In the next series of posts on tech hacks for assistants we are going to look at MS Outlook. Outlook is the absolute key piece of software for assistant and all of us should be advanced users on this one. As an assistant juggling a number of diaries and inboxes I was practically on Outlook all day. Having a few hacks in my back pocket meant that I was able to navigate the software slightly quicker and I also looked like a total Outlook genius in front of my boss which made him much happier letting me get on with managing his diary! Here are my top 40 Outlook hacks for assistants.

  1. Outlook can automatically add public holidays to your calendar and it has nearly 100 different locations to choose from so it is well worth putting these in if you work closely with offices in other locations. To add public holidays go to Options > Calendar > Add Holidays, and choose the countries that you are working with.
  2. To add a second time zone to your calendar go to Options >Calendar>Time zones>Show a second time zone. This is great if you are setting up meetings with different countries on a regular basis.
  3. If you want to highlight your Executive’s emails so that you see them as soon as they come into your inbox you can change the colour of the subject heading. To do this go to  View>View Settings>Conditional Formatting (or Automatic Formatting) and select the appropriate colour.
  4. To disable your outlook notifications go to Options>Mail and then disable the Display a Desktop Alert option.
  5. To keep a declined meeting for your records or to keep it in your calendar you may Copy and Paste this meeting (Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V), decline the original meeting and keep the copy.
  6. To look for an email in the search function with a attachment simply type into the search bar ‘from: Name of Person hasattachment: yes’
  7. Ctrl+1 and Ctrl+2 can be used to move between the inbox, calendar, contacts etc.
  8. To quick insert your signature, Just hit Alt+n, then type “as” and Enter.
  9. To create a recurring meeting invitation for colleagues or internal employees at your company, click Appointments. In the box that appears, enter the recipients to the meeting, the meeting name, text that you always want to appear in the message body and anything else that might be relevant. Save it as an Outlook Template. To retrieve your saved templates go to New Items>More Items>New Form. Under Look In select User Templates in File System. Here you will find your saved templates.
  10. Ctrl+R can be used to quickly reply to email
  11. Click Alt+R to reply to all in email or switch to the work week calendar view
  12. Click Alt+W to forward  an email or switch to the weekly calendar view
  13. Ctrl+M+F9 to quickly start the Send/Receive process
  14. Alt+S can be used to quickly send an email
  15. Ctrl+G opens the “Go to date” dialog which can jump to any date in the calendar
  16. Copy any text to your clipboard, then in Outlook press Ctrl-V. Outlook creates a new message (or note or whatever item, depending on the folder you’re viewing) with the text already pasted.
  17. Desktop notifications are pretty distracting but if you want to know when your Executive emails straight away you can set up a rule to allow this. Firstly turn off all desktop alerts under the Mail Options, then create an Outlook rule to display alerts for messages from specific people sent only to you.
  18. T move messages that don’t directly relate to you (that you have only been CC’d into) go to Rules>New Rules…. Then click the “Advanced Options” button. In the Rules Wizard, select “where my name is not in the To box” and then in the next screen, “move it to the specified folder.”
  19. For any search you perform often, just save the search for quick access. Click on Search Folders in the left navigation menu, select “New Search Folder,” and then either use the wizards or manually customize the search to your specifications.
  20. If you regularly write the same text you can save it as a Quick Part for easy insertion into your emails. Simply highlight the text in the composer window, then switch to the Insert tab>Quick Parts>Save selection to Quick Parts gallery. In future, when you start typing the phrase, you’ll see it pop up as a suggestion – hit return to insert it in full.
  21. To defer sending an email. Write your email, then switch to the Options tab>Delay Delivery. This opens a requester with a “Do not deliver before:” field; enter a date and time, then click Close. After you hit Send, the message will be held until the specified time for sending.
  22. Outlook can group emails into conversations, so that a single click shows all related messages together. Go to the View tab and ticking Show as Conversations. Click the Arrange By>View Settings from the dropdown menu to configure additional grouping options.
