It’s common for people to misconstrue Microsoft Outlook as “just another service to send and receive emails,” which is simply incorrect. Can Microsoft Outlook serve as your business’s email provider? Yes, but while popular applications like Gmail are just email service providers, Outlook is a full-fledged email application. In other words, there’s quite a lot more you can do with Outlook besides getting lost in your inbox. How would you like to no longer have to deal with default email fonts? What if you could override the size limitations of the attachments you want to send? Or what if you could take your overstuffed inbox and take it to inbox zero in a single click? If any of those scenarios sound at all helpful to you, read on because this entire article is an exploration into the number of ways you can enhance your business’s productivity with Microsoft Outlook.
What is Microsoft Outlook, and what is an email application?In its most general form, Microsoft Outlook can be understood as a personal information manager; the information it can manage includes your business’s tasks, notes, calendars, and of course, emails. You can use Outlook as a standalone application, but most businesses just get it as part of their Microsoft 365 Suite of applications. When you deploy Outlook through Microsoft Exchange Server or SharePoint, your team can utilize shared functions such as shared mailboxes, calendars, contacts, SharePoint Lists, and appointment scheduling, among other things. Earlier, we touched on the fact that one of the differences between Gmail and Outlook is that Gmail is an email service provider while Microsoft Outlook is an email application, and the difference isn’t exactly apples to apples. It’s more like apples to oranges.
- Email Service Provider — This is what most people use when they send and receive emails, and services like Gmail or Yahoo Mail fit into this category. The security with these is usually not the strongest, and the storage space is limited.
- Email Application — While you can use these to send and receive emails, sometimes your provider can end up being different than your application. For instance, you can use your Gmail through Microsoft Outlook, even if you don’t have an Outlook email address. The security for email applications is typically stronger and comes with greater storage space. You can also use many of the features of your email application while offline, which isn’t the case for web-based email service providers.
Master list of tips to get the most out of OutlookOf course, the fact that Microsoft Outlook is an email application is just one of the many things that set it apart from email service providers. You could settle with its email, but that would be a serious underutilization of its capabilities. Below are our top 22 tips for getting the most out of Microsoft Outlook.
Tip #1: Set up an Out-of-Office (OOO) Auto-ReplyWhen you know you’re going to be out of reach to your team members and or partners, you can set Outlook to automatically respond to incoming mail with a curated message that also lets senders know when you’ll be available again. This tip likely won’t come as a surprise to many, given that it’s considered standard business practice in the business world, but its ubiquity across industries is part of what makes this feature so essential. The last thing you want is an email application that complicates this task.
Tip #2: Create an automated email signatureInstead of simply ending your emails with “Sincerely, John Doe,” you can set up a customized signature that shows up at the end of your emails. It can contain your business information, a tag line, a meme—whatever you see fit as your unique signature. Regardless of what you use for your automated signature, you’ll be grateful to no longer have to type one out at the end of every message you write out.
Tip #3: Inset an inline image via emailYou know that you can send images in your emails in the form of attachments, but did you know that you can also just paste them inline the email between your text? Well, you can, and they’re aptly called inline images. And you can do more than just images: graphics and memes are also options.
Tip #4: Change the default email font and sizeMany times people feel that the default font and size of the text in emails is a bit too small or simply too bland. If you’d like, you can spice things up in Outlook by changing the precise look and feel of your text size and font—even the color, if you’re up for it.
Tip #5: Increase email font size while reading in OutlookFollowing this same vein from tip #4, you can also change the font and size used in the text of emails you receive. This way, whether you’re sending or getting the messages, you get to see them the way you want to.
Tip #6: Sync Google and iPhone calendars to OutlookInstead of having to jump around between multiple platforms to see all your calendars, you can sync them all to Outlook so that all your events and appointments appear in the same place. So even if you use Apple Calendar and a Google Calendar, you can view them all on Outlook.
Tip #7: Set up a distribution listRather than sending the same email to multiple people in a group, you can create your own mailing lists in Outlook to distribute emails to. This is great for communicating with your entire team or with a third-party agency you’re working with.
Tip #8: Backup or Copy Your Outlook Mail, Contacts, and Other DataWhen you’re trying to clean out your inbox of old emails, you may, on occasion, mistakenly delete important messages you needed to read. With Outlook, such a mishap is easy to recover from when you use its backup capabilities. And you can backup not only emails but also contacts and other important data you may want to hold onto.
Tip #9: Automatically Cc: All Mail You SendIn the event that you need to copy your stakeholders or anyone else in every message you send, Microsoft Outlook has a feature that automatically does so whenever you compose an email. This feature is also useful if you have a separate email address you use as an archive of all your messages, making it incredibly useful for maintaining a reliable digital paper trail.
Tip #10: Increase the Outlook Attachment Size LimitIf you’re just sending a plain text or smaller images/graphics through your email, you may not ever need to use this function. But if you need to send high-quality photos, videos, or other types of attachments that have giant file sizes, you can do so by increasing Outlook’s attachment size limit.
Tip #11: Export Your Outlook Contacts to a CSV FileWhether you’re moving away from Outlook but want to keep all the contacts you have with it, or you just want to send someone a list of all or some of your contacts, Outlook can make this easy by letting you export contacts to a CSV file.
Tip #12: Import Contacts From Excel or a CSV File Into OutlookSimilarly, Microsoft Outlook also enables you to import contacts from CSV files or from Excel, which can save you hours of what would have been manual data entry.
