Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Frequently asked questions

This article is part of a series Best practices for Outlook for Mac 2011. To learn about the specific parts in the series, refer to the See also links at the bottom of the page.

Why show the Reading Pane on the right and not the bottom (or off)?

Reading a longer column of narrow text is easier than reading a shorter, wider section of text. This is because it is easier to move your eyes down than left to right over long distances, which can cause you to move your head and neck and lead to fatigue. It is better to have the Reading Pane on, so that you don't have to open each message to read its contents.

What to do with folders I don't need anymore?

The Navigation Pane folder list should be reserved for folders you use often. If it's filled with folders you don't even recognize, move all mail into the reference folder and delete your existing folders.

When should I use conversation view?

Conversation view is useful when:

  • You check your messages less frequently, and therefore have more messages to view at a time.

  • You have many message threads that have a lot of back-and-forth discussion.

  • You need to see the context of who has responded to whom.

  • You get a lot of messages.

By viewing your messages in conversation view, you can easily see which conversations have had the most back-and-forth discussion. In those cases, you might want to read and respond to only the last message in the conversation. You can also select an entire conversation and act on it. For example, there might be a lengthy series of messages where the last one simply states, "Thanks, that answers my question," so you can just delete the whole conversation.

You can also see messages from other folders when you are in conversation view, which is very helpful when you receive a new message on a lengthy conversation — you can see the whole history, including your replies.

Should I keep personal and business messages together?

Reducing the number of places where you read messages doesn’t mean that you should mix your work and personal messages. A best practice is to use separate mail accounts for work and personal communications. You should, however, reduce the number of email addresses that you have to deal with. Fortunately, with Outlook for Mac 2011, you can view multiple accounts simultaneously. You can view your work messages (Exchange Server), your Windows Live Hotmail, and Google Gmail account, all while working in the same profile in Outlook for Mac 2011.

To make it easy to read messages from different accounts, Outlook for Mac 2011 has a unified inbox that groups similar folders, such as inboxes, from all of your accounts. This makes it easier to read all your messages at once, without having to move around between account folders. If you want, you can turn off this feature so that each account and all its folders are separated in the folder list.

We recommend you turn off the unified inbox.

  • On the Outlook menu, click Preferences, click General, and then clear Group similar folders, such as Inboxes, from different accounts check box.

How do read and unread states help me?

Read and unread states in Outlook for Mac 2011 help by showing you quickly which messages have been read at least once and which have not. However, the read and unread states of messages can easily be triggered by clicking around your messages so they are not a perfect record — just a tool.

To quickly mark a message as read or unread, open the message and then on the Message tab, click the Read or Unread button. The button changes based on the current status of the message. If you want to see only the unread messages, on the Home tab, click the arrow next to Filters, and click Unread.

Why isn't read/unread state enough?

Some people try to use the read and unread states to indicate whether a message is new or a reference item. But unread state is unreliable, because as soon as a message loses focus (when you click another message), it is automatically marked as read and far too often other devices (phones, for example) mark messages as read. Inevitably, messages will be reread, and the mental tax of figuring out what you need to do will be paid again. Using unread/read state as the “line” between those items in your Inbox that are “tasks” and those that just haven’t been processed tends to break down when you receive many messages, some of which you will never read because you can tell by looking at the subject that you don’t need to read them. A far more efficient Inbox plan is to go through your messages and decide what to do with each one. Then it should leave your Inbox — not remain "unread."

Why should I file my messages?

It is a best practice to have a central repository for your messages, so that you can refer to them after you've "dealt" with them. By having a limited number of folders to look in (1-Reference and 2-Personal), you don't have to worry about misfiling a message or needing to copy it into multiple folders if it applies to more than one topic or project. That's not to say that there isn't a need for browsing through messages that are all on a particular topic or project. Outlook for Mac 2011 provides better tools — such as categories and Smart Folders — so you can search effectively.

Why should I have only one reference folder?

