Software

Track your time better by automatically color coding your Outlook appointments

Using the conditional format feature, you can configure Outlook to color code an appointment automatically.

Most of us find color coding (or categorizing) information helpful. The visual clue is often all we need to make quick decisions. If you want a bit of a shortcut, you can try color coding appointments. A quick glance might be all you need to apprise your day.

You can manually color code appointments when you create them, as follows:

  1. With the appointment open, name it and enter all the particulars.
  2. On the (default) Appointment tab, click Categorize in the Tags group.
  3. Choose the appropriate category. For instance, below, I choose blue.
  4. The first time you use a category, Outlook will prompt you to name it. Enter a name and click Yes. Outlook adds a blue bar to the top of the appointment window and displays the category's name. In this case, that's Personal.

Doing it yourself isn't difficult, but it's unnecessary. Using a conditional format, you can configure Outlook to color code an appointment automatically. You'll need a condition, or in this case, a keyword to engage the format. In this case, we'll use the subject text, CAMG, to define our condition. Then, we'll create next month's appointment to show the results of the new format. First, let's create the rule:

  1. In the Calendar window, click the View tab and then click the View Settings button in the Current View group. Next, click Conditional Formatting. In Outlook 2007, choose Automatic Formatting from the Edit menu.
  2. Click Add to create a new rule.
  3. Enter a name for the rule—Set Color Personal.
  4. Choose a color—choose blue.
  5. Click Condition (at the bottom-left of the dialog box).
  6. On the Appointments and Meetings tab (the default), enter CAMG in the Search For The Words control.
  7. You want to retain the In Subject Field Only default setting, so don't change it. Later, when you apply this technique to your own appointments, click the Advanced tab and take a look around. This feature is flexible and can handle multiple and even complex conditions.
  8. Click OK three times to return to the Calendar window.

Now, let's create a CAMG appointment for December, as follows:

  1. You can click New Appointment and create a new appointment from scratch. Or, if the appointment recurs, open the existing appointment and click Recurrence in the Options group.
  2. In the pattern section, choose Monthly.
  3. Choose the section option: The First Tuesday Of Every Month.
  4. Click Save & Close to return to the Calendar window.

Browse ahead to the first Tuesday in December. You'll find the first of many recurring appointments, already color-coded for you! In this case, the condition was simple: the text CAMG in the subject field. The feature is flexible enough to handle many conditions.

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.

9 comments
Standss
Standss

I don't use the To Do Bar much so this trick to get coloring done simply by tyoing is very nice. Thanks

kcomiskey
kcomiskey

I have gone through and done this as I like to categorize all of my appointments so I can see at a glance what is coming up. However, once I did the auto-coloring as described here, and stopped manually categorizing, I no longer see any colors in my "ToDo Bar" or right column. This appears to be because the colors are not actually categories and the ToDo Bar does not display colors, only categories. Any way around this? If not, I will have to go back to the manual assigning of categories.

DonG43
DonG43

Susan: Thanks, this will be a real time saver. My wife adds appointments but does not color code them, so I have to go back, find them and color code them. Also, when I add an event from my Droid, I have to manually color code them. As usual, I learn a new feature of Office each time I read one of your articles.

GreyTech
GreyTech

I have been using categories for since they were introduced in Sheduler+ in about 1996, initially for contacts as I had about 1800 in my list at the time. Many contacts belong to more than one category, they are then easy to find by the context you are currently thinking in. The same categories are used for my appointments, here you have to remember that the colour assigned will be that of the last category assigned to the appointment. You can also create a view that lists appointments or contacts by category.

sparent
sparent

I like the idea of colour coding my appointments. But that leaves meeting requests, incoming and outgoing, out of the loop. I guess I would have to set up rules to assign categories to incoming and outgoing meeting requests.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I have been using color coding in Outlook for years now - it is a big help. I had not considered using conditional formatting - I just did it manually. That may change now. How do you keep yourself organized?

ssharkins
ssharkins

Thanks -- I like to know what you guys find useful!

ssharkins
ssharkins

You're right, it's a format. This might be one of those times when you just have to choose -- off the top of my head, I don't have an easy solution, but I'll check it out.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Hope you find this one useful. As for organized, I'm kind of the cobbler's kids, ya know? My desk is a mess. I do use a few rules and colors, but my favorite tool is an old paper calendar and a paper tablet where I write a to-do list daily. I just find the old ways work best for me, but I'm not collaborating and scheduling meetings all day the way truly busy people are!