What’s New In Microsoft Outlook Version 2010? Cool New Tips and Tricks

Webinar 19: Planning and Executing Long-Term Projects: Project Management for Non-Project ManagersWhen I think of productivity tools for the modern business professional, one of the first that comes to mind is Outlook, Microsoft’s insanely useful personal management program. Outlook began life as an email client, and it’s still a great one; but in the past decade, it’s grown into so much more. These days, Outlook is also one of the chief ways that savvy business professionals manage their time and maximize their accessibility, from scheduling their meetings to keeping track of their personal contacts.

This past year we were blessed with a new version, the inventively-named Microsoft Outlook 2010. It’s chockfull of interesting and practical features—some of them completely new, and others refinements of features introduced in earlier versions. In this article, I’ll show you how to best take advantage of a few.

The Ribbon Interface
In Outlook 2007, Microsoft introduced the Ribbon Interface on some Outlook windows, primarily those associated with message views. Now it’s all over the place, including the Inbox itself. As part of the Microsoft Office Fluent User Interface, it’s designed to help you quickly find the commands you need.

As with Word and other Office programs (into which the Ribbon has been integrated long since), related tasks are grouped under tabs; with minor exceptions, menus are history. And here’s something exciting: you can also add customized tabs to your ribbons to enhance your personal work style and thus maximize your productivity.

Quick Steps
This is a marvelous little feature located in the Mail view on the Home tab. With Quick Steps, you can set up one-click commands for the functions you use most often. This is especially handy for automating repetitive tasks. In addition to the custom options, there are several default Quick Steps with self-evident names, including Move to: , Forward: FYI (which uses FYI instead of FW when forwarding messages), To Manager, Team Email, Done, and Reply and Delete. All you have to do is configure them, and you’re good to go.

Sadly, a default Quick Step they left out is Get Me a Cup of Coffee, but I’m sure an enterprising manager could set this up as a custom command in about five minutes.

Conversation Changes
Not only can you now see more of your messages at once, thanks to the new Conversation View, it’s easier than ever to organize them. Conversations are automatically grouped by date and subject, and you can expand or collapse those views with one click. And here’s the kicker: you can quickly reduce the noise in your inbox by using two new features, Ignore Conversation and Clean Up Conversations.

If you’re getting a lot of Forwards, FYIs or other stuff that you don’t care to, instead of wading through and deleting the useless threads, just click the Ignore command in the Delete group on the Message tab. Up will pop a dialog box; click Ignore Conversation, and presto, the whole conversation is sent to Deleted Items purgatory. If you decide later that ignoring the conversation was a mistake, you can go back and click Ignore again. If the conversation is still in the Deleted Items folder, you can select Stop Ignoring Conversation, and it will reappear in your Conversation View.

Clean Up Conversations is just as useful. By default, Outlook saves the original message a sender is replying to at the bottom of their message. After a while, this can make for some long, space-wasting messages. You can use Clean Up to sweep any conversation or folder clean of all redundant messages, leaving only the most recent email that contains the entire conversation. Goodbye, clutter—hello productivity! As with the Ignore function, the cleaned-up messages go into the Deleted Items folder by default, where they can be recovered as long as the folder hasn’t been emptied. You can configure the feature to send them elsewhere, if you like, and there are several other options to let you specify exactly what gets cleaned up when you click the button.

Messaging Tweaks
In addition to the big changes outlined above, there are a number of small but significant changes to the message interface. Now you can configure Outlook to automatically close a message after you reply, and even better, there’s extended capacity to resend or recall messages.

In previous Outlook versions, these functions were possible, but only if you and your recipient were both using a Microsoft Exchange server. Now the only restriction is that your recipient is also using Outlook, and their settings are configured properly (this varies from version to version). The recall/resend may not succeed if their settings aren’t right, but as one reviewer pointed out, it’s worth a try.

Calendaring Tips
The ability to manage calendars has always been one of Outlook’s most useful features. The calendaring function hasn’t changed too much in this version, but it’s been tweaked to be more streamlined, and the ability to share schedules and manage multiple calendars has improved noticeably.

The new Calendar Groups feature is amazingly helpful, for example, because it lets you see the calendars of the people you work with frequently. Once you’ve configured the feature, you can view all their calendars with ease, and you can even determine which meeting rooms or other resources are available for use. One new feature that you team leaders will appreciate is the ability to add your team members’ schedules to your new and improved Schedule View, which makes it simple to schedule meetings by laying out resource, Individual, and Group calendars on a horizontal line so that you can more easily identify the best time to meet.

Another special feature that you can use in combination with the above is Meeting Suggestion, a feature added back in Outlook 2007. Whenever you enter a meeting request, the system analyzes the schedules of the attendees and suggests the best day and time for the meeting. If you receive a meeting request yourself, you can immediately use the Quick View to see how it affects your calendar, and accept or decline with one click.

