Many moons ago, Outlook search was a laborious process – you’d enter a word and Outlook would chunter through every message in turn to see if your desired text was contained within. In the days when you a few emails, that was fine, but when you have many thousands of messages, it’s not viable.
15 years ago, Microsoft bought a company that made an add-in called LookOut and since then, deep search capabilities have been added in a variety of ways, now provided through the Windows Search service.
A feature that was added into both Outlook is the “Top Results” section in search results – essentially providing what the search engine returns as the most relevant content, rather than necessarily the most recent.
How useful this is might depend on how and when you use Outlook search – if you’re looking for a way to return very specific results, it might be more of a distraction than a help (ie if you’re a natural piler, you might use Search as a normal way of retrieving stuff rather than an occasional tool for finding something in particular).
Should you find the Top Results section annoying and/or distracting, it can be easily disabled by going into Search Options within the Search tab on Outlook’s ribbon, and clear the “most relevant search results” option.
Do so, and normalcy returns.
Top Results also appears in Outlook Web App (outlook.office.com), in the consumer Outlook.com and in Windows Mail – and it doesn’t appear that you can disable it: much to some users’ chagrin. Turn to Uservoice or Feedback Hub if you feel similarly.
To get more out of Search in the desktop Outlook app, it’s worth understanding how to be more specific – even using just a few keywords will help you narrow the results. Search for from:bob, for example, and all results will be mails that originated from someone who had “bob” in their display name. Narrow the search even more by adding terms like sent:yesterday, about:pricing or messagesize:enormous as well.
You can use various tools in the Search bar to filter your results, too – it might even be quicker clicking the big paperclip than typing hasattachments:yes. To discover more search terms, click the + More option in the search bar and have a play.
The Microsoft To Do desktop and mobile applications and services (all available from https://todo.microsoft.com/) had a major update recently, which included being slightly renamed. Instead of “Microsoft To-Do”, the core app is now simply “Microsoft To Do”, and it has a new logo (well done if you noticed)… instead of a blocky light-blue and white tick on a blue background, it’s a slightly rounded and shaded blue tick on white background.
Still, To[-]Do’s functionality has stepped forward greatly since its first release a couple of years back, taking more than a few leaves from the Wunderlist app that preceded it. The new v2 of the To Do app includes background images that can be shown behind task lists, including one of the Berlin Television Tower which was synonymous with Wunderlist.
After Microsoft’s acquisition of 6wunderkinder (the company that made Wunderlist), it was announced that, at some stage, the Wunderlist application would be retired but still there’s no confirmed date or anything, with back-end engineering apparently taking a good bit longer than was first expected.
When the To-Do app was launched, it was a somewhat poorer cousin. Now, the story is that To Do v2 has enough of the functionality of Wunderlist, and lots of new capabilities (such as Cortana integration), that it’s time for Wunderlist users to transition.
The founder of 6wunderkinder has taken to Twitter to offer to buy back Wunderlist before Microsoft shuts the service down. It remains to be seen if the offer is being considered or not…
Back in the olden days of computing, wage slaves sat in front of terminals with black backgrounds and lurid green text writing. The advent of the graphical user interface relieved this tyranny with a paper-white background from a bitmapped screen to write your WYSIWYG text, to showcase colourful graphics (and Fonts!).
Fast forward 30+ years and it seems every app and OS is running away from black text / white backgrounds, and heading for monochrome graphics and oppressive white text on a black background again.
Using Dark Mode, either in apps or in the operating system on your computer or phone, promises a variety of benefits – less noticeable flickering, reducing eye strain, avoiding bright lights in a dark environment, perhaps better readability and therefore productivity, and even lower energy costs.
Dark Mode has existed in Windows for a while – but ultimately, apps need to support the theme, too, and more and more are doing so – like new Edge browser, or Office apps (where you can set the Office Theme).
The announcement on Microsoft 365 functionality adds for August 2019 highlighted additional Dark Mode support coming to Outlook mobile apps and Outlook.com, saying, “Dark Mode is not only easier on the eyes and may extend battery life, it also enables you to comfortably continue using your device in places where the default bright mode isn’t appropriate, like darkened airplanes and movie theaters.”
So kids, next time you want to go and watch a movie & catch up on your email, make sure you’ve Dark Mode on!
When moving between countries, one of the tricks the traveller needs to decide is how to handle the switch of time zone. Do you set your watch to the destination time as soon as you board the plane, or only when the pilot announces, in his or her ever-so distincive pilot tone, what the local time is on arrival?
