After Hours

10 tips for troubleshooting Outlook problems

When Outlook falters, productivity and vital business communications take a big hit. These troubleshooting measures will help you resolve problems quickly.

Outlook is currently the de facto standard email/calendaring client in the business world. Generally speaking, it works like a champ. But there are times when Outlook goes down in a ball of flames. When that happens, if you don't have a bevy of tricks to pull out of your pocket, you might find yourself in a world of pain.

But troubleshooting Outlook doesn't have to be a nightmare. In fact, you can almost script out the troubleshooting process with these 10 handy tips.

1: Scan PST

Those PST files will inevitably develop errors. When they do, they can prevent Outlook from working properly. When Outlook is starting to fuss, one of the first things I do is run scanpst.exe against each PST file used within Outlook. But be warned: Scan PST can take some time to run. It has to back up your data file, scan for errors, and repair any errors found. If the data file is large, this process can take quite some time. To run Scan PST, you'll need to locate the scanpst.exe executable. (Its location will depend upon the version of Windows being used.)

2: Archive

Although not really a troubleshooting tip per se, there are times when a PST file will grow so large it causes problems with Outlook. Instead of letting that PST continue to get unwieldy, it's best to set up archiving. When the data file has reached the excess of users' allocated space, I always encourage them to archive by year. This method ensures that they will be archiving the largest amount of data to their local directory (thereby clearing up space on the server). This will also shrink the PST and alleviate issues associated with a too-large PST. After this is done, I recommend running Scan PST.

3: Rename OST

If users take advantage of a locally cached data file, sometimes renaming their current OST file is enough to resolve plenty of issues. Just close Outlook, open the folder that houses their data files, make sure you can see extension names, and change the .ost extension to something like .old. The next time Outlook opens, it will rebuild that .ost file and Outlook should be good as new.

4: Delete/rebuild profile

When all else fails (just shy of an uninstall/reinstall), delete the Outlook profile. Now you need to use caution with this. If Outlook is working with a POP account, the current Inbox (and calendars, etc.) will need to be exported as a data file (which can then be reimported after the POP account is re-created). If Outlook is connecting to either an Exchange server or IMAP account, this process is just a matter of deleting the profile and re-adding it. To do this, open the Control Panel, go to Mail | Profiles, and delete the profile.

5: Disable add-ons

The more add-ons that are connected to Outlook, the slower it becomes. If you have any doubt, start Outlook in safe mode (issue the command outlook.exe /safe) and see how much faster (and smoother) Outlook runs. If you find this to be the case, go into the Trust center, disable suspect add-ons, and restart Outlook normally. You'll know when you've found the culprit, as Outlook should run normally. This is a tedious exercise, but one that will generally bear fruit.

6: Disable virus scan

Many antivirus tools have an Outlook connector that scans emails as they come and go from a system. In some cases, this can slow Outlook to a crawl. If you're unsure where an Outlook issue is stemming from, temporarily disable the antivirus Outlook connection to see whether that solves the issue. If it does, you might need to update the antivirus software to fix the problem. Just remember, if you leave that connection broken, Outlook will be vulnerable.

7: Run in safe mode

As I mentioned before, running outlook in safe mode is a good way to troubleshoot. The one caveat is that a number of features will not work. This obviously means that running in safe mode is not a solution for a problem -- just a way to help debug it. Sometimes, just the act of running Outlook in safe mode will resolve the problem at hand.

8: Run with resetnav

When you issue the command outlook.exe /resetnavpane, you reset all customizations to Outlook's navigation pane (the left pane, with the folder hierarchy and app buttons). This is necessary when users have done something to the navigation pane (something they don't remember doing) that causes Outlook to malfunction or have problems starting. Note that users will lose any customizations that have made to the navigation pane.

9: Migrate PSTs from the server

I've seen this happen so often. A user will have unusually large PST files (especially archives) housed on a shared (or redirected) drive on a server. Those files are best served from the local drive. If you have more than one PST file having to connect to a remote location, chances are Outlook is going to bog down. Move those archives to the C drive of the local machine to improve performance.

10: Adjust calendar permissions

If someone sends an invitation for others to use his or her calendar, but they can't make or edit appointments, you need to change their permissions. Open the calendar in Outlook, right-click the shared calendar, click Properties, and then go to the Permissions tab. There, you can add users to the calendar and give them specific permissions that will allow them to do anything from reading to owning the calendar.

Also read...

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

19 comments
edz2010
edz2010

hi, 

i was trying to import my pst file in Oultook. unfortunately, when i open any of the imported emails an error message popped in like saying "Cannot open this item.... "

Would appreciate if you can help me out with this problem,

And btw, I moved to google app so not sure if this is related to this problem.

Thanks

bjmiller449
bjmiller449

My PRIVATE Box Has Disappeared From My Outlook EMAIL...There Are Thousands Of SAVED Documents In That PRIVATE Box...What Can I Do????

vinay123456789
vinay123456789

any problem on outlook contact toll free number:1855-658-5929

peterlonz
peterlonz

Surprised to see no comment about the very obvious & long-standing failure of MS to incorporate a reliable backup facility. I have Outlook 2003 & still can't do auto backup in a way I regard as reliable so I choose to do this manually. I always say yes to an auto-suggestion to archive but I have no idea where the archive is or of it is also backed up. Pretty important that you never loose email records & yet a two position manual backup seems the only way to achieve this.

