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How to use advanced options to work more productively in Outlook

Image: iStock/Igor Kutyaev

Outlook’s advanced options are often ignored, but for the wrong reason—most users don’t know they exist. These advanced options allow you to control a great deal about the way you work in Outlook. Knowing that you have these options to set at your discretion is the key. In this article, we’ll discuss these advanced options. Once you’re familiar with them, you can decide for yourself, which settings work the best with the way you use Outlook.

SEE: Software Installation Policy (TechRepublic)

I’m using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system. The version you’re using will determine which advanced options you have; unless you’re using Microsoft 365, you probably won’t have all the options discussed in this article. There’s no demonstration file; you won’t need one.

Where are the advanced options in Outlook?

Outlook’s more advanced options are easy to find and modify—you’ll find them in the Backstage area under Options. Keep in mind that Outlook, out of the box, tries to meet the working needs of most users, so you probably won’t need to change all of these options. Knowing they’re there and how to set them for your working needs is the key.

Now, access those advanced options by clicking the File tab and choosing Options from the left pane in the Backstage area and then click Advanced in the resulting dialog to display the Outlook options shown in Figure A. If you’ve turned the Backstage off, don’t worry: The left pane items are still there.

Figure A

These advanced options are often ignored.
These advanced options are often ignored.

Now that you know where these options are, let’s review them.

How to use Outlook panes

The Outlook panes option lets you reset the default positions of the Navigation and Reading panes, and a bit more. Most of these options, shown in Figure B, are self-explanatory. These options let you determine how many links Outlook displays in the Navigation pane. The Move Up and Move Down options allow you to determine which Outlook window icons the Navigation pane displays. If you don’t like the changes, you can always click Reset to get back to the out-of-the-box look.

Figure B

Control the Navigation pane settings.
Control the Navigation pane settings.

You might notice that the Compact Navigation option is dimmed in Figure B. That’s because I have Coming Soon events enabled. If you’re seeing the same thing, and you want to enable Compact Navigation, disable the Coming Soon option in the far-right of the ribbon.

The Reading pane options determine how Outlook deals with email in your folders. They’re all self-explanatory but let’s look at one of the settings most users don’t know exists but often ask for.

How to modify the Outlook start and exit

When you open Outlook, do you wish you could bypass your Inbox and go straight to the Calendar window? It’s only a few clicks, but if you check your calendar before reviewing email, you can go straight to your calendar using this option.

Click the Browse button. The default choice is your Inbox. Change that to Calendar, as shown in Figure C, and click OK. Close and reopen Outlook, and it will open to the selected folder. You can select another folder; I chose Calendar because it’s probably the most often-used window other than the Mail window.

Figure C

Choose another folder for Outlook to select when launched.
Choose another folder for Outlook to select when launched.

This option will not let you open Outlook in another account other than your default account. You can also check the Empty Deleted Items Folders When Exiting Outlook option. If you use your Deleted folder as storage for a while, you won’t want to check this option. However, checking that option is a great way to relieve yourself of the burden of remembering to clean up that folder occasionally. Now, let’s look at a misunderstood feature.

How to use AutoArchive in Outlook

In my experience, this feature seems to be the most often misunderstood of the advanced options. If you leave all of your old messages and conversations in the Inbox or even other folders, you risk poor performance. When an email reaches a certain age, this feature can kick in and move it out of your active folder and into another saved on your local system.

As you can see in Figure D, this feature is disabled on this local system. This choice is fine for users who don’t have a need to keep old conversation threads. In fact, I think the average user probably doesn’t need this feature, but some do and then keep it disabled because they don’t understand it—“Don’t use AutoArchive or you’re never find your stuff again!”

Figure D

AutoArchive is disabled.
AutoArchive is disabled.

The truth is this feature is easy to use if you just learn how it works. The options allow you to do the following:

  • Control how often the feature runs.
  • Notify you beforehand so you can cancel a run.
  • Determine whether older items are deleted or archived.
  • Determine how often older items are moved and deleted.
  • Lets you set a default folder for saving archived items.

This feature gives you all the power and the decision-making. Put them to work for you. We could discuss dozens of scenarios, but you just need to know that these options exist to make the best of them.

How to use Link handling in Outlook

This option is checked by default, and I recommend that you leave it that way. When enabled, this option lets you click links in the web and open the appropriate web app. If you click a link in a desktop document, the appropriate desktop app launches. I wouldn’t change this default unless you have a specific reason for doing so.

How to use Reminders in Outlook

Most users are familiar with reminders and use them to their benefit. However, you can modify the default settings:

  • To show reminders.
  • To choose the sound the reminders use.
  • To show reminders on the top of all windows; I recommend checking this option if you rely on reminders at all.
  • Dismiss reminders after the fact—there’s little reason to keep dismissing reminders once an event has passed.

How to allow Pen use in Outlook

This option is so simple it really doesn’t need a section of its own, but, if you have a system that supports the pen and you want to annotate emails, check this option.

SEE: Office 365: A guide for tech and business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

How to Export in Outlook

Again, this option needs no explanation other than noting that it exists. Simply click Export and follow the yellow brick road—I mean the Export Wizard. Use this option to export messages, calendar events, tasks and contacts to Outlook on another computer or to create a .pst backup file.

How to use an RSS feed in Outlook

This is a bit of an archaic option, and I’m not sure why Outlook keeps it on board. In a nutshell, web sites used to support this protocol. When a site updated information, you received an RSS feed notice. For those sites that still offer this service, Outlook still supports the incoming notice. I don’t know of anyone who still uses this service.

How to alter the Send and Receive options in Outlook

Outlook’s send and receive options, shown in Figure E, let you determine when and if email messages are downloaded and sent. As with many of these options, these are mostly self-explanatory. Many users never change the default options, which have messages coming in and going out all the time. I don’t work well this way, so I’ve changed these options to suit me. I find the default setup distracting so now, I control when mail goes out and comes in.

Figure E

Use these options to schedule mail ingoing and outgoing in a way that suits the way you work.
Use these options to schedule mail ingoing and outgoing in a way that suits the way you work.

As you can see, none of these options is enabled. When I’m ready to send and download, I click the Send & Receive tab and choose the account I want to interact with at that time. You might choose differently, but the point is that you have the option!

How to use the Developers option in Outlook

This option you either know about and use or not. It really deserves and article of its own. However, if you’re creating custom forms, you’ll want to know about these advanced options that allow you to publish and otherwise control custom Outlook forms.

Show Add-in User Interface Errors is another unique option. When enabled, you will see errors generated by add-ins. That way, you’ll know something went wrong. By default, Outlook inhibits these errors.

When to use International options in Outlook

If you converse with others on a global format, these options will matter to you. For the rest of us, these options aren’t important. These options are so unique to the user that it’s difficult to discuss with a wide audience. Most likely, the user won’t be choosing options, but rather an administrator will set these up for users.

Other options in Outlook

This is the miscellaneous group of options. As you can see in Figure F, they are self-explanatory, but with so many of these advanced options, they depend on the user’s situation. The Quick Click options let you set a default category, which may or may not be enabled. Most of these options will probably be set for you by an administrator, but if you’re on you own, the defaults are probably adequate.

Figure F

Set this to suit your individual users needs.
Set this to suit your individual users needs.

Outlook’s advanced options allow you to control a lot of things, so you can work a bit more efficiently.

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