Also: if you’re very busy, you may have a lot of old appointments and meetings cluttering up your calendar. If you’re sick of looking at them and don’t want to deal with them one by one, you can set the system to AutoArchive the old appointments by right-clicking on your calendar in the My Calendars list and selecting the AutoArchive tab. From there, it’s up to you to configure the archiving settings to best suit your needs.

Social Connector
Here’s a nifty new trick that allows you to pull information from social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Linked In, and Microsoft Live straight into Outlook. When you add someone to the Outlook Social Connector (OSC), it keeps track of their messages, status updates, comments, and more. It’ll even pull their contact information into your system, and update it whenever it changes.

Note, however, that you’ll need to install a provider add-in for each social network you want to track. The network itself will have to provide these. If they don’t already appear on this page, then you’ll need to check with the social network you’re interested in adding to see if they support OSC.

Search Enhancements
Another feature that Microsoft has improved upon in this version of Outlook is the search function. Once upon a time, it could be a pain to track down certain items without plugging in a third-party module. In Outlook 2007, however, Instant Search was introduced — and I, for one, have been happily using it since.

In Outlook 2010, the Search feature is even better! Now when you click the Search tab on the Ribbon, you get a variety of ways to search for a message. You can search by sender or recipient, by specific flags, attachments, or keywords, by when a message was sent, and more. You can also configure a search to your specifications, and save that search for later use. To access and reuse those searches, all you have to do is click the Recent Searches icon.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the search is initially limited to wherever you are within Outlook: Contacts, Calendar, Mail, etc. However, you can widen your search to other folders in that area (including Deleted Items) by clicking Try searching again at the end of the search results.

Mail Tips
Sometimes the simplest things can cause you to stumble. In an effort to hurry up and maximize productivity, minor errors can creep into your work. Often these aren’t any big deal, but they may make you look less professional…and sometimes a mistake can balloon to unexpected proportions.

The Mail Tips feature can be surprisingly helpful in this regard. Basically, the feature tells you when you’re about to perpetrate a common email error that might cause a problem: for example, if you accidentally click Reply All when you were BCC’d a message, it’ll pop up a message warning you about what you’re doing, so you can take it back in time. If you try to send an email to a mailbox you don’t have permission to send mail to, you’ll get a message letting you know that beforehand, too. And here’s a Mail Tip I think is especially handy: if you try to send a message to someone out of the office, you’ll get their out-of-office message before the email is sent if you’re both on the same Exchange 2010 server.

Phone Related Features
The ability to send SMS messages from Outlook to your non-smart cell phone was introduced in an earlier version of Outlook, and has been refined in Outlook 2010, as you can see in this YouTube video. But there’s a new phone-related feature in Outlook 2010 that, while probably of limited utility, I find it to be way cool.

In Outlook 2007 Microsoft introduced Unified Messaging, which makes it possible to access voice mail and faxes as well as regular email. Among other things, UM lets you add received phone numbers to your contact list, and reply to voice mail with an email (assuming the sender’s email address is in the system). With the new Voice Mail Preview, the system can actually listen to a voice mail and create a speech-to-text transcript of the message. While it’s not strictly necessary, this feature can be handy if you’d rather read a text message than listen to voice mail for one reason or another.

Little Things
Finally, there are a couple of minor but useful features in Outlook 2010 that I want to mention. They’re not much, but they definitely improve usability, which improves productivity.

Enhanced Spell Checking. Spell checking is now available in more places than ever, including email subject lines, meeting requests, and tasks. Also: if you’ve used older versions of Outlook, you’ve probably run into forced spell checking, which does exactly what the name implies. This isn’t new with Outlook 2010, but it’s worth mentioning. It can be embarrassing to send an email with misspelled words; and worse, it can reduce the message’s readability, resulting in decreased productivity all around. Make sure this feature is configured, and you have less to worry about.

Auto-Complete Improvements. Microsoft’s Auto-Complete feature is handy, but it can be annoying. It’s been possible to turn off Auto-Complete for several versions of Outlook now, but it was an all-or-nothing feature. With Outlook 2010, you can now remove specific names from the list of suggestions. Even better, if you’re using an Exchange Server account, your Auto-Complete list is available from any computer connected to the server.

The Bottom Line
Love it or hate it, Microsoft is a software juggernaut for good reason: it insists on producing superbly useful programs like Outlook, and then refining and broadening their capabilities in further releases. Outlook 2010 is no exception. It’s a big, complex program, but the new features in this version more than make up for the learning curve you’ll have to face after you install it.

I hope this article helps you take advantage of them!

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