Outlook comes with two types of built-in command bar objects, the Menu Bar and toolbars. Only one Menu Bar is allowed, but you can customize both it and the built-in toolbars. In addition, you can add custom toolbars to automate specialized or repetitive tasks. Fortunately, command bars are easy to configure and create in any Office application, including Outlook. Here are some of the various ways you can tailor Outlook to suit your working style.
Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.
#1: Rearrange existing commands
Most of us use a few commands a lot, and seldom, if ever, use the rest. You can rearrange the commands on the Menu Bar or a toolbar, making selection a bit more efficient. To do so, choose Tools | Customize, click the Commands tab, and click Rearrange Commands. In the Rearrange Commands dialog box, select either the Menu Bar or Toolbar option. Then, choose the appropriate menu (if you selected the Menu Bar option) or toolbar (if you selected Toolbar) from the drop-down list at the top of the dialog box. The Controls list box will display the commands, including submenus, as they appear from top to bottom on the menu (or left to right on the selected toolbar).
You can add, delete, or move a command up or down (or left and right). Clicking Add will position the new item above or to the left of the selected command. You can also modify the selection by changing its caption and other attributes. Select Begin A Group if you want to add a separator above or beside the selected command. Clicking Reset removes all the customization in case you need to start over.
#2: Move commands the easy way
You don't have to use the Customize dialog box to move commands on a toolbar. Hold down the Alt key, click on a button, and drag it to an alternate position or off the toolbar completely. To restore the tool, reset the toolbar or use the Customize dialog box to put it back.
If you remove a custom command, you'll have to rebuild it if you ever need it again. Consider removing custom commands to a custom toolbar created for the purpose of storing custom commands you think you no longer need. Someday, you may want that command and you can simply restore it from the custom toolbar instead of rebuilding it.
#3: Disable personalized menus
The personalized menu feature displays only the commands you use the most often. You might find this feature more irritating than helpful, especially when you're looking for a seldom-used command and can't find it simply because Outlook isn't displaying it. To disable this feature, choose Customize | Tools. In the Options tab, check the Always Show Full Menus option and click Close. This option will affect the entire Office suite, not just Outlook.
Developers can find the details for personalized menus in a file named msout11.pip in the C:\Documents and Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Office folder.
#4: Store your customization
Outlook stores the changes you make to command bars in a file named outcmd.dat. If you want to reset all of your command bars to their default settings, simply delete this file. But be careful. Deleting this file will wipe out all of your custom command bars.
If you've spent a lot of time customizing Outlook, store a backup of outcmd.dat in a safe place. Then, if you have to reinstall Outlook, restore your customized command bars by replacing outcmd.dat with your stored copy. You can also use outcmd.dat to copy your customizations to other systems. Simply save it over the exiting file.
#5: Create custom toolbars
To create a custom toolbar, open the Customize dialog box by choosing Customize | Tools. Everything you need is in one spot. Click the Toolbars tab and then click New. In the New Toolbar dialog box, enter a name and click OK. Outlook will create a new, empty toolbar. Just switch to the Commands tab to add built-in commands to the new toolbar by dragging them from the Commands list.
You can create commands for any folder or form, except for Note forms. Outlook displays custom toolbars in all views, but it's smart enough to enable only those commands that apply to the current view.
# 6: Create hyperlinks for quick access
All of us have a folder we use more than the others. It might contain e-mail from family and friends or store critical information about your current project. Instead of wading through the folders hierarchy to access it, add a hyperlink command to a command bar.
First, display the Web toolbar (right-click any toolbar and select Web). Then, navigate to the folder in question so you can see its path displayed in the Web toolbar's address box. For instance, if you selected the Inbox, the Web toolbar would display the path Outlook:Inbox.
Next, choose Tools | Customize, click the Commands tab, and choose Web from the Categories list. Scroll to the bottom of the Commands list box and drag the Folder command to a toolbar. Right-click the Folder command, choose Assign Hyperlink, and then select Open from the resulting submenu to open the Assign Hyperlink: Open dialog box. Enter the folder's path in the Address field and click OK. Now, anytime you want to access that folder, just click the new hyperlink command. This shortcut also works for Web addresses and local files.
#7: Create a Mail To hyperlink
If you send the same e-mail message to the same list on a regular basis, you can create a hyperlink command to reduce some of your work. For instance, let's suppose your group has a weekly meeting and before that meeting, you e-mail an agenda to everyone in the group. Now, there's more than one way you could automate this task, but a hyperlink command is the simplest.
Begin by choosing Tools | Customize and clicking the Commands tab. With File selected in the Categories list box, drag Mail Message from the Commands list box to a toolbar. Right-click the Mail Message command to display its properties. Since Outlook uses the New Mail Message icon, choose Text Only or select Change Button Image to pick a different icon for the command.
Next, click the Assign Hyperlink option and choose Open from the resulting submenu. In the Edit Hyperlink: Open dialog box, click E-mail Address in the Link To section (bottom left). Then, enter the name of your group's distribution list or enter each individual's e-mail address separately in the E-mail Address field. Add a descriptive subject and then click OK.
Each week, when you're ready to send the meeting's agenda, click the hyperlink command and Outlook will display a new e-mail form, pre-filled with the appropriate e-mail addresses and subject text.
#8: Use command bar shortcuts
Not everyone uses the mouse for everything. If you're more at home using the keyboard, you probably appreciate keyboard shortcuts. There are a number for working with command bars. First, activate the menu bar by pressing F10. Then you can use any of these shortcuts:
|Ctrl+Tab||Select next toolbar|
|Ctrl+Shift+Tab||Select previous toolbar|
|Tab||Select next button or menu|
|Shift+Tab||Select previous button or menu|
|Up or Down arrow+Enter||Select an option from a menu or drop-down list|
#9: Create a button image
Use the Office Button Editor to create custom icons for your custom commands. It's a bit limited, but it will get the job done most of the time. With the Customize dialog box open (Tools | Customize), right-click the command and choose Edit Button Image to launch Button Editor. Choose a color and then click a square or selection of squares in the Picture grid. You can also paste in a bitmap file that's 32 x 32 pixels or smaller.
#10: Beware of the Reset option
If you add a custom tool to the Menu Bar or to one of Outlook's built-in toolbars, you need to be careful about the Reset option. In fact, you might be better off creating a custom toolbar instead of altering the built-in Menu Bar or toolbars. It's just too easy to reset them without realizing that you're wiping out a custom tool — until later when you need it and it's no longer there. To reset the Menu Bar or a built-in toolbar, all you do is choose Tools | Customize, click the Toolbars tab, select the object you want to reset, and click Reset. This will remove all customization from the selected command bar, so make sure that's what you really want to do.
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.