Software optimize

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.

About

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.

122 comments
compwrench
compwrench

And folders inside deleted folder? Just make new folders on the Outlook root. Absolute # 1 thing in set up is dump reply all...never ever use that. 2010 you cant dump it off the ribbon (that I could find) but minimize ribbon and put your reply, forward, new, attach, delete, etc on the quick access toolbar.

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

They just implemented a "policy" that everyone is to have a signature. It's supposed to be HTML, in a specific font, with specific things in it. What I don't understand, is why do I need my e-mail address in the signature, if the message already has it? I guess that you just cannot fix stupid, and management gets whatever they want.

Bruce Epper
Bruce Epper

Most problems with distribution lists are easily remedied by controlling who can use them in the first place. Very few employees should be able to send an email to the entire company. And for those who will take the time and effort to get around these restrictions by adding each individual in the contact list manually, you can restrict the number of recipients an email can be sent to.

david.tredinnick
david.tredinnick

None of theses are unique to Outlook users - get a better title

wendygoerl
wendygoerl

Why does this article assume this is only an Outlook concern? There's nothing here that doesn't apply to any email service.

msdamico
msdamico

The 2 things that I find most annoying are users who use their deleted folder as a storage folder and users who never delete ANYTHING. I've seen users with thousands of messages in their inbox and in their deleted folder. Do they really think that they'll be able to find that one message from 6 months ago in that mess?

edodaniel@
edodaniel@

Does Susan think that users of other email clients are not prone to the very same things? Is she really not aware that Thunderbird, Apple Mail, Post Box, Pegasus, Poco, Beckie!, Incredimail, etc. users are all equally apt to do the same things or is she just a writer in search of a job?

Gisabun
Gisabun

My only fault listed is actually the reverse of the first one. I'm so use to replying to the sender instead of those mentioned in the Email. I wish Microsoft would give a warning when clicking the button to delete a distribution group you created. I'm use to the big "X" to delete a member of the list - not the list itself.

Ngizee
Ngizee

How many of the readers of this article will share a link to it with colleagues??? i almost did!!!

ian3880
ian3880

It would be much easier to wean them off Outlook entirely.

eric.schell
eric.schell

Susan dear, GET THEE TO AN ENGLISH COURSE! The terms "malicious" and "mistake" are mutually exclusive! Try feeding "malicious mistakes" to Wikipedia and see. regards Hamhox

ggrihn
ggrihn

Most of these issues aren't particular to Outlook--they can happen with just about any e-mail system. My question is, why hasn't someone put out an add-in for popular e-mails that would, when one clicks "Reply All," pop up a box that says: "You have chosen REPLY ALL. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THAT?? YES/NO." There are enough other nag screens and warning boxes in most systems--why not have one that would do some good?

Ivars.
Ivars.

Looks like someone dug up 10-year old stuff stating the obvious regarding Outlook. As far as these 10 things people do -- you can't fix stupid. These things have been happening since Outlook Express days of Windows 95 and 98. What I'm most frustrated about is Microsoft's shabby support for its e-mail system. I have had accounts in Outlook simply 'stop working' when Outlook does not deliver messages, to one or two e-mail accounts -- sometimes for months. To add insult to injury, if you call Microsoft for help, they wany YOU to pay THEM money to help them fix THEIR problem. Nice gig. I have also had Outlook deliver empty messages of 198 bytes exactly. Eventually, months later, some of the real messages might actually appear. (I finally got an e-mail delivered last week that was sent in 2009). It's not a setup problem -- this happens on 2003, 2007, and 2010 versions. There is a distinct correlation between these defects and Microsoft's announcements of the great new "features" that their latest upgrades will offer. One comment regarding -- "Outlook is a complicated tool". Maybe so, but there a lot of far more complicated tools that are reliable and work. We seem to be the only industry where the warranties actually say "this product is not guaranteed to work as advertised". The real design issues with Outlook are the unneccessary complications built-in that create obscure points of failure masking the power of things like automatic message categorization, flagging, rules, etc. And there's little F1 help, even about simple issues -- more often help just returns topics on all the amazing things Outlook does that few really need. The stuff most useful to its users is oftentimes the hardest fo find and use -- unnecessarily so. I've thrown Outlook out of my workflow because the software does more damage to my business than any "10 obviously dumb things people do in Outlook." I've learned to use reliable e-mail software vendors now. But I have to check Outlook occasionally in case there are messages from the last decade still waiting to be delivered...

