By February 14, 2012 7 Comments Read More →

Configure Microsoft Office Outlook For Effective Time Management–The Happy Way

Having tools that serve you and not the other way around makes you happy helping you get your work done smoothly. Tools that add more friction and labor lead to frustration. Microsoft Office Outlook offers ocean of features. I use only few and it serves me well.

In this post I outline how I configure Microsoft Office Outlook to serve as a tool for Effective Time Management. It outlines the following configurations:

  • Setting up categories
  • Creating online (OST) folders
  • Creating local (PST) files and folders
  • Creating Search folders
  • Setting Navigation page
  • Setting To-Do Bar

Setting up categories

imageSet up categories that will be used to tag emails, self posts, and meetings in calendar. Adding categories to actionable items such as emails and meetings provide visual clues for quicker focusing.

To set up categories

  1. Open Microsoft Office Outlook.
  2. Click on the Home tab at the top.
  3. Locate Tags ribbon and click on the Categorize icon to expand available categories.
  4. Click on All Categories. You will be presented with the list of the default categories. I usually delete them all and create those that are relevant to my life and work projects.

Creating online (OST) folders

Online imageOST folders are those that are managed by email software hosted on the remote servers. These are important for cases when you access your mailbox from different places or worse, when your computer needs to be rebuilt. Online folders will be always recreated based on their copy on the remote servers. Use online folders to manage your “hot plate” categorized items before they are processed and filed in local folders.

To create online folders

  1. Expand your treeview navigation pane.
  2. Right click on the Inbox folder and choose New Folder… option.
  3. Specify arbitrary name for the new folder, I call mine Projects. This is where I collect all “hot plate” items that are yet to be addressed before being filed.

Creating local (PST) files and folders

imageLocal (PST) folders are used to story items locally on your computer. If the computer is lost and the items are not backed up it’s impossible to restore them. The reason for storing items in the local PST files and folders is that online folders are usually limited in size and you are forced to periodically clean up. I use local PST files and folders to manage my knowledge base (KB) and file project items that were processed.

To add local data file

  1. Click on the Home tab at the top.
  2. Click on Account Settings.
  3. On the Account Settings dialog click on  Data File tab.
  4. Click on Add… option.
  5. In the Create or Open Outlook Data File dialog specify the file name and the path to it and click OK. Choose other than default path, something where you remember to go and grab the file when you want to back it up.
  6. To create folders in the local PST data file follow same procedure as with online OST filers described in previous section

Creating Search folders

imageSearch folders are especially useful when managing large amount of data. I manage my knowledge base (KB) items in separate local PST file. Each item has specific keyword in it so it’s easy to set up the search folder to bring only these specific items.

To create search folder

  1. Expand the navigation treeview.
  2. Right click on the Search Folders node and click on New Search Folder… option.
  3. Follow the instructions to create search folder based on criteria of your interest.

Setting Navigation page

imageIt’s a good idea to add favorites view of the folders. The more projects you tackle the more items you collect, the more items you collect the bigger your KB grows and the more folders it has. At some point there are so many folders you get distracted and find yourself spending more time on finding specific folder and then finding specific item. Favorites views helps to solve this problem. I add to favorites view those folders that I use the most, for example, current projects, so they are readily available.

If the Favorites view is not available on the navigation treview follow this steps to bring it up.

  1. Click on the View tab at the top.
  2. Click on the Navigation Pane ribbon.
  3. Select Favorites option.

Setting To-Do Bar

imageTo-Do Bar helps to see quick timeline view  – what’s next. I configure it to show only current month and and the upcoming appointments. In majority of cases the appointments are those I blocked myself in the calendar, I never use tasks features of Microsoft Office Outlook to actually manage my tasks, I use meetings instead I set with myself. I also like the monthly view on the To-Do Bar. It shows my timeline progress on a daily, weekly, and monthly scale. Love it.

To configure To-Do Bar

  1. Click on the View tab at the top.
  2. Click on the To-Do Bar ribbon and select Data Navigator and Appointment options.

You are all now set to smoothly use Microsoft Office Outlook smoothly.


Posted in: Time Management

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This blog is dedicated to share simple practices I that get me results.

7 Comments on "Configure Microsoft Office Outlook For Effective Time Management–The Happy Way"

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  1. Richard says:

    Hi Alik,

    great advice, can you please expand on the Categories you use and how these help in your productivity strategy.

    I use them also in several ways: To highlight items on my calendar, to track time spent on projects, to organise tasks based on projects/areas, and to create and active ToDo list by viewing the list by category (such as “Waiting for”, or “Urgent”)

    Also, please don’t use PST’s!! :)

    Regards, Richard.

  2. alik levin says:

    Thank you.
    Here is how I use categories, skip to “Daily Time Budget Plan Execution” part in this post:

    PST’s are unavoidable. I have several gigabytes of info nuggets, my OST is limited and cannot accommodate enough room for so many.

  3. Richard says:

    Yes, we are certainly on the same wave length.
    I have taught these techniques to many people, and it can really change their lives!

  4. J.D. Meier says:


    What a perfect Valentine’s gift.

    I’ve been revisiting a lot of my Outlook patterns … out with the old, in with the new. What’s the saying? … “Adapt or die.”

  5. alik levin says:

    Thank you.
    “Adapt or die”, that was my thinking when I was distilling it, indeed 😉

  6. Shilpan says:


    This is very helpful. I’ve been struggling to manage my inbox at work as it keeps growing over the limit. These tips will help me manage my mails effectively.


  7. alik levin says:

    Tank you. If you liked it then this one should be helpful for you too:

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