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Using Outlook As a Personal Information Manager

A growing business is great, but it requires more resources to track all those new contacts and appointments. That's what a personal information manager (PIM) is for, and despite what you've heard, they don't have to be complex.

Outlook 2003 isn't really a PIM, but you can put its features to work for you just the same. The goal is to make information easy to access and easy to manipulate.

Quick Flags for Recognition

You've always been able to flag messages for future follow-up, but the feature was a tad bland. Outlook 2003's Quick Flag feature lets you flag a message with one quick click, as shown in Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 One quick click flags a message for follow-up.

Six flags are now distinguished by the following colors: red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and purple. The default flag is red. To select a flag other than the default, right-click the Quick Flag column and select a different-colored flag. To change the default, right-click the Quick Flag column, select Set Default Flag, and select the new color. When you're done with a message, simply click the Complete column. To clear a flag, right-click the Quick Flag column and select Clear Flag.

Search Folders Create Unique Views

Quick flags are at their best when combined with search folders, another new feature in Outlook 2003. These virtual folders display information from any folder after running a search for all items that meet specific criteria. In other words, you can find it quickly in one of these search folders, regardless of where a message is actually stored.

You probably have a number of unread messages scattered throughout a number of folders. Using search folders, you can use one virtual folder to view all unread messages. In fact, Outlook 2003 provides a default search folder—Unread Mail—for just that purpose. All unread mail is available through the Unread Mail folder. (Messages in these folders aren't copies; they're just views of the original messages.)

There are two more default search folders: Large Messages and For Follow Up. All flagged messages are available through the For Follow Up folder. They're even grouped by flag order for quick recognition, as shown in Figure 3.8.

To create a custom search folder, right-click an existing search folder or on the search folder item in the All Mail Folders window. Select New Search Folder to launch the Search Folder Wizard, shown in Figure 3.9. Select one of the predefined criteria or scroll down to the bottom of the list and click the Create a Custom Search Folder option.

Figure 3.8Figure 3.8 The For Follow Up folder groups messages by flag color.

Figure 3.9Figure 3.9 Create your own search folder.

Suppose you want to create a search folder for all mail received from a specific client. To do so, you'd follow these steps:

  1. Select the Mail from and to Specific People option under the Mail from People and Lists section.

  2. Enter the client's email address by clicking the Choose button at the bottom of the dialog box to open the screen shown in Figure 3.10.

  3. Figure 3.10Figure 3.10 Select an email address.

  4. Select the client, and click OK. (You can choose more than one email address.) When you return to the previous dialog box, Outlook 2003 copies the address to the Show Mail Sent and Received From control, as shown in Figure 3.11. You can enter the email address yourself, but choosing it avoids typos.

  5. Figure 3.11Figure 3.11 Outlook 2003 copies the selected email address for you.

  6. After you've added the name (or names), click OK to create the search folder shown in Figure 3.12.

Figure 3.12Figure 3.12 Outlook 2003 displays all the messages from or to Mike Gunderloy grouped by flag color.

Upgraders Beware

Search folders aren't "real" in the sense of folders that store actual files or messages, but the items you view are real. You're seeing the real items in a special view. If you delete an item in a search folder, Outlook 2003 deletes the real message.

Intelligent Grouping

All views benefit from intelligent grouping, another new feature in Outlook 2003. Groups aren't new to Outlook 2003, but they are more flexible and logical. For instance, date groups were fairly useless because Outlook considered the time as well as the date and consequently created a group for every message. Grouping by date in Outlook 2003 produces a more reasonable set of groups: Today, Yesterday, Two Days Ago, Last Week, Last Month, and Older. Figure 3.13 shows a few of those groups. Keep in mind that if you have no items that fulfill a group, the group doesn't exist in the view until you gain an item that does.

Figure 3.13Figure 3.13 More intelligent grouping creates more relevant groups than in previous Office versions.

This newer, improved grouping feature is utilized by new arrangements. Arrangements are predefined sorts that arrange items in sensible ways. Select Arrange By from the View menu to see the context-sensitive list of arrangements shown in Figure 3.14. Some views include an Arranged By header so you can bypass the menu. The pane shown in Figure 3.13 is based on the Date option.

Picturing Your Contacts

Identifying contacts takes on a new meaning now that Outlook 2003 supports pictures. To associate a picture with a contact, click the Contacts view shortcut in the Navigation pane and double-click the appropriate contact to view that contact's information.

Figure 3.14Figure 3.14 There are several predefined arrangement options.

Then, click the Add Picture button—that's the button to the left of the email address shown in Figure 3.15. When Outlook 2003 displays the Add Contact Picture dialog box, use the Look In drop-down to locate the picture file, and then click OK.

Figure 3.15Figure 3.15 Click the Add Picture button to add a picture of the current contact.

From here on, everything is fairly automatic. The picture sizes itself and displays as shown in Figure 3.16 without anymore input from you. Just remember that sending the contact record to another user also sends the picture. In addition, as you might expect, the picture file increases the contact file size a bit. Be sure to click Save and Close before closing the dialog box if you want to save the picture.

Figure 3.16Figure 3.16 It's easy to display a picture of a contact.

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