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Monday, December 6, 2010

Top 5 Outlook 2010 Productivity Enhancements

Many users have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Outlook — it’s the standard email and calendaring application in many organizations, yet it often doesn’t enable them to work as productively as they’d like, spawning a veritable cottage industry of add-ins.

The Microsoft Office 2010 Technical Preview shows that Outlook 2010 will include a number of productivity-boosting enhancements that should appeal to a wide cross-section of users, from the novice to the seasoned pro. Here are my top five productivity enhancements in Outlook 2010.

Backstage View. Personally, I think the addition of the Backstage View in Office 2010 applications sets a new level of application accessibility and usability, especially in Outlook 2010. Clicking on the Office button gives you access to Outlook settings and account information, including account settings, automatic replies to email, mailbox cleanup, and rules. Bringing all this information into one interface should be a boon to productivity, since users will no longer have to hunt around for management features in various Outlook menus.

Schedule View. Although there were different “views” of Outlook data in previous releases, the implementation meant that they weren’t that useful. However, Outlook 2010 includes better control over views, and I recommend anybody test driving it to spend some time using them. A case in point is the new Schedule view, which provides better insight into your daily schedule, as recorded in your Outlook calendar.

Moreover, as with the other views, you have the option to set different time scales to provide a granular look as to what is going in your day. The new Time Scale feature enables you to scale your schedule view from 5-minute to 60-minute increments.

Task Notes. Office 2010 includes OneNote 2010 integration with the main Office applications, including Outlook. From the Outlook Tasks List, click “Task Notes” and the “Select Location in OneNote” dialog box appears. From this dialog box, you have the option of selecting a section or page for your task notes. Even if you are currently a big OneNote user, the introduction of Task Notes in Outlook 2010 may cause you to reconsider your existing OneNote organizational schema. I see the integration of OneNote with Outlook and other Office 2010 applications as one of the highlights in this upcoming Office release.

Publish Online. The new Publish Online feature gives the promise of a geographically-dispersed project team being able to publish their personal and team calendar data online, and make it accessible to the team. With Publish Online, you can publish your Outlook calendar to Office Online, or a WebDAV server. I like the options here because it won’t tie you to an expensive online collaboration solution.

Customize Common Tasks. There have been few (if any) changes to how you perform common Outlook tasks in quite some time. With the launch of Outlook 2010, you have the option to customize how you perform common tasks like sending meeting invites to your team, sending emails to your whole team, and forwarding emails. You also have the option to create your own “quick steps” from scratch. These options are available from “Quick Steps” in the Home ribbon or from the “Quick Steps” dialog box. The best part is that these options are dialog box-driven, with no knowledge of macros required.

Outlook 2010 and Your Productivity
While I lamented in a previous post that Outlook 2010 needs to be more social, the productivity enhancements present in Outlook 2010 offer a lot for everyone from novice to power users. My history as a writer and computer book technical reviewer on Office topics goes back to Office 2000; the Office 2010 Technical Preview — especially Outlook 2010 — show a lot more promise at this stage than previous releases, so I’m looking forward to checking out the final version.

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