  23. Use the filter option to quickly search for cdertain types of emails such as those with attachments, those dated within a specific time period and so forth. Within your filtered view, you can type into the regular search box to drill down further.
  24. Block all future email from a sender by clicking the Junk dropdown on the Home tab>Junk E-mail Options. This opens a dialogue box that lets you specify what you count as junk and what you don’t – here you can blacklist entire domains and even entire countries.
  25. If an email sender is not junk but not relevant at the moment you can click Ignore. New emails from this sender will be sent to the trash folder as soon as they arrive.
  26. You can create new emails, appointments, contacts etc. using the New Items dropdown on the Home tab. If you don’t want to delve into the Outlook interface, right-click on the Outlook icon in the Windows 7 or 8 taskbar to open a list offering direct shortcuts to create any sort of new item.
  27. If you find yourself regularly performing a particular task then Quick Steps can save you time. You’ll find a set of predefined Quick Steps in the middle of the Home tab, but you can also programme your own Quick steps. Click the dropdown arrow>New Quick Step to create a customary programme that can categorise, move, flag and delete messages with a single click.
  28. To keep your side menu clutter free add folders as favourites. Go to View>Folder Pane>enable Favourites.
  29. If you use Outlook and SharePoint at work, you can see contacts in your organization. If you have an account on Facebook or LinkedIn, you can also use the Outlook Social Connector to view updates from those sites without having to leave Outlook. Click View>People Pane>Account Settings to get everything set up.
  30. Use the Link Contacts feature to link multiple contact entries for a person together so that the information is more easily accessible.  Click the contact you’re interested in and view their information by choosing Home>People. On the right of the screen, click Link Contacts, and a dialog will open showing the contact entry or entries for that person. In the Search People box type some identifying information for that person and Outlook will return any other contact entries which may be a match for that person. If they are the same person, click on that entry to link the details.
  31. You can set up bulk emails and schedule them later in the month by using the delay sending function. This is great for birthday messages and thank-you notes after a big event.
  32. Use the virtual Post-it notes for reminders, quick notes, temporary bits of text or anything else. Click Ctrl+Shift+N.
  33. Remember to use Recall when you have accidently sent an email.  Go to Sent Items and double click into the sent email , then go to Message>Actions>Recall This Message. The dialogue box will give you two options: Delete unread copies of this message and Delete unread copies of this message and replace with a new message. Remember to tick the box option Tell me if recall succeeds and fails for each recipient
  34. The Quick Access Toolbar is great if you use certain actions regularly. To set up a Quick Access button go to the top far left on your home screen and you will see a drop down icon.  Select this icon to be presented with a drop down menu and click ‘More Commands…’ You will now be taken to a pop-up box where you can add or remove Quick Access buttons.
  35. To move emails to a calendar appointment Right click on the relevant email and select Move from the drop down menu, click on Calendar and this will open up a new appointment in your diary containing the relevant email.
  36. You can use Smart Art in Outlook as you would in PowerPoint. Go to New Email>Insert>Smart Art.
  37. Use Outlook categories to help identify items that are important to you. By assigning colours to categories, you can quickly see what different messages, appointments and tasks relate to. To sort your categories, click Categorise>All Categories and rename the existing ones. You can change colours, add new categories and set shortcut keys for each category here. To add an item to a category, select it and press the shortcut key.
  38. You can apply retrospective filing to important messages by renaming their subjects to make them easier to find. Open the email in a new window and click in the subject line. Delete the old subject and type the new one in. Click ‘Yes’ to confirm the change.
  39. If you often need to view the calendars of everyone on your team at the same time, you can create a calendar group. Begin by clicking Calendar. Then, in the Manage Calendars group of the Home tab, click Calendar Groups>Create New Calendar Group>enter the name of the group>OK. Select the names of the contacts you want to add to the group>Group Members>OK.
  40. You can archive appointments you no longer need by changing your calendar properties and setting up AutoArchive. To do this, right-click your calendar>AutoArchive>Default Archive Settings>Apply>OK.

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