By having a single folder, you don't have to think about which folder holds which messages, and you know that everything in this folder is something that you have looked at before and wanted to keep.

Having multiple folders means that each time you file a message, you are forced to decide which folder to use. This becomes even more complicated if there is more than one appropriate folder per message. Since many folders go unused when there are multiple choices, this creates clutter.

Although it might not seem like a big deal to leave all of your messages in your Inbox, there is a hidden cost you pay every time you look at a message and wonder, "Is this something I have to deal with or is this just here for reference?" There is also peace of mind gained from having an Inbox filled only with new things. Your Inbox is a place that other people can manipulate; what you put in your reference folder is strictly up to you.

Why do I need different folders for Contact Groups?

  • Different delete schedules

    You should have different folders for different Contact Groups based on topic and frequency of scheduled deletions. For example, if you are on a carpooling Contact Group, the messages in the Carpool folder should be deleted daily. A Contact Group covering a work-related topic should be deleted less frequently, such as annually.

  • Efficient conversation grouping

    When you have separate folders for topical Contact Groups, you can see entire conversations grouped together. Should you need to, you can efficiently search within a folder.

Which Contact Groups should go to a folder instead of my Inbox?

Good candidates for a Contact Group rule and folder are Contact Groups that:

  • Receive a lot of messages.

  • Are directed to many people.

Corporate-level messages with important news (for example, from the CEO) and messages from your IT department about server downtime should not go into a folder. Messages to a Contact Group that only occasionally contain useful or interesting content, regardless of frequency, should have a rule and a folder

How do I set up the “To: me” rule?

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules.

  2. In the left pane of the Rules dialog box, under EXCHANGE SERVERS, click the account name.

  3. In the Rules dialog box, click Add a rule   Add .

  4. Under When a new message arrives that meets all these conditions, on the first pop-up menu, click Sent To, and then on the second pop-up menu, click To or CC Me.

  5. Under Do the following, on the first pop-up menu, click Move to Folder, and then on the second pop-up menu, click Choose Folder.

  6. Type Inbox, and then click the Inbox that you want.

  7. Select the Do not apply other rules to messages that meet the same conditions check box.

How do I set up the “Contact Groups" rule?

For each contact group that you are a member of where you don’t have to read every message, create a rule.

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules.

  2. In the left pane of the Rules dialog box, under EXCHANGE SERVERS, click the account name.

  3. In the Rules dialog box, click Add a rule   Add .

  4. Under When a new message arrives that meets all these conditions, on the first pop-up menu, click From, and then on the second pop-up menu, click Is.

  5. In the text box, enter Contact Group name and then select it from the list provided.

  6. Under Do the following, on the first pop-up menu, click Move to Folder, and then on the second pop-up menu, click Choose Folder.

  7. Type the Contact Group folder name, and then click it.

  8. Repeat steps for each Contact Group.

Tip: If you can think of no reason that you would want an email message sent to this contact group to be sent to your Inbox, consider asking to be removed from the Contact Group.

Why should I use rules?

As time goes on, you will likely receive more and more messages. You cannot read every message you receive — nor should you try to. Rather, just read the messages that are important for you to read. Rules will help you prioritize important messages and minimize distractions.

What should I do with unused categories?

Delete all of the categories that you don't plan to use. The same category set applies to all items, so if you use a category for contacts, keep it.

What’s the best way to choose colors?

When creating color categories, be thoughtful in your color choices. For example, don’t choose the same color for @phone as @email, but do choose similar colors (shades of green, for example) for all of your 1:1 categories. Over time, you will be able to look at your task list and determine just by color whether the task is presently actionable. For example, if @Home is purple, and you are at work, you can't do any purple tasks.

Why schedule time for myself?

By scheduling time for yourself on your calendar, your free/busy information will be updated and people will be less likely to schedule you for that time. If you have a busy calendar, this might be the only way you can get dedicated time to do your job.

It also helps you to make a commitment to doing work — if you put it on your calendar, you should be committed to doing that work at that time. If someone schedules over your work time, make sure to reschedule your time. Don't cheat yourself!