Dyalect
Dyalect

Proper training goes along way. Many users have a generic document flung at them on the first day and are then given a username/password and thats its. What do you expect. Also, we can't have systems wide open and allow users to do as they wish. As IT staff we are the keepers of the keys and have to sandbox our users into doing things properly. Keeps the calls down, and the users happy. And public Whippings go along way!

arjanwiskerke
arjanwiskerke

Can't everyone decide for themselves what to do? They may have good reasons for doing those things!

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

That the part that breaks most on a computer is the nut between the keyboard and the chair. This is not only true of Lookout, I mean Outlook users, but users of ANY e-mail client. All of the above, and more. This may require better training of users, but this is not always feasible. People should realize that computers and programs are made by people, and will always have issues. They should also understand that computers don't react in an instant, as they do on TV and in the movies.

RG48820
RG48820

I must agree with Assaf. I was hoping for something useful and specific to Outlook/Exchange but this stuff applies to any email and they are so basic that it was a total waste of time. It must have taken longer to format it than to think up these lame "habits"... all of which are training/education issues and not really habits.

geek goddess
geek goddess

Every single one of these items applies to any old email program so I don't know why Outlook was singled out.

mamacat
mamacat

is quit using Outlook.

Baruch Atta
Baruch Atta

Expanding on my last post, I would like to see Outlook (Microsoft) add a feature to the product. I would like to have "reply" emails or emails in the conversation chain - to be all automatically listed under one email, the last email. Thus if four or five people are all conversing thru email about a subject, they all appear under the one email. Hey - this sounds like a chat room. Why can't we collaborate in Outlook in a chat-room type of environment?

Baruch Atta
Baruch Atta

I like to leave the last email in any conversation as a reminder or item in my to-do list. However, it gets messy when there are many replies to a conversation, and so on. I use folders and Categories too, but it gets overwhelming sometimes. I spend an hour a day just going over the emails and editing out for the latest. I am coming to the conclusion that it would be worth the work just to keep a file for each task, and copy and paste the relevant info from each email, then delete them en masse. I don't really delete them, just move them to a save folder.

TBoneTerwilliger
TBoneTerwilliger

If there were a venue where all of the email users in the world went to read about using email, this post would be more useful. Unfortunately, this kind of information falls on deaf ears 90% of the time.

tmillar
tmillar

"10 annoying habits your Outlook users need to break" - does that mean if users of other email clients do these things it's OK? I thought this article would list some Outlook-specific problems.

power_unit
power_unit

Enjoying the Florida sun, are we? Are the interns flying the ship? If you haven't figured out email by now, you probably can't figure out how to read this article anyway.

Flyers70
Flyers70

I feel the opposite way about "Reply All". I don't want other people deciding what I do and don't need to see or read. I would like to decide, for myself, if a particular issue is a waste of my time. The same people who complain about things like "lack of communication" are also the same people who complain about people that use "Reply All" for emails. You can't have it both ways.

NMBPmike
NMBPmike

Id like to see the users stop creating folders under their INBOX. And what YTLO said, putting read and keep emails under the recycle bin.

BBaldwin803
BBaldwin803

Not that I think people don't forget their passwords, because they do. The problem I have with #6 is that it's generally an IT/Security generated problem! No one can remember all of the passwords that they are required to keep with all the various string requirements (must be 8 to 99 characters long with at least one number, with no repeating characters, and one special character) which means post people have a list of passwords that they have to remember for all their needs such as their work Windows login, hone email address (sometimes for to two to three accounts), other work related systems, online banking, Amazon, Ebay, PayPal, etc, etc, etc??? and then they have to come up with a new unique password every 30 days or so for MOST work related systems??? it's RIDICULOUS! While some systems do actually need this kind of security precautions, most do not. It's not the one or maybe two systems that people need to use this kind of security on that's the problem. The problem is that it seems like every IT department in the world thinks their system needs to be as tight as the pentagon. If banks set up their systems so that using the same password for your online banking for a year or more is acceptable, I'm not so sure that's not good enough for MOST work related systems.

