With Outlook’s power and flexibility come a lot of options. You can use them to remove some of the drudgery and work a bit more productively by configuring Outlook to match your work habits. In this article, I’ll show you how to change 10 of Outlook’s out-of-the-box settings to complement the way you work instead.

I’m using Outlook 2016 (desktop) on a Windows 64-bit system. There’s no downloadable demonstration file, and none of these settings is appropriate for 365 Mail.

Note: This article is also available in the free PDF Make Office 2016 work your way by changing these default settings.

1: Opening folder

When you first launch Outlook, it displays Today view, which a lot of people don’t use. Instead, they go straight to a mail folder and start working. It’s only a few clicks, but you can change this setting and have Outlook open right where you want to start. To specify the folder that Outlook selects when launching, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. In the left pane, choose Advanced.
  3. In the Outlook Start And Exit section, use the Browse button to locate the folder or window where you want to start working (Figure A).
  4. Select the folder or window. I start in my Inbox for the account I use the most.
  5. Click OK twice.

Figure A

Select the folder you want Outlook to open when launched.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free TechRepublic PDF)

2: Custom address book

Outlook uses a global address list, and that works fine for most of us. The default is Start With Global Address List. If you’re on Exchange, the GAL is usually members of your organization. Addresses you add yourself will be in your personal contacts list. If you want Outlook to default to your contacts list, do the following:

  1. On the Home tab, click Address Book in the Find group.
  2. In the resulting dialog, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  3. Click the Start With Contact Folders option (Figure B). Make sure the opening option at the bottom displays Choose Automatically (it should). You could also click Custom to default to another list. When choosing Custom, you must also specify the specific address book.
  4. Click OK and close the Address Book dialog.

Figure B

Control the address book Outlook opens by default.

3: Message format

You can send messages in three formats:

  • Plain text
  • HTML
  • Rich text

Email clients and mobile devices are adapting, and HTML is becoming standard. However, plain text is less trouble when dealing with the unknown. For example, I still use plain text by default because so many of the lists I subscribe to still can’t handle HTML. To set this default, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. In the left pane, click Mail.
  3. In the Compose Messages section, choose Plain Text from the Compose Messages In This Format dropdown (Figure C).
  4. Click OK.

Figure C

Set the default message format.

4: Appointment interval

If your average appointment span is 15 minutes instead of the default 30 minutes, changing the default as follows will save you time:

  1. In the Calendar window, right-click the timebar in the Day or one of the Week views.
  2. Chose an interval from the resulting submenu (Figure D).

Figure D

Select the default appointment interval from this menu.

5: Appointment reminders

Reminders have a default setting of 15 minutes. You can change the reminder time when you create the appointment or you can change the default setting as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. Select Calendar in the left pane.
  3. In the Calendar Options section, choose a reminder time from the Default Reminders dropdown (Figure E).
  4. Click OK.

Figure E

Never miss an appointment again–set a reasonable reminder time.

If the interval you want isn’t available, enter it manually.

SEE: 10 time-saving tips to speed your work in Outlook (TechRepublic)

6: Contact name order

When entering addresses in the To field, Outlook displays contact names in First Name Last Name order. If you prefer to see them listed alphabetically by last name, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Account Settings from the Account Settings dropdown.
  2. Click the Address Books tab.
  3. Select the address book and click Change.
  4. In the resulting dialog, click the File As (Smith, John) option in the Show Names By section (Figure F).
  5. Click Close twice.
  6. Exit and reopen Outlook to implement the change.

Figure F

Display contacts alphabetically by last name.

7: Reading pane

The reading pane is flexible and easy to personalize, which is important if messages are long. To free up space for more text, unpin the Navigation pane by clicking the small left arrow at the top of the pane. Or turn it off completely by choosing Off from the Folder Pane dropdown in the Layout group. If your To-Do list is visible, remove it by choosing Off from the To-Do Bar dropdown in the Layout group. These are simple changes to implement, but they quickly free up lots of space and they stick; you must reset them when you need them.

8: Work week

We are a versatile society with all kinds of schedules, and the default work week of five days, Monday through Friday, doesn’t represent a lot of us. If you have a nontraditional work week, change the default as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. Select Calendar in the left pane.
  3. In the Work Time section, check the days you want to include in your work week. Figure G shows a lucky employee who works Monday through Thursday, 10:00 to 2:00–how’s that for nontraditional!
  4. Click OK.

Figure G

Your calendar should accommodate your work schedule.

9: Mail download frequency

Outlook downloads mail regularly, but you can control it if you like and there are several options to pick from. To change the download interval time, do the following:

  1. Click the Send/Receive tab.
  2. Click the Send/Receive Groups dropdown and choose Define Send/Receive Groups.
  3. The Schedule An Automatic Send/Receive Every option should be checked; enter the interval in minutes (Figure H). 30 is the default. If you uncheck the option, you must download (and send) manually using the Send/Receive options. (I prefer to do things manually.)
  4. Click Close.

Figure H

Determine how often Outlook downloads mail.

10: Font and font size

By default, Outlook uses 11-point Calibri text in messages you compose and send. If you’d prefer different formatting, changing this default is easy:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. Select Mail in the left pane.
  3. In the Compose Messages section, click Stationery And Fonts.
  4. In the New mail messages section, click Font, make the changes you want in the resulting dialog (Figure I), and click OK.
  5. To change the font and font size for replies and forwarded messages, click Font in the Replying Or Forwarding Messages section.
  6. Click OK twice.

Figure I

Send messages and replies using your choice of font and font size.

Work your way

We’ve looked at only 10 defaults you can customize. Don’t stop with these. If you don’t like something, check the Options via the File tab to see what’s available.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers’ questions when I can, but there’s no guarantee. Don’t send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, “Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what’s wrong” probably won’t get a response, but “Can you tell me why this formula isn’t returning the expected results?” might. Please mention the app and version that you’re using. I’m not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at susansalesharkins@gmail.com.

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