L-Mo
L-Mo

Whether we like it or not Outlook is not meant to archive decades of emails, although some folks wish it would. I've worked with user with 80,000 plus emails in their Inbox, and OST files hitting 50GBs. I've helped them archive and organize their mail, as well as applied most of the steps mentioned, but I also like to talk about how to better use the application. It's an opportune moment. For example, we can often set up rules to push emails into folders; some of which they can empty after certain points (newsletters, airline deals) A lot of time people will find that a few simple changes can offer long term benefits. A slim mailbox, is a happy mailbox. :)

Gisabun
Gisabun

Not really an Outlook tip, but if you have an online account, create a profile specifically for it [unless you use the current profile]. Set it up to retrieve your mail from Outlook.com/gmail/yahoo/etc. but not remove it from the server. This way you have an offline backup in case some hacks your mail account and wipes out your Emails [or you delete a message by accident]. Second tip is to move projects into a separate PST and move all Email [inbox, sent, deleted, etc.] into there. My PST file is normally about 125MB. Finished working on a heavy graphics project. With the graphics, it would of tripled the size. When project is done, disonnect the PST and back it up with the project files. Also useful to put the PST for the project into the project folder.

benroberts
benroberts

I think it's tragic that Outlook is the defacto standard for email clients. I always get a chuckle out of the installation process, when you install Outlook 2010, it throws up the same splash screen as Office XP! I would probably have to attend to more Outlook glitches than any other piece of software in the building, possibly because it's the most universal and in constant use on most machines but honestly, if the splash screen is indicative of the code, it hasn't seen a real update for fifteen years!

darrellriddle
darrellriddle

Some of these I knew, but nice to see them all in one list. My biggest issue really is compatibility across Windows/Mac, the importing of the files and ability to pull them back out (of the Mac) later, etc. That's what I would like to see (MS) fixed.

pvdcats
pvdcats

To get rid of your profile to re-do it with an Exchange server sounds perfect except that if you are an admin over the public folders with "ownership" type permissions, you lose that permission and as far as I know, from when it happened to me, I've never been able to get my permissions back and these are public calendars that I created. Removing/reinstalling Office doesn't fix it. In my situation the computer was new enough that I just wiped it and started over. So my warning is that changing your profile can give unexpected results and proceed with caution.

Cynyster
Cynyster

Some of the biggest issue I have noticed is simply due to the end user not managing their time. Do you really need Outlook open every minute of every day? Remember e-mail was to take the place of real postal mail. It was not ment to be an instant messenger. It was not ment to be a wayto send large files. If you have more than 10 reminders maybe you should try using "tasks" (without reminders) But that aside. I didn't see anyone mention the "Compact Database" feature. Very useful if you have deleted a whole bunch of stuff within outlook and noticed your PST file size didn't shrink (and it wont by itself). Control panel - Mail - Data Files - (choose your data file) - Settings - Compact Now button run scan pst or scan ost first if you have a huge file... Oh and if you have a file that is measured in Gigs. Plan on it taking a few hours. Njoy

Swimxu
Swimxu

These tips are great if you can close Outlook. I have a user who routinely opens over 200 messages at a time and leaves them open for weeks or months. The mailbox is 22 GB with all 500,000+ items in the inbox. Outlook will stop responding and the user wants it to come back so they do not loose track of all their open items. Are there any troubleshooting methods that can be used without closing Outlook when it becomes unresponsive?

Trentski
Trentski

Its the easiest thing to do and usually the first, it solves performance issues a lot of the time, this one never gets included in techrepublic's outlook fixes

wim.eising.spam
wim.eising.spam

Can I also archive emails in an IMAP (gmail) folder (in Outlook 2010)? I read different and non-conclusive stories on this archiving of IMAP email folders on the web fora. What happens to the cloud gmail data when I locally archive older IMAP gmail messages to a new archive folder? Will archiving of older messages (e.g. last year's emails into a Archive 2012 IMAP folder) in the IMAP inbox reduce the file size of the default IMAP Gmail Inbox? Will this archiving speed up Outlook's operations? I hope someone can give the final conclusive answer on this :) Wim

TechIan16
TechIan16

I am using Outlook for the bulk of my day and sometimes the smallest of issues can really ruin your productivity. These are some really helpful starting points for many of the issues I've experienced

jred
jred

They're usually the worst offenders. Just about the only thing I can convince them to do is create folders for each year and move items out of the inbox & into the year. One boss decided to just have me build an extremely overpowered machine, dual 8-core cpu, 32gb ram, SSD, the whole nine yards. The only reason an atom powered netbook wouldn't work for them is.... Outlook. They have more unopened mail than I have in my entire mailbox. Another boss refuses to empty their trash. Ever. Of anything. I asked him one day if he files important paperwork in the trash under his desk, and how he keeps the janitor from emptying it, and he couldn't comprehend the similarity.

Cynyster
Cynyster

Sounds like someone needs to be trained on how better to utilize Outlook.

JCitizen
JCitizen

but I can't speak for 2010. You'd think it would unless MS was just trying to shoot down users who wan't choice at using GMAIL instead of Exchange. Our ISP made the switch because they are tired of supporting Exchange, and quite frankly want to reduce staff requirements. That way they can do more productive work besides chasing every ghost in the Exchange server. I set it up for IMAP, and it is all golden so far!