rule?

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.
  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, click New Rule.
  3. In the Rules Wizard, click Check messages after sending, and then click Next.
  4. Click Next again, which will apply this rule to every message you send.
  5. Select Defer delivery by a number of minutes.
  6. In Step 2, click A number of and then click OK in the Deferred Delivery dialog box. (The Minutes box will show a default of 1.)
  7. Click Next.
  8. Select the following exception: Except if marked as Importance.
  9. In Step 2, click Importance and then select High importance.

Step 2 Edit rule description marked with high importance in Outlook 2007

  1. Click Next and name this rule Sent Items.
  2. Click Finish.

Note    This is a client-only rule, which means that it will not work when Outlook 2007 is not running.

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How do I set up the “distribution lists” rule?

For each distribution list that you are a member of where you do not have to read every e-mail message, create a rule.

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.
  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, click New Rule.
  3. In the Rules Wizard, select Check messages when they arrive, and then click Next.
  4. Select the Sent to people or distribution list check box.
  5. In Step 2, click People or distribution list, add the distribution list (or similar distribution lists), and then click Next.
  6. Select the Move it to the specified folder and Stop processing more rules check boxes. (You may need to scroll down to find this option.)
  7. In Step 2, click Specified and select the appropriate distribution list folder, and then click Next.
  8. Select the following exceptions: Except if my name is in the To or Cc box and Except if the subject or body contains specific words.
  9. In Step 2, click Specific words and type all of the keywords that would cause you to want to read the e-mail. For example, if you are on a distribution list for general issues, but there are some issues that only you deal with, enter keywords for your issues. Click Add and then click OK.

 Tip    If you can think of no reason that you would want an e-mail message sent to this distribution list to be sent to your Inbox, consider asking to be removed from the DL.

Step 2 Edit Rule description in Outlook 2007

  1. Click Finish.

 Note    Repeat steps 2 through 10 for each set of distribution lists (one rule per folder).

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Why should I use rules?

As time goes on, you will likely receive more and more e-mail. You cannot read every message you receive — nor should you try to. Rather, just read the messages that are important for you to read. Rules will help you prioritize important messages and minimize distractions.

Tip    Just because a message has been sent to you (or to a distribution list you subscribe to), you do not have to read it, nor is a response expected.

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What dates do flags set?

Flag Start Date Due Date

Today

Today Today
Tomorrow Tomorrow Tomorrow

This Week

Two days from now or the last day of the work week, whichever comes first. (With the default settings, on Monday, this is Wednesday; on Tuesday, this is Thursday.) The last day of the work week

Next Week

The first day of the next work week The last day of the next work week

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What should I do with tasks and flagged mail from years ago in my To-Do Bar?

If you are not actively using tasks or flags for any purpose, select all of the items, right-click and then click Delete. This action will delete old tasks and remove the flag from flagged messages and contacts without deleting the items.

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What should I do with unused categories?

Delete all of the categories that you don't plan to use. The same category set applies to all items, so if you use a category for contacts, keep it.

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What’s the best way to choose colors?

When creating color categories, be thoughtful in your color choices. For example, do not choose the same color for @phone as @e-mail, but do choose similar colors (shades of green, for example) for all of your 1:1 categories. Over time, you will be able to look at your task list and determine just by color whether the task is presently actionable. For example, if @Home is purple, and you are at work, you can't do any purple tasks.

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Why schedule time for myself?

By scheduling time for yourself on your calendar, your free/busy information will be updated and people will be less likely to schedule you for that time. If you have a busy calendar, this may be the only way you can get dedicated time to do your job.

It also helps you to make a commitment to doing work – if you put it on your calendar, you should be committed to doing that work at that time. If someone schedules over your work time, be sure to reschedule your time. Don't cheat yourself!

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How do I handle the 10,000 messages in my Inbox?

If you have more than 20 items in your Inbox, process the last week of e-mail and then select all the rest of your e-mail and move it into your 1-Reference folder. Yes, you can do this, and it will feel great.

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Why do I get so much e-mail?

If you feel overwhelmed by your e-mail, you are probably receiving more than you can possibly handle, and you may need to set up more aggressive rules. Try analyzing where your e-mail is coming from by arranging your messages by From and then collapse all of the headers. Are you reading DLs that you don't need to read? If so, create a rule. If you change your view, don't forget to change it back!

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I have 10 minutes. What should I read first in my Inbox?

If you are short on time, for example, between meetings, you can read the e-mail in blue — messages sent directly to you. Often these messages are waiting on you for the next step and are the most important.

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How often should I read my e-mail?

For many of us, reading e-mail is nearly an addiction. Spend 20 minutes in the morning going through your e-mail, and then turn your attention to doing a daily review of your task list. Then get on with your day! Limiting your e-mail time to once in the morning and once at the end of the day could significantly improve your productivity. Try it for a full week and see for yourself.

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How can I manage complicated tasks?

Some tasks require more room for planning. For these tasks, use OneNote. For example, if you are planning a project with multiple steps, nested tasks, and so on, OneNote is a more appropriate tool.

If you just want to remember a few related tasks, list them in the body of the task. If there are related e-mail messages, drag them into the task.

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Should I keep personal and business tasks together?

If possible, keep your personal and business tasks in one place. Keeping one list reduces the number of places that you need to look for what needs to be done. Even if you already have only one list, use categories to sort your personal from business tasks and manage your list effectively. Your personal tasks will be stored on your company's Exchange server and could be visible to your IT department, so only put appropriate personal tasks on your list.

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What’s wrong with keeping tasks in my head?

Keeping tasks in your head doesn't work. It is liberating to depend on Outlook 2007 instead of your overtaxed brain to keep track of your tasks. You can stop spending brain power reminding yourself of your tasks ("Okay, remember to e-mail John about the templates, e-mail John about the templates…") and focus on the activity at hand.

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Why keep my tasks in Outlook?

Why a task list in Outlook 2007 works better than a paper list:

  • Paper lists can't automatically be kept up-to-date.
  • Paper lists can't be easily rearranged.
  • You can use Outlook Web Access to view your task list from anywhere.
  • Outlook 2007 integrates with OneNote 2007 and Office SharePoint Server and your mobile device/phone.
  • Paper lists can be easily lost.

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Advanced: How do I create a search folder for e-mail?

You can have easy access to a set of messages on a particular topic for a meeting. Create a category for your meeting, and then create a Search Folder with the following criteria: category <name> and not completed and from a certain time period. As you receive messages on that topic, mark them with the category. When you meet, mark complete on the messages that you have discussed.

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About the author

Melissa MacBeth photo Melissa MacBeth is a Lead Program Manager in the Office product group at Microsoft. She worked on several time management features for Outlook 2007, including the To-Do Bar, flags, flagging on send, and the Daily Task List. She lives in Seattle and enjoys gardening.

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Applies to:
Outlook 2007