Making sense of the thousands of entries stored in your Outlook folders can be a constant challenge. In Outlook 2000, Microsoft added a handy linking feature that helps you associate Outlook items and even files on your hard disk with Outlook contacts.

When you open a contact, task, journal, or appointment item, you see a Contacts button at the bottom of the item. Click this button to display your default Contacts folder in a dialog box, where you can select one or more contacts related to the item.

You can also type a name into the box next to the Contacts button. If the name appears in your default Contacts folder (or in any Contacts folder you've included in the Outlook Address Book), Outlook resolves it to the actual contact when you save the item or press Ctrl+K, just as it resolves a name in a message's To box.

On a message, the Contacts button and box don't appear on the main page. You'll find them on the Message Options dialog box that appears when you click a new message's Options button or the View, Options command in a message you receive.

These contact links make looking up information about your contacts very easy. Suppose you created a task to remind yourself to call a contact. When the reminder fires, open the task and double-click the underlined name of the linked contact that appears in the Contacts box. This action opens the contact record. With both the task and the contact open, you can quickly look up the phone number or use the Call Contact command if your computer's configured to dial out. (Note: If the contact's name isn't underlined, no matching contact record exists.)

The Activities tab on the contact provides a unified view of all the items that contain links to the contact, plus related meetings and messages. You can see all the linked items by switching to the Activities tab, and check previous tasks, appointments, and other related items before making that call.

For more fun with links, in an open contact, use any of the New commands on the Actions menu to create a link. You can also drag a contact to the Inbox, Calendar, Tasks, or Journal folder. When Outlook creates the new message, meeting request, task, or journal item, it automatically includes a link in the Contacts box to the selected contact.

Contact links are reciprocal. For example, if you add to Manuel Hildago's record a link that points to Phyllis Varner's record, then Varner's record will contain a link back to Hildago's contact record. This feature helps you keep track of members of the same family or the succession of contacts at a company.

Here's a way to create links for items in the Notes folder. Those "sticky notes" don't display a Contacts button and box. From a contact selected in any Contacts folder or open on your screen in its own window, choose Actions/Link/Items, and select the item you want to link.

If you repeat the process, but choose File instead of Items, Outlook creates a new journal item with a link to the file and the selected contact's name in the Contacts box.

Next week, I'll cover some limitations of these links and implications for programmers. Send me any handy contact-linking tricks you've run across, and I'll share those, too. You can post them as a Reader Comment or email me at olupdate@slipstick.com.