Your users depend on Outlook daily. As a support technician, your job is not to help them hunt and peck to find it. Fortunately, there are several views available that you can slice and dice to obtain the information desired. In this Daily Feature, I’ll show you how to define custom views for your users so you spend less time shoulder surfing.

Default views vs. custom views
Outlook provides several default views for each folder. While these default views suffice for most situations, you’re bound to run across a situation where you need to organize the view in a way not provided by the default. Fortunately, you can create your own custom views to fine-tune the way information is displayed.

The default views provided with Outlook give quite a bit of flexibility. For example, the Inbox includes an Unread Messages view that filters the Inbox to display only those messages that are marked as unread. That’s great when you want to see all unread messages, but what if you only want to see unread messages that are from a specific sender? You can open the Unread Messages view and click the From header to sort the view according to sender and then locate the sender in question in the list of messages. Or you can create your own view that filters even further to show only those messages from the specified sender. In this example, it’s easier to use the existing Unread Messages view than to create your own, but as you begin to add other criteria to your desired filter list, you’ll soon discover that creating your own view or customizing an existing one is the only way to achieve the desired result.

Creating custom views
It’s relatively easy to create your own views. In Outlook, select View | Current View | Define Views to open the Define Views dialog box. This dialog box displays the currently defined views and a few of their properties. Although you can modify any of the existing views, you might prefer to create your own views instead and leave the default views as they are. To do so, click New. Outlook prompts you for the name of your new view and the type of view to use, such as a table view. You also can specify who can use the view, and where. You can allow the view to be used by anyone with access to the folder, only by the person who created the view, or in any folder that contains the same type of item (such as any folder that contains e-mail messages).

When you click OK, Outlook opens the View Summary dialog box, which you use to customize the view. Click the Fields button to specify which fields Outlook will display in the view. If you want to group items in the view, click the Group By button. You can group up to four fields using either ascending or descending order. If you also want to sort the items in addition to grouping them, click the Sort button on the View Summary dialog box. You can sort the view using up to four fields.

Setting up a filter is the primary method for displaying specific items or types of items. In the View Summary dialog box, click the Filter button to display the Filter dialog box. You can specify combinations of criteria to create a complex filter. For example, you might select only items that are unread, have an attachment, were received in the last seven days, and are from a specific sender. You can even use SQL statements to filter the information.

If you want to use custom settings for fonts, gridlines, and other common view elements, click Other Settings in the View Summary dialog box. You can choose the font Outlook will use for column headings, rows, and AutoPreview. You can also specify whether or not Outlook displays gridlines for table and list views, the type of grid used, and its color.

All of the features to this point will help you create a view that organizes the information in the folder. One additional feature that can help you quickly locate items in a custom view is automatic formatting. Click Automatic Formatting in the View Summary dialog box to open the Automatic Formatting dialog box. You can use the controls provided here to make Outlook display information that matches specified criteria using a specific font or color. For example, you might configure a custom message view to show unread messages in red instead of black. If you want overdue tasks to appear with a specific font and color, or contacts with a certain company to display with a specific color, you can do that here too.

Outlook defines five default rules for automatic formatting. For example, the Unread Messages rule causes Outlook to display unread messages in bold. The Submitted But Not Sent rule causes unsent messages to be displayed in italics. To edit an existing rule, select the rule and click Font, then select the font characteristics you want Outlook to use for items that meet the selected condition. Click Add if you want to add a new rule and then click Condition to define the criteria for the rule.

After you define your custom view, apply it by clicking Apply View in the Define Views dialog box or select it from the View | Current View menu. Simply select the default view from the same menu to restore the original view.

Most Outlook users find the folder system critical to their jobs. Getting to that data can be tricky unless they know some of the ins and outs of the Define Views option available in Outlook. By setting up custom views using the Define Views option, Outlook users can add several search criteria to their folder systems. Going beyond the basic default views will allow your users to make Outlook data search time a thing of the past.