Also, do you wait for your phone to pick up the destination time zone automatically, or do you set it manually? If you have a Fitbit or other wearable, do you want it to pick up the time from your phone or do you force it on departure? Decisions, decisions…
Frequent travellers tend to have pearls of wisdom on how to deal with jet lag – like get your mind in the destination time zone and keep it there (ie. If you’re out having dinner after arrival, do not keep saying that it’s really 4am; it’s 8pm now and you can’t go to bed for at least another two hours), or get the sun – or even a bright light – on the back of your knees. It’s a lot easier to handle the differing time zones using your PC…
Outlook – whenever an appointment is created, its date and time are recorded as an offset from UTC, and the time zone it’s due to take place in is also noted. If you’re creating meetings or appointments which are in a different time zone, like travel times, then it may be worth telling Outlook by clicking the Time Zone icon in the ribbon, and then selecting the appropriate TZ – especially useful if you’re moving between time zones during the appointment itself, and don’t want to run the risk of horological befuddlement.
If you’re booking a load of appointments in another time zone – eg. you’re working in another country for a few days and creating appointments with people in that locale – then it’s even worth switching the TZ of your PC whilst you do the diary-work, to save a lot of clicking around in setting the appropriate time zone specific to each meeting.
The best way to do this would be to show your second time zone in the Outlook calendar – in the main Outlook window, go to File | Options | Calendar and select the second one to show; when you’re ready to switch between your local TZ and the remote one, just click the Swap Time Zones button to switch the PC (and Outlook) between the different zones.
Windows 10 – In the Settings | Date & time menu, there’s an option to tweak how Windows deals with time and time zones – some of which might be applied by policy and therefore greyed out for you. Like phone OSes, Windows 10 has the option of setting time zone automatically.
If you’re going to use the time zone swapping in Outlook as per above, switching time zones before you actually travel, then it’s worth disabling the automatic mode as Windows can get itself properly confused; the default time zone will change, and Outlook will end up showing the same time zone for both primary and secondary.
Using the old fashioned Windows control panel time settings applet, you can choose to show a second time zone in the clock on the system tray – in the Date & time settings, look to the right and you’ll see Add clocks for different time zones.
The Alarms & Clock app in Windows 10 shows a map of the world with your choice of locations, and the moving daylight line so you can see what’s happening around the globe. A good alternative to that exec boardroom display nonsense, that you might expect to see gracing the wall of your average corporate hot shot.
On the mobile platforms that still survive, the highly-regarded and rightly popular “Outlook” mobile apps have no relation to the Outlook desktop Windows app which first appeared with Office 97, before smartphones were a glint in anyone’s eye. Mobile Outlook has hundreds of millions of downloads on both iOS and Android; quite a feat, as later this year Windows Mobile sinks quietly beneath the waves.
The genesis of Outlook on the phone as we know it today, is perhaps the acquisition of a company called Accompli 5 years ago, and a great deal of refinement and effort since.
Somewhat interestingly, traces of the same app have come to Windows as well – namely the Mail and Calendar app(s) that are in the box on Windows 10. Look back to ToW 445, and you’ll see that the names for the apps are outlookcal, outlookmail and outlookaccounts. Stick a “:” on the end and you can run them from a prompt.
e.g. Hit WindowsKey+R then enter outlookcal: and you’ll jump straight into the Calendar app.
Both have come a very long way – at first release, they were pretty basic, but they’re now so well featured that most people could use them as their primary email and calendar apps, most of the time.
The Calendar app is functionally pretty similar to the Outlook desktop app, except when it comes to working with other people – there’s no way to view someone else’s calendar, for example, but for a personal diary of appointments it’s really very good. And if you want the best of both worlds, you can connect your Office 365 account to both Outlook – as might be your primary way of working – and to the Mail and Calendar apps, for some side benefits and quicker ways of getting some things done.
Go into the settings on the Calendar app, then Manage accounts, then + Add account… or just Win+R then outlookaccounts: and you’ll be able to add your Office 365 account onto both Mail and Calendar.
If you have multiple calendars connected – like home Office 365, Gmail or Outllook.com accounts as well as your corporate one – you could selectively enable them for display in the app, and the set of calendars that are shown will also appear in the agenda if you click on the clock / date on your taskbar. You can also see your upcoming appointments in a live tile on the Start menu, if you still use such things.
You’ll also see your next appointment on the Windows Lock Screen if you have it enabled under Lock screen settings.
