Email, like the telephone, is a service that your users take for granted. But although sending or reading a message is simple enough, email applications such as Microsoft Outlook provide many more features than a typical phone—features that users don't always fully understand or take advantage of. Here I've compiled some of the most commonly misused or underused features of Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2002 in a convenient list that you can pass along to your Outlook users. (You can find more Outlook tips in the Web-exclusive sidebar, "More Outlook Self-Help," http:// www.windowsitpro.com, InstantDoc ID 49731.) These tips will help them use Outlook more productively and perhaps even increase their appreciation for the capabilities of Microsoft's email and calendaring product.

TIP 1: Don't store useful items in the trash.
It boggles my mind that some people use Deleted Items as an ordinary storage folder, not as a waste bin. If you think an item might be useful someday, don't delete it. Instead, store it somewhere in your Outlook folders. At the same time, add convenient protection against those situations when you really do need an item you deleted yesterday. First, turn off Outlook's setting to empty the wastebasket on exit by clicking Tools, Options, Other and clear the Empty the Deleted Items folder upon exiting check box. Then turn on the AutoArchive feature (Tools, Options, Other), and set archiving to run every day. Next, in the Deleted Items folder's properties, set the folder to permanently delete items older than five days or so, as Figure 1 shows.

TIP 2: Junk mail: Set it and forget it.
Don't waste your time managing junk mail. For most people, using the Microsoft Outlook 2003 Junk E-mail Filter's High setting (Tools, Options, Junk E-mail) filters junk mail adequately. After you first start using the Junk E-mail Filter on High and have applied the latest Junk E-mail Filter update, watch the Junk E-mail folder for a week or so. If you don't see any false positives in the folder other than those coming from legitimate mailing lists, leave the filter setting at High. (Add the To addresses for such mailing lists to your Safe Recipients list to exclude them from the Junk E-mail Filter.) If you see enough false positives to make you nervous, set the filter on Low. In any case, don't fritter away time by manually deleting items from the Junk E-mail folder. Instead, set up archiving by using the AutoArchive feature, as Tip 1 explains, so that Outlook automatically cleans out the Junk Email folder at regular intervals.

TIP 3: Use Microsoft Word for sending bulk mail.
Mail merge isn't just for mailing labels. Go to any contacts folder in Outlook and use the Tools, Mail Merge command to launch a mail-merge session with Word, which will give you the option to generate email messages instead of printed output. A personalized, individual message is more likely to get past a recipient's spam filter than a message sent with the recipient's address as a Bcc recipient.

TIP 4: Create search folders for common searches.
Outlook 2003 comes with three built-in search folders—For Follow Up, Large Mail, and Unread Mail—that provide aggregated views of folders in your mailbox. However, you can create your own additional search folders by right-clicking the Search Folders folder in the folder list and choosing New Search Folder.

For example, I use NewsGator (http://www.newsgator.com), a third-party Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed aggregator, to pull information about the latest Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) downloads and news from my favorite blogs into Outlook. Then I filter the RSS information by using a search folder called New Outlook Stuff that shows me only the unread items from those feeds that have the word " Outlook" in them.

TIP 5: Use flags to automatically color-code incoming messages.
Prioritize your Inbox reading by using Outlook 2003's colored flags to highlight messages from key people. Start the Rules Wizard by choosing Tools, Rules and Alerts, then choose the Flag messages from someone with a colored flag template. This template uses the from people or distribution list condition, which lets you add multiple senders to one rule. For example, you might want to create one rule to flag messages from your boss and boss's boss by using an orange flag and those from family members by using a purple flag.

TIP 6: Can't remember which flag is which? Use a toolbar.
Outlook 2003's message flags have colors, not names, but by using a custom toolbar you can have the names handy along with a set of buttons for quickly marking messages. To do so, in Outlook's main window, choose View, Toolbars, Customize and on the Toolbars tab of the Customize dialog box, click New. Name the toolbar Flags. It will initially appear as a floating toolbar, but you can later dock it to any part of the Outlook window. To add flag buttons to the Flags toolbar, switch to the Commands tab on the Customize dialog box, and from the Actions list, drag a colored flag command to the Flags toolbar. Rightclick the flag on the toolbar and, under Name, give it a display name to help you remember what that flag means. Choose Image and Text to display the name on the toolbar next to the flag. Repeat these steps for the other five flag colors (and, no, you can't have more colors).