Mastering Your Outlook Express

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When we got back from a holiday recently and I found over 600 emails clogging up my inbox I decided it was high time for a spring clean. I needed to find ways to prevent email overload.

Much of my inbox had filled up with newsletters from various organisations and bloggers .But to be honest some of these were not as relevant and interesting as they used to be. So I made a start by hitting the unsubscribe button a few times.

Thanks to Canz from our Grownup community who wrote a really useful article on Grownups website: “Tricks to help you sort your email” I set to and created a rule for some of my messages. From now on these will bypass my inbox and go straight to a folder. This will drastically reduce the messages in my inbox and I can go back to each folder at a later time to peruse them. I do however plan to be judicious about the number of folders I create, as scrolling through dozens of folders to find the information you need is time consuming

Next I turned to “Conquer Your Email Overload” by Debbie Mayo Smith (Penguin Group, RRP $34.99). After reading her book I no longer felt my lack of knowledge was due to my age. She mentions that some of the most inefficient users of Outlook are young graduates.”

Although” Conquer Your Email Overload” would be most useful for the workplace, or if you run your own business from home, I also learnt a lot from it. It really motivated me to understand what Outlook can do, and how to use it more effectively. Although it is mainly aimed at those who have later editions it is still relevant for the 2003 version which we have at home.

There is a useful chapter on how to set up a calendar and set it different tasks. For instance it can send you a reminder about any forthcoming meetings, birthdays or anniversaries which you can colour code to differentiate between various kinds of events. I also find it really handy to use as my personal diary for social events.

Debbie also explains how to automate your memory with Outlook Tasks and Flags. Once you create a task a small box will open on your Outlook screen on the appointed day and at the appointed time telling you that the task is due. This can be very useful for instance if you need to remind yourself when to pay a bill. Or if you haven’t got time to reply to an email right now you can add a coloured flag to it which will remind you to act on it later.

There is also a very thorough chapter on Spam, what it is, how it finds you and strategies to beat it although unfortunately Spammers are clever and it is almost impossible to eradicate them totally. But you can look for words such as Viagra in an email and have that one go straight to the Deleted Items without it ever passing in front of your eyes.

I hadn’t bothered to use many shortcuts before. But I am finding they are a real time saver. They speed you up when you are writing emails as you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard to use the mouse. I photocopied the list of shortcuts out of the book and pinned them up on the noticeboard behind my computer for constant reference till they stick in my mind.

This book also contains many useful hints . Debbie’s drag and drop technique is so simple, once you know how, and can save you considerable time.

Next I surfed the net to see what else was available and discovered that Microsoft itself has a really straightforward training programme. For this go to and go to your version of Outlook.

It takes the form of a series of lessons .In each one you learn a new skill step by step, accompanied by screenshots and audio. This training is free and very straightforward so would be great for beginners but also for anyone who wants to brush up on their Outlook Skills.

My final piece of advice came from my brother-in-law who knows I am a terrible speller.

Go to the help button, type in spell check and it will tell you how to automate a spell check on every email before you send it. It was so easy to set up and now saves me the bother of having to do this job myself.

It was worth taking a bit of time learning how to avoid email overload and to master some of the other Outlook functions. But am I totally in control now? Or does Outlook Express still have some control over me?

It’s a debatable question. I enjoy checking my emails first thing in the morning, last thing at night and seldom leave it off in-between, even when I am working on the computer at home. As soon as a notification of a new email pops up I always take a peek. This can be a real distraction and time waster.

What I still need to master is the will power to turn it off for a bigger part of the day. This would give me more time to get other work done, catch up with friends or simply seize the day, go for a walk and smell the daisies.

Conquer your Email Overload.
Author Debbie Mayo Smith.
Publisher: Penguin Books
RRP $34.95