You may want to go into the Notifications & actions settings page (just press Start and begin typing notif…) and turning off Calendar notifications, or you’ll get a blizzard of reminders from desktop Outlook and the Calendar app.
Many people who rely on the same applications to do repetitive tasks, will want to learn quicker ways of doing them – and use shortcut keys to good effect. Shortcuts have been covered in ToW previously – eg. how to start modern apps quickly, or navigating between running apps.
As world+dog moves from internal corporate email to Teams, Slack etc, it’s handy to know how to get the best out of the new messaging environment. Before abandoning Outlook already, here’s a reminder of some especially useful shortcut keys:
And there are lots and lots more.
When it comes to using Teams, one of the most useful shortcut tips is essentially the same as the Outlook set above – CTRL-number takes you to one of the nodes on the side-bar that corresponds to the number from the top – eg CTRL-4 will jump to Meetings, which is handy if you have Teams calls in you calendar and want to join the calls from there rather than Outlook.
Incidentally, if you normally go into an appointment in Outlook and click the “Join Teams Meeting” link in the text body, you may tire of continually telling Outlook that yes, you did mean to switch applications, and it’s OK, you already have the desktop app…
Click the “Join Teams Meeting” icon on the Ribbon in Outlook instead, and you’ll skip this. If you’re super-skilful then you can jump straight to that command without lifting your fingers from the keyboard – just press the ALT key and you’ll see shortcut letters appear under each of the sections of the Ribbon; press the corresponding one (“H” if you’ve opened the meeting up in Outlook already), and you’ll then see a letter combo that will activate the Ribbon commands – Y1 in this case will jump straight into the meeting.
There are many other shortcuts in Teams, with varying degrees of usefulness. Customising the UI is still a bit clunky (eg you can’t add shortcuts straight to the sidebar or move items on it up and down) but you may be able to find a quick way of doing the things you need most. To see a summary of shortcut keys whilst in teams, just press CTRL-. (ie CTRL and full stop/period ‘.’).
You may be affected by upcoming changes to time zones, as much of the northern hemisphere moves out of Daylight Saving Time and back to winter, which for is happening over the next couple of weeks.
Many Southern Hemisphere nations have already moved into “summer time”, though a few will make the transition on 4th November.
Europe, most of Mexico and parts of the Middle East will move out of DST this weekend, but most of the North America and the Caribbean will “fall back” the week after. See the list of places that currently observes DST and when they transition.
This can play havoc with people’s electronic calendars; systems these days generally take notice of time zone changes pretty well and that means the relative times of meetings are preserved, though what this does mean is that a 9am meeting organised in Seattle (and therefore hosted in Pacific Time) will be 5pm for attendees in London this week, but it would be 4pm GMT the week after, then back to 5pm after that, as the US moves clocks back.
This topic was covered 3 years ago in ToW #301, and most of the tips contained therein are still valid today.
Maybe future generations will stop the winter/summer time flip-flop effect altogether (Californians get to vote on whether to join their neighbours in Arizona, by staying on the same time zone all year, and the EU may stop the practice of changing clocks too). In the meantime, for a few weeks a year, those of us who deal cross-border may need to think a bit more about what the time is in our neighbour’s locale.
If in any doubt, make sure you add another time zone to the time scale on your Outlook calendar view, so you can see at a glance what the time is in other regions.
One further innovation since the last time this topic was aired, is that Outlook now lets you show a third time zone in calendar if you so desire.
Somewhat improbably, one fairly prominent feature of Outlook has never been discussed in detail on a previous ToW – Quick Steps. Hiding in plain sight on the Home tab, it’s likely that every Outlook user has clicked on Quick Steps at some point, but do you use them regularly?
Put simply, Quick Steps make some repetitive tasks easy with a single click or even a shortcut key combo – start by selecting a message you’d like to apply some action to (such as moving or categorizing it), or if you’d like to start some new item based on the contents of the message – like create a task or an appointment, including the body of the original mail.
Quick Steps can be applied to individual messages or multiples (hold CTRL key while selecting more than one), including selecting the whole conversation if you’re viewing in that mode. Click on Create New Quick Step (or click the little expand icon in the bottom right, for the Manage Quick Steps dialog, and create one from there).
You’ll see there are plenty of options available for actions that you can take on messages, some already combined if you kick off the New step from within the Manage Quick Steps dialog box – though you can add multiple actions to any one after the initial creation. The Categorize and Move option is particularly handy if you want to file all your mails for a given customer or a specific topic, into a subfolder.
If you haven’t played much with Quick Steps before, have a go – they’re fab-u-lous!