pikeman666
pikeman666

How is this foolishness linked to Outlook? Anyone noob with email will do these bonehead moves!

sean.marmot
sean.marmot

Not sure why Outlook is in the title. This is a problem for many email users as a whole. I actually have problems with people NOT hitting reply-all when it IS appropriate. @ylto: I know way too many users who use the deleted items folder as an archive. I always ask them if they store food in the trash, too.

naudi
naudi

I have a user who will store all forms of documents by just dragging them into Outlook. His folders are full of documents, pdfs, excel sheets, that are all stored on the network. He will take email attachments, save the attachments to the desktop and pull them back into Outlook so he won't have to open the email to see the attachments. Using the email database as a file storage system for convenience.

slobodan.hajdin
slobodan.hajdin

...but not only for Outlook. I have seen same (or very simmilar) stuff on other e-mail systems, i.e. Lotus Notes... I believe those things happen on every e-mail system, including web-mail.

phenkel
phenkel

Turning on the Read Receipt as the default for every message...instead of just turning it on for current message. Very annoying!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Check out the number of responses saying users should switch from Outlook to other e-mail clients.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

most of these behaviors would be detrimental regardless of e-mail client.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You don't say, but what e-mail server or service were you using with Outlook? Exchange, another local e-mail server, a third-party or cloud-based e-mail service? Sometimes problems with e-mail are due to the back end, not the client.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Because when they break it with their unknowingly ill-advised practices, I'm the guy they call to pick up the pieces. It's much easier on both of us if they know how to minimize or even eliminate the possibility of problems before they happen.

Ivars.
Ivars.

I believe there's an option in Outlook that does group original emails and replies. Not sure if it was introduced with 2010 or earlier.

mbrello
mbrello

Outlook 2010 has a feature which allows you to group e-mails by conversation, which may assist you with your dilemma. Go to the View tab, and in the Conversations group, select Show as Conversations (and then click All Folders or This Folder).

joeller
joeller

This article and all the comments for the most part are Preaching to the Choir. NBut then most of the tech Republic threads I read are doing that except the Windows vs Linux ones.

Cynyster
Cynyster

I know I could not exist without mine... (of course you need to take appropriate precautions... I Went overboard (Roboform on a Truecrypt Thumbdrive)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Do you complain when the garbage men pick up your trash?"

mbrello
mbrello

By imposing mailbox quotas, you can eliminate that issue on your Exchange server. As for archive.pst files, I believe that 2GB is the "safe" threshold for .pst files. Anything over 2GB and you risk the file becoming corrupt. Let that happen once and the user will learn to manage their files in their home folder utilizing Windows Explorer. At any rate, it's worked for us. /shrug Good luck.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You've just made my least computer-literate users look like freakin' geniuses. Your dark cloud is my silver lining. "At least I don't have to deal with that idjit!"

terrific
terrific

If all you got is a hammer, the world is full of nails, re misuse of tools like outlook

Standss
Standss

... and the Importance Flg. I have a contact who sets the priority to high for every email he sends... so now virtually all his emails get treated as unimportant. Sanjay

arjanwiskerke
arjanwiskerke

My objection is mainly to the title : "annoying" "need to break". I suppose when all the bad happens you'll tell them how easy it would be to stick to the common practice. Best, Arjan

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's much larger starting with .PSTs created in 2007 or 2010. If users must have large archives, I still recommend a limit of 4.5 gig or so. That's considerably less than the technical size limit (30 gig?), but as archives get larger they start to negatively impact the performance of Outlook. Besides, a 4.5 gig archive will still fit on a DVD.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've found that the titles of articles and posts are sometimes designed to draw attention, occasionally at the expense of accurately reflecting the actual content. It's not as bad as the 'Weekly World News' ('Three-headed Boy Raised in Airport Bathroom!'), but I see your point.