10 annoying habits your Outlook users need to break

Outlook seems to lend itself to worst practices. Luckily, a little education can help prevent a lot of user-induced headaches.

Outlook users probably generate the most annoying calls for support personnel. Word and Excel users want to know how to "do stuff," but Outlook users usually need something fixed. They're not malicious mistakes by any means, but Outlook is a complex tool and users are preoccupied with getting their work done — things just happen. Training goes a long way in many cases. If you can teach your users not to do these 10 things, you and your users will all be happier.

1: Clicking Reply All

When someone sends a message to multiple accounts, the recipients can respond to everyone by choosing Reply All instead of Reply. That means some of your users will get responses they don't need to see. It's a waste of their time. It's probably the most annoying thing Outlook users do. There's no cure for this one except to tell them not to. Some will ignore you, and some will do it accidentally anyway.

2: Using the all list

Many organizations have distribution lists so employees can send the same message to everyone on their team, everyone in the editorial department, all the managers, and so on. But one list usually goes to everyone in the organization. Users rejoice to learn that they can let everyone know when their daughters are selling cookies, when they're going on vacation, when they've moved their office, when they're collecting for a good cause... you see where this is going. This breach of good manners annoys everyone.

Tell your users to use the list judiciously — seldom, if at all. If it becomes a problem, restrict who can use the list.

3: Opening attachments from strangers

Some users see an attachment as a gift — surprise! They just can't help themselves. You can tell users not to open attachments, but good virus protection will usually protect the system, just in case. That's the good news. The bad news is, users still open attachments from strangers.

4: Clicking links

Clicking links is fun. They take you to cool sites with all kinds of offers and fun stuff — and embedded controls and scripts that do all kinds of evil things to the system. Most links are harmless, but most users can't discern a legitimate link from one that leads to a phishing site, hard drive failure, or worse.

Consistent training helps, but experience is the best teacher. Making this mistake carries a heavy fine: The user can't work until someone fixes the system. It's also humiliating and can be a bit scary for them. Implement the best software defenses you can, consistently remind users not to click links in unsolicited emails, and hope for the best.

5: Sharing stuff

I can't help wondering how much bandwidth and storage users waste spreading gossip and sharing angels will save the world chain letters, pictures of their offspring doing adorable things, and so on. Most organizations tolerate this misuse to promote harmony, even if it is annoying and wasteful. It's hard to put a price on good will.

6: Forgetting passwords

Long heavy mournful sigh, followed by a bit of gentle head banging.

Most users don't have to password-protect Outlook, but occasionally, you run into a setup where multiple users access their email via the same machine. To access their account, they have to remember their password. Good luck with that.

7: Ignoring messages

Some users just don't want to communicate via email. They don't like it and they don't want it. But in most organizations, email is no longer a convenience; it's how co-workers interact. Unfortunately, there's always one or two users who refuse to play nicely, who ignore emails or claim, "I never got that message." You can try to correct this behavior through training, but it usually turns into a management issue.

8: Sending email to everyone in their address book

Sending an email to everyone in the address book isn't easy to do — I mean, it's not easy to do by accident. Yet users still manage to do it. This is especially annoying if Outlook adds every sender to the address book as emails arrive. What a wasteful, annoying mess, especially if you have to get the administrator involved to try to recall them. (Just thinking about calling an admin makes me genuflect uncontrollably.) Training won't help here. Just say, "Don't ever do that again."

9: Deleting necessary items

One of the great support mysteries is why Outlook users delete contacts, only to discover they need them after all. This happens with all Outlook items, in fact: emails, tasks, appointments, and so on. You might encourage users not to be so quick to delete items. Let old items hang around for a while until they're truly obsolete. The exception is email; no one benefits from a neglected Inbox.

10: Deleting a profile

Outlook profiles relate accounts and settings to specific users. Most users will have only one, but having more than one is an efficient way to keep things separate. For instance, users might want a profile for work and another for home. You can also accommodate multiple users on the same machine  by creating a profile for each user. Unfortunately, they sometimes delete profiles. I'm not sure how or why they do it, but they do.

More Outlook tips

Other annoying habits?

Do your Outlook users get into other kinds of trouble? What solutions have you found to circumvent these problems? Share your experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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