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Three Ways to Make Outlook Easier to Live With

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and tolerate Microsoft's mail client/information manager.

I've made no secret of my distaste for Microsoft Outlook. That said, it's a required piece of software for a lot of business users -- and even a desirable one for some.

Recently I've made peace with the program, as uninstalling and then reinstalling it (along with the rest of Microsoft Office 2010) solved a few of my more niggling issues.

Thus, having offered up three ways to make Gmail easier to live with, I now present my favorite tips for enhancing the Outlook experience.

1. Get rid of it

Kidding, kidding. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

1. Learn to Use Quick Steps

I'll hand it to Microsoft: Quick Steps is a feature you won't find in any other e-mail client (including Outlook 2007; it debuted in Outlook 2010).

This handy option automates frequently performed e-mail tasks, such as simultaneously replying to and deleting an e-mail message, creating a new message that goes to your entire team, or moving messages from specified senders into a particular folder.

Even better, Quick Steps lets you create your own custom "email macros" and then trigger them with just one click.

2. Install Boomerang

Overstuffed inboxes kill productivity, if only because important messages can get pushed out of sight by newer ones. That's why I'm a big fan of so-called "email snooze button" services like Followup.cc and FollowUpThen.

These services give you a way to defer selected messages to a later date or time before they drop "below the fold."

However, they require the extra step of forwarding messages to special addresses that you have to remember. If you're an Outlook user, however, you can install Baydin's Boomerang, which lets you reschedule email with just a two clicks of a pop-up context menu. A lifetime license costs $29.95; well worth it, in my opinion.

3. Back Up Your PST

The PST file is the lifeblood of Outlook, the holding tank for all your contacts, calendar entries, email messages, and so on.

A deleted or damaged PST? Disaster.

No doubt you're already backing up your data, but have you taken PST precautions? If not, check out Safe PST Backup, a free utility that will automatically archive both Exchange folders and PST files. It supports incremental backups and works whether Outlook is running or not. (Note: The Enterprise edition costs $30.)

Seriously, if you do nothing else to make Outlook easier to live with, make sure a hosed PST file doesn't bring down your entire operation. Back it up!

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