Teams is coming – it’s going to Skype for Business Online – which we know – though the Skype for Business server will still be there for on-prem use. Teams works arguably better in a purely online scenario, since Skype for Business has its roots in a different era, where infrastructure was nearby and closely managed,
The Lync / OCS / LCS application family has been with us for a while now, and Skype for Business is largely a 2015-era re-branding and update of Lync, which itself dates back to 2010.
Back in the OCS days, it was assumed you had a server on-premises (style note – the opposite of “in the cloud” is “on-premises”, ie in or on the premises you have, possibly abbreviated to “on-prem”. It is definitely not, ever, “on-premise”. If you are on-premise, that means you’re in agreement with a point of view, not that you still run your own datacent(re|er)…), not an assumption that you’d make today, with flexible working and Wi-Fi everywhere.
Anyway, as well as having on-prem kit that’s quite possibly connected to a physical phone system, Lync/S4B largely assumed your client (wired to a LAN) connected to a local server. That communicated to other clients and servers in the same environment (mostly) and, maybe via a gateway, to the outside world for the POTS. How cool it was to click a link in the communicator client, and next thing your desk phone was calling that number!
As Teams imminently starts to replace Skype for Office 365 customers, we’re seeing lots of best practice guides and other resources for successful adoption. Further Teams ToWs will follow as well – in fact, if you have one you’d like to share, please write it up and send it over.
This week’s tip focuses – or rather doesn’t – on a very cool trick when using Teams for video calling: the ability to blur your background, so as to remove distractions for other parties in the call. There’s a great short video ad illustrating the feature, here. See it in action here.
Once upon a time, users had to deal with email quotas that meant they often had to shuffle messages around to stay within their allowed size limit, or else get limited functionality. The Outlook Thread Compressor tool* was written to help reduce the size of a user’s mailbox, and for a while, had thousands of users inside Microsoft. It inspired the Outlook team to write the “Conversation Clean Up” feature, which works in a slightly different way but does similar things.
Nowadays, with 50 or 100GB mailbox quotas being the norm, most Outlook users don’t need to worry about reducing the size of their mailbox other than to keep it from being too hard to use – a tidy mind and all that. But if you have massive mailboxes, the storage and organisation of all your content may put an unnecessary strain on your PC, so it’s worth taking a few steps to check and clean up if you can.
… and marvel at a dialog box that hasn’t changed since the earliest days of Outlook, evidenced by the fact it measures size in KB rather than MB or even GB…
Limits to be aware of
There are some recommended limits that have been given to Exchange/Outlook users over the years – not just about the overall size of the mailbox, but the number of items in certain folders and even the number of folders themselves. See a 2005 post on the Exchange blog here, for example, which advises keeping the item count low on certain folders (< 1,000 items in the Inbox, Calendar and Contacts folder was the recommendation then – also on the Exchange Blog, check out some of the examples in this post for early pioneers of huge mailboxes).
In more recent versions of Outlook, though, there are some guidelines to avoid performance problems:
Now, you’re probably not going to have too many folders with more than 100k items though it might be worth checking Sent Items and Deleted Items. Unfortunately, the mailbox size tool above shows you the total size of each folder, rather than the number of items – and if you want to know how many folder you have, you’d need to manually count them in the scrolling list box: not an easy task if you have lots of them.
It’s quite possible if you’ve had your mailbox for a while, and you’re a very diligent filer (especially if you use a methodology like GTD or tools like ClearContext), you could inadvertently have more than 500 folders – and if you use AutoArchive, then you could find a lot of them are empty, since the archive process moves the items out into another location but leaves the folder structure behind.
FolderCount to the rescue
Here’s an interesting little hobby project – a macro-enabled Excel sheet which cycles through all the folders in your mailbox, tells you how many items are in each one and offers to get rid of the empty ones for you.
It can be run in:
Use with caution; though anything that is successfully “deleted” will be moved to Deleted Items first, therefore you’ll need to run it again to actually do the damage (or just empty your Deleted Items… a thought that fills some people with dread).
To run it, click on the link above, save the file locally, open it up in Excel and you’ll need to enable the Macros to run – probably by first enabling editing, and then allowing macros by “Enable Content”.
Once you’ve done that, click on the appropriate button to let it run. I’d suggest starting with the top one until you feel brave…
*The Thread Compressor tool was made available externally after a time, but the domain disappeared… the actual Outlook Addin is again available here, but you’re a bit on your own as far as installing and using it is concerned…