Busy people depend heavily on Outlook's Calendar. You can schedule appointments and events and even block out time to actually get some work done. However, we don't all have the same schedule, so you might spend more time than necessary working around Outlook's default calendar settings. In this article, you'll learn how to schedule and modify appointments and events to keep yourself on track. Perhaps more important, you'll learn how to adjust Outlook's calendar settings to fit your routine.
I'm using Outlook 2016 on Windows 10 (64-bit), but you can apply most everything to earlier versions. There's no downloadable demonstration file for this article.
Throughout the article, I'll use the following terms:
- Appointments are blocks of time you schedule with a specific start and end time. They don't include other people (appointments that involve others are called meetings, which aren't covered in this article).
- Events are day-long items; events can be anything if you don't assign a specific time period.
Appointments and events allow you to specify a lot of addition details, such as a location, recurrence, and your availability. You can specify a subject, add text and links, and even attach files so they're easily accessible. Adding information is simple and self-explanatory; simply explore the window and learn more about the many available options.
Create an appointment or event
There are numerous ways to create an appointment or an event, but the easiest is to simply click and enter the subject text. Where you click will determine whether Outlook defaults to an event or an appointment, and if the latter, the time. This behavior is so intuitive that it doesn't require much training and you'll get the hang of it quickly.
In a nutshell, the view matters:
- In Month view, Outlook defaults to an event. Click a day and enter the event's subject text.
- In one of the many Week views, Outlook defaults to an appointment, using the clicked or selected time slots to set the start and end time.
Initially, the difference between an event and an appointment is the All Day Event option shown in Figure A. In an event window, this option is checked. It's unchecked for an appointment. You can change the status between an event and appointment by checking or unchecking this option, accordingly.
An event has no specific time set.
The easiest way to create an appointment is to use a Week view. Just click a single time slot or select a multiple time slot and enter the appointment's subject. Remember, because a time is selected, Outlook defaults to an appointment, and the selection determines the appointment's start and end time. In Day, Week, and Work Week view, the start time defaults to the active time slot, so there's a bit of an advantage to scheduling in one of these views. The end time depends on your default interval setting, which I'll show you how to change later. Because there's a time setting, these items are always appointments. For instance, selecting the 9:00 time slot with a 30-minute interval creates an appointment with a 9:00 start time and a 9:30 end time. Selecting a group of multiple time slots, say from 9:30 up to 11:30 (but one that doesn't include the 11:30 time slot) creates an appointment that starts at 9:30 and ends at 11:30.
Creating an event can be just as easy. In Month view, simply click a day and start typing the event's subject text. All entries in Month view default to an event because there's no time set (initially). To create an event in one of the Week views, double-click the date cell just under the day's name, as shown in Figure B.
Quickly create an event in one of the Week views.
Creating events and appointments is easy, but you can work smarter by configuring the calendar to fit your schedule and routine. There are three major components you can configure: the work week, the work day, and the time scale interval.
By default, the work week is Monday through Friday; the work day extends from 8am to 5pm; and the first calendar day of the week is Sunday. While these options are adequate for many, they won't suit everyone. If you don't work a traditional work week, you'll want to reset the work week options as follows:
- Click the File tab and choose Options. (In Outlook 2003 and 2007, choose Options from the Tools menu to find these settings.)
- In the left pane, select Calendar.
- In the Work Time section, change the options accordingly. In Figure C, you can see that I changed the Start Time to 9am and that I work a four-day week from Tuesday through Friday. (Nice work if you can get it.)
- Click OK.
Change the default work week.
When you're creating an appointment, the Start Time setting will reflect your new setting, as shown in Figure D. The white area denotes your custom work week and day.
The Start Time setting reflects your change.
Earlier, I mentioned changing the appointment interval. By default, Outlook's Calendar view displays time intervals of 30 minutes. You might schedule appointments differently. You can increase or decrease this interval to fit your routine, as follows:
- In a Week view (time intervals aren't available in Month view), click the View tab.
- In the Arrangement group, click Time Scale.
- Choose the most appropriate interval to update your calendar's interval grid (Figure E). You can also right-click the time bar to the left and choose a new interval.
Change the time interval.
Unfortunately, Outlook restricts you to its interval settings; you can't use a custom setting. Use the multiple-time slot selection technique discussed above to get as close as you can when you need an interval Outlook doesn't support.
There's one more display setting you might benefit from changing: the number of days displayed in Outlook's many views:
- Day is the current day (one day).
- Work Week displays five days, Monday through Friday, unless you've customized your work week. Then, this view reflects your custom work week settings.
- Week displays seven days.
- Month displays five full weeks with some days falling in either or both the previous and the next months.
You can temporarily adjust this configuration to suit your needs. To see a specific number of days in a specific view, press [Alt] + n where n is a value between 0 and 9 and represents the number of days you want to see. For instance, to view four days, press [Alt]+4; to see nine days, press [Alt]+9; to see 10 days, press [Alt]+0. This quick view is temporary and works only in the current view; you can't change this setting permanently.
A few extras
Once your calendar supports your routine, you might want to consider changing a few other calendar formats:
- If you have multiple calendars, use color to distinguish them quickly. In the Calendar window, click the View tab and then choose a color from the Color dropdown in the Color group. Outlook will assign different colors for you when you create additional calendars, but standardizing these colors by personnel, project, departments, and so on, becomes even more helpful when you share calendars—consistency is key.
- If you interact with others in different time zones, add those zones to a second time bar. Click the File tab, choose Options, and then click Calendar in the left pane. In the Time Zones section, select the Show A Second Time Zone option, enter a name in the Label control, and choose the zone you want to add from the Time Zone dropdown.
- If knowing when an appointment ends is almost as important as knowing when it starts, add the end time to the Month view. Right-click inside the Month view calendar and choose View Settings. Then, click Other Settings and check the Show End Time option.
- You probably know that you can view multiple calendars side by side. Perhaps more helpful is the Overlay view, which allows you to view multiple calendars on top of one other. This view helps you spot specific blocks of free or busy time for yourself and others (if you're sharing calendars). In the left pane, check the calendars you want to view this way, which will display them in Side by Side view. Then, click the arrow next to a calendar's name to move it to the top of the calendar immediately to its left. Add as many calendars as you like to the view.
Outlook's calendar feature is extremely helpful, but once you have it supporting your routine, you'll find it even more helpful.
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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.