Help a keyboard warrior conquer MS Outlook
February 12, 2024 5:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm a keyboard-centric Windows user coming from a Gmail environment into an Outlook/MS Exchange mail environment. Outlook doesn't have tagging, just Categories. Are there Outlook pro tips or keyboard-centric plugins to help me sort and file mountains of e-mail?

For years I worked in an organization hosted on Google mail, and got used to doing a lot with a combination of keyboard shortcuts and fuzzy matching for folders/tags/labels. It was easy to hit a few keystrokes and send an inbox message to the right destination.

Outlook has Categories, but there doesn't seem to be any keyboard-based dispatcher for assigning categories from typing in part of a category name. Just one-shortcut-per-category.

Outlook also has folders, but likewise the Move menu doesn't have good keyboard integration. Typing the name of a folder doesn't always do what you'd expect, especially if the folder is down a few layers of tree hierarchy.

I'm willing to ditch Outlook as a client and use an alternative mail program if one exists that supports Outlook's 2FA.
posted by MetaFilter World Peace to Technology (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For Categories, create a new custom Quick Step. Your Action will be "Categorize message" and sub-action is "Always ask for category". Then give it a keyboard shortcut (CTRL + SHIFT + [number]). Now when you press that combination of keys, the Categories dialogue will pop up. Without removing your hands from the keyboard, you can start typing the name of the category, then press the spacebar to select.

You can create a similar custom Quick Step for "Move to folder" > "Always ask for folder," but I don't find it works as well as it does for categories because of nested folders. If you have a folder you use frequently, you can create a Quick Step directly to that folder, but you'll run out of shortcuts pretty quickly.

Note that all of this works in the standard Outlook for Windows, but not necessarily the "new" Outlook (which is more similar to the web version). I briefly switched to "new" Outlook and keyboard shortcuts, including Quick Steps, are a bit different. It didn't work with my existing workflows so I switched back to the original Outlook. You may want to go ahead and dive into "new" Outlook since you're starting fresh and that may be where we are all forced to go eventually anyway.
posted by c lion at 6:06 AM on February 12

Running into the same problem with the folder hierarchy. There's a plugin called Simplyfile (not Simplifile) but I haven't tried it yet as my folder hierarchy isn't as deep as yours. I'm still doing Ctrol-Shift V, then typing a few letters of the folder name, and it works for any folders previously opened in that dialog, but not ones in any collapsed folders (WTF Microsoft).

I would be careful using categories instead of folders, as as your Exchange server understands folders, so those can always be ported to some other platform. Not sure categories are so portable but interested in being educated on that.

Edit: Keyboard warriors unite! I recently switched from Mail app on Mac to Outlook on PC, so ... also having a learning curve.
posted by bluesky78987 at 6:57 AM on February 12

Best answer: I have had pretty good success with Outlook with only one "real" folder. I keep my inbox for things that still need my attention, and my single other folder is a "completed/no action" folder for things that don't currently need my attention.

Below all that, I have a set of custom "smart" Search folders. I think of these as something like category tags. You can set up a search folder for pretty much anything - mail to/from certain people, mail with specific subject lines, mail with certain words in the text, any combination of that, etc.

This works best for me mainly because I tend to over-categorize if given half a chance - making it just as hard to find the folder I put an email in as it would be to do a search for the email. The Search folders mean I don't even have to do the search; I just click the folder, and outlook pops up all the email that fits the folder's parameters.
posted by invincible summer at 2:01 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

You can define rules to send email to folders as desired based on email address or content.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:57 AM on February 13

Response by poster: Thanks for your suggestions, everyone.
posted by MetaFilter World Peace at 6:27 AM on February 14

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