Microsoft Outlook has so many features that it’s easy to miss some of them. Here are a couple of quick tips on Outlook that will save IT managers time and increase productivity.

Change Outlook’s default directory
Here’s a tip that you won’t find in Outlook’s Help files. Unlike all other Microsoft Office applications, you can’t change Outlook’s default directory of My Documents for Save As and Insert File operations. However, you can change this setting via the registry.


Using the Registry Editor incorrectly can cause data loss or even operating system failure. Be careful when directly editing the registry.

Open the Registry Editor by choosing Run from the Start menu and typing regedit. In the Registry Editor, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders. In the right pane, double-click on the value Personal to open it for editing.

Change the Value Data from C:\My Documents to your preferred directory. Exit the Registry Editor and restart Outlook. Your Save As and Insert File default settings should now be changed.

Note that if you apply any patches to Outlook or Microsoft Office, you may need to reset this value.

Make Outlook your file explorer and desktop
By adding shortcuts to your Outlook Bar, you can reduce the time you take switching to the desktop. In effect, you can make Outlook your desktop, launching programs and browsing the file system (see Figure A).

Figure A
The Outlook Bar now contains many of the same shortcuts used on the Start menu.

First, make sure you’re viewing the Outlook Bar. If not, select View | Outlook Bar from the menu. To add some room for shortcuts, right-click over the Outlook Bar and select Small Icons. To add a shortcut, right-click and select Outlook Bar Shortcut.

In the following dialog window, a drop-down box called Look In is set to Outlook. Below that, Folder Name is set to Inbox. Change the Folder Name in order to drill down your subfolders. Double-click a subfolder to add its shortcut to the Outlook bar.

To add file or program shortcuts, click the Look In drop-down box and choose File System (see Figure B). Now browse your folders and add the shortcuts you need by double-clicking.

Figure B
Add shortcuts to file folders from the Add To Outlook Bar dialog box.

Outlook’s file system browser is more extensive than Windows Explorer. But most of all, it’s convenient (see Figure C).

Figure C
Using Outlook as a file explorer lets you browse from a different root directory (here, I’m browsing c:\Michael), making file searches more convenient.

An alternate way to add shortcuts is by dragging and dropping folder and program icons from Windows Explorer onto the Outlook Bar.

To rearrange your shortcuts, drag them to new spots. To arrange your shortcuts into groups, right-click over the Outlook Bar and select the following additional menu choices: Add New Group, Remove Group, and Rename Group.

Use the Find A Contact search bar to quickly look up contacts
To quickly locate and send an e-mail to a contact, use the Find A Contact box. This search box is located to the left of the Standard Menu’s Help icon (see Figure D). Type in a name or part of a contact’s name and Outlook will return a list of possible matches. Right-click over the match and choose Action | Send Mail. If your Find A Contact box is not visible, choose View | Toolbars | Standard.

Figure D
The Find A Contact search bar is an often-overlooked feature that makes sorting through addresses much easier.

Clicking the arrow to the right of the Find A Contact box drops a list of previous searches you can choose.

Use the View drop-down menu
Preset Outlook views make browsing large numbers of items easier. If you’re not making use of them, take some time to learn how they can assist you. To quickly select from among Outlook views, first turn on the Advanced Toolbar by choosing View | Toolbars | Advanced.

This toolbar includes a drop-down box of available views. These views change depending upon what part of Outlook you’re using (see Figure E). For example, when displaying your Inbox, you can view by Messages, By Conversation Topic, By Sender, or Unread Messages. When displaying your Contacts, you can view Address Cards, Detailed Address Cards, Phone List, Company, or Category.

Figure E
The Advanced menu’s view picker saves the trouble of clicking through the View menu.

Edit received messages
One of my favorite things about Outlook is the ability to edit received e-mails. I use this feature to add reminders, follow up notes, and brainstorm ideas. To use Edit Message, double-click an e-mail to open it in a separate window—this feature is not accessible through the Preview Pane. Now choose Edit | Edit Message from the e-mail’s menu bar (see Figure F). Don’t forget to save your messages. A helpful trick is to format your edits with a different font or color, or, to save time, put your notes in brackets.

Figure F
To use Edit Message, e-mails must be displayed in a separate window, not Outlook’s Preview Pane.

Use Outlook shortcut keys
I’m a great fan of shortcut keys because they let me keep my hands on the keyboard. Learning these top 10 shortcuts will increase your Outlook efficiency. For more shortcuts, check the Help Index under shortcut_key.

Top Outlook shortcut keys
Key combination Does this
Ctrl-Shift-A New appointment
Ctrl-Shift-B Display the Address Book
Ctrl-Shift-F Open Advanced Find
Ctrl-Shift-G Flag for following
Ctrl-Shift-K New task
Ctrl-Shift-M New e-mail message
Ctrl-. Move to next item
Ctrl-, Move to previous item
Ctrl-F Forward an e-mail message
Ctrl-R Reply to an e-mail message