Tip #13: Set up an All Mail FolderNormally, Outlook separates your mail into different categories like Spam, Promotions, etc. However, if you just want to see all the mail in a single folder, you can do so by setting up an All Mail folder.
Tip #14: Create Sub-FoldersWhile Outlook does come with some basic folders for your mail from the get-go, you can go out of your way to create subfolders to better organize the emails you receive with greater specificity.
Tip #15: Archiving MessagesSometimes, getting to inbox zero isn’t so much about deleting messages as it is about tidying up your inbox in general. For those times when you don’t need to see some emails, but you don’t want to get rid of them entirely, you can archive them for safekeeping.
Tip #16: Schedule emailsMicrosoft Outlook allows you to easily schedule out emails that you don’t want to send immediately. This is great for replies you need to write up, but you don’t want to send them because it’s after business hours. In this scenario and others, you can schedule emails to send precisely when you need them to.
Tip #17: Edit a Received Message in OutlookYou can adjust subject lines and other important text in emails you have received with Microsoft Outlook. This is especially useful when you want to leave notes for yourself to look over before replying to a specific email when you have more time on your hands.
Tip #18: Move Complex and Non-Critical Emails Into a To-Do FolderRather than deal with non-essential emails immediately, stash them into a to-do folder for later.
Tip #19: Automatically Filter One Sender’s Mail to a Specific FolderFor emails that you need to file away for when you’re ready to reply to in the future, you can make Outlook deposit those messages to a specific folder as soon as they are received. Just choose a sender and set Outlook to route all their future emails to a folder of your choosing.
Tip #20: Save Multiple Attachments at OnceThis simple productivity hack can save you a bit of time by saving all the attachments you’ve received in an email at once, rather than having to click “save” on each individual attachment.
Tip #21: Make Replies to Emails Go to Another Address in OutlookYou may use multiple email addresses within your same Outlook account, and that can make it a bit difficult to keep track of all the replies you get to them. However, with Outlook, you can make it so that whenever someone replies to an email from any of your addresses, the replies all go to your primary address, whichever one that is.
Tip #22: Clean Up Your Inbox in a Single ClickOne of the things people dread about getting back from vacation is having to dig through a heap of unimportant emails—but you have to check them because some might be valuable. It becomes a game of separating the wheat from the chaff. However, with Outlook’s clean-up function, you can have all email replies that came to you appear in a single thread rather than a bunch of individual emails. Setting this up takes a few clicks, but once it’s done, you just have to go to the folder of your choice and click “Clean Up.”
Lesser-known use-cases capabilities of Microsoft Outlook
Keyboard ShortcutsWhen people think of keyboard shortcuts, the ones that typically come to mind are basics like CTRL+Z or CTRL+F, but Outlook has some shortcuts specific to the application, which can save you some precious time. Some of these shortcuts include:
- CTRL+R (reply to messages)
- CTRL+SHIFT+C (create new contact)
- ALT+S (send message)
- CTRL+SHIFT+A (make new appointment)
- CTRL+1 (switch to mail)
- CTRL+2 (switch to calendar)
- CTRL+3 (switch to contacts)
- CTRL+4 (switch to tasks)
Forward Email as an AttachmentWhen you really need to keep every detail of your emails intact when forwarding it to someone, you can do so by forwarding it as an attachment. Doing so is useful as it preserves all the metadata contained in the original message, which is helpful when troubleshooting or dealing with legal issues.
Manage Your Rules in OutlookThe rules function allows you to take Outlook to the next level regarding its convenience and efficiency. You can use it to have alerts sent to your phone in the event that you’re waiting on an urgent message or have a rule that forwards certain emails to specific people on your team. Another rule you could make helps keep your inbox tidy by automatically sending newsletters to a read later folder, rather than having them stack on top of your primary received emails.
Send Emails to Undisclosed RecipientsThis feature is useful for when you want to email a whole group of contacts, but you want to keep their addresses hidden.
Task ManagementYou can always create tasks and task lists for yourself, but like calendars, Outlook allows you to share tasks with your team members. You can even delegate tasks to them and assign them so that you get a notification when tasks are completed.
Get to know Outlook like the back of your handWhen you understand an application like Microsoft Outlook in greater detail, the way you use it changes in such a way that saves you and your team time, energy, and attention. In the beginning, it may seem like you’re just shaving off a few minutes here and there, but it adds up over time as your new productivity hacks become ingrained into subroutines that you follow without having to think about it. In summary:
- What is Microsoft Outlook? — Broadly, Microsoft Outlook can be seen as a personal information manager, but more specifically, it’s an email application that allows you to manage emails, tasks, calendars, and notes.
- What is an email application? — Like email service providers, you can use email applications to send and receive mail. However, you can also use them to host your email, which enables you to use Outlook but still have a Gmail email address. The security for email applications is also stronger and comes with greater storage space, making them the preferred option for many businesses.
- Master list of tips — On Top of the basic email features and more advanced application functions of Microsoft Outlook, there are several noteworthy tips to enhance your business’s workflow efficiency. These tips range from things as simple as using email scheduling and taking advantage of Outlook’s task management capabilities to lesser-known things like rules management and increasing the size limits of your attachments.
- Lesser-known tips — Some less well-known Outlook features include the ability to use shortcuts for a wide range of functions, forwarding emails as attachments, task management capabilities, and sending emails to undisclosed recipients.