How do I handle the 10,000 messages in my Inbox?

If you have more than 20 items in your Inbox, process the last week of messages and then select the remaining messages and move them to your 1-Reference folder. Yes, you can do this, and it will feel great.

Why do I get so many messages?

If you feel overwhelmed by messages, you are probably receiving more than you can possibly handle, and you might need to set up more aggressive rules. Try analyzing where your messages are coming from by arranging your messages by From and then collapse all of the headers. Are you reading Contact Groups that you don't need to read? If so, create a rule. If you change your view, don't forget to change it back!

I have 10 minutes: What should I read first in my Inbox?

If you are short on time, for example, between meetings, you can read the messages with Any Recipient is Me – messages sent directly to you. Often these messages are waiting on you for the next step and are the most important.

  • On the Home tab, click Filters, and then click Any Recipient is Me.

How often should I read my messages?

For many of us, reading messages is nearly an addiction. Spend 20 minutes in the morning going through your messages, and then turn your attention to doing a daily review of your task list. Then get on with your day! Limiting the time you spend reading messages to once in the morning and once at the end of the day could significantly improve your productivity. Try it for a full week and see for yourself.

How can I manage complicated tasks?

If you just want to remember a few related tasks, list them in the body of the task

Should I keep personal and business tasks together?

If possible, keep your personal and business tasks in one place. Keeping one list reduces the number of places that you need to look for what needs to be done. Even if you already have only one list, use categories to sort your personal from business tasks and manage your list effectively. Your personal tasks will be stored on your company's Exchange Server and could be visible to your IT department, so only put appropriate personal tasks on your list.

What’s wrong with keeping tasks in my head?

Keeping tasks in your head doesn't work. It is liberating to depend on Outlook for Mac 2011 instead of your overtaxed brain to keep track of your tasks. You can stop spending brain power reminding yourself of your tasks ("Okay, remember to send John a message about the templates, send John a message about the templates…") and focus on the activity at hand.

Why keep my tasks in Outlook for Mac 2011?

Why a task list in Outlook for Mac 2011 works better than a paper list:

  • Paper lists can't automatically be kept up-to-date.

  • Paper lists can't be easily rearranged.

  • You can use Outlook Web App to view your task list from anywhere.

  • Paper lists can be easily lost.

Advanced: How do I create a Smart Folder for email messages?

A Smart Folder, also known as a saved search or a search folder, is a virtual folder that dynamically displays a set of search results. For example, you could create a search to find all the items in the Manager category that are flagged for follow up but not yet completed. This search can be saved as a Smart Folder so that you can use these search criteria later without having to manually recreate the advanced search.

  1. In the upper-right corner of the Outlook window, click in the search box Outlook Search box .

    The Search tab appears.

  2. Define the scope of the search by clicking a scope button on the Search tab, such as All Mail or All Items.

    Mail Search tab, group 1

  3. On the Search tab, click Advanced, and then define your search criteria.

    Search tab, Save and Advanced

  4. On the Search tab, click Save.

    Search tab, Save and Advanced

    The Smart Folder appears in the navigation pane.

  5. Type a name for the Smart Folder.


    • To edit the criteria used for a Smart Folder, hold down CONTROL , click the Smart Folder, and then click Edit. When you are done changing the criteria or scope of the search, on the Search tab, click Save.

    • To delete a Smart Folder, hold down CONTROL , click the Smart Folder, and then click Delete. Deleting a Smart Folder does not delete any of the items in the Smart Folder.

See also

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Good time management

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Set up Outlook to work for you

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Tame your Inbox with the 4 D’s

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Manage time with a daily review

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Do your work with the help of Tasks

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Find that message!

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Write great e-mail

Outlook for Mac 2011 Best Practices: Calendars and meetings

Share Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Email Email

Was this information helpful?

Great! Any other feedback?

How can we improve it?

Thank you for your feedback!