Cool for categories

Arrange information the way you want using outlook categories - they're not just for dividing your contacts into 'work' and 'friends', you know.

Assigning addresses to categories in Outlook makes it easier to see a list of friends' addresses without any work contacts. This can be handy if you're printing wedding invitations. Most of the time, however, you'll be looking for one specific person. Typing their name into the "Find Contact" box is the fastest way to do so. But categories do have other uses.

Take rules, which you can use to organise messages as they arrive. As you subscribe to more mailing lists or begin projects, it's easy to build up lots of rules in Outlook. After a few years you'll have a long list of rules, most of which you don't need any more. Pruning old rules keeps things simple and saves Outlook wasting time trying rules that don't apply.

If a rule moves a message to a folder or flags it in a particular colour it's easy to see how often it's used. Either check in the folder or create a Search Folder for that colour flag - see FIGURE 1. To do this, right-click on Search Folders and choose New search folder-Create a custom search folder-Choose-Criteria-More choices-Only items which, then pick the flag colour.

Bending the rules

It's harder to work out how often rules that delete or forward messages, start applications or run scripts or alerts get used. To check, add an action to the rule assigning the messages it works with to a category - choose the "assign it to the 'category' category" rule action. Then use a Search Folder (or Tools-Find-Advanced Find in earlier versions of Outlook) to see how many messages end up in each category. That tells you how many messages trigger the rules, so you can delete the ones you never use.

If you forward any of those messages, they will still have the category attached to them, so make sure that these aren't revealing. Anyone who reads the message in Outlook will see the categorisation.

You can also use categories to print several messages at once, even if they're in different folders. Say you're going away and you've got messages about personal and business meetings in different folders. Assign them all to the New York Trip category, and you can use a Search Folder or Advanced Find to see them all. Use < Shift > - select or < Ctrl > - select to grab the ones you want and print them.

Categories can help you when picking contacts for a mail merge or for creating distribution lists that you don't have to remember to update.

Just add addresses to the right category and select it when you need to send a message to everyone. If you don't want to synchronise all your contacts to your PDA or smartphone, add a category called Mobile and use Options-Settings in ActiveSync to transfer details in that category only.

The path of list resistance

Categories let you see Notes and Tasks as more than a daunting list. They work with the Outlook Calendar too - add a Medical category to all your dental checkups and doctor's appointments, or a Sports category to your kids' football matches and you can use View-Arrange By Current View-By Category to get a list.

That's also an easy way to add a list of appointments that don't follow a regular pattern. Create the first event and assign a category to it, then copy and paste to get as many events as you need - see FIGURE 2. You only need to change the date. Use View-Arrange By-Current View-Day/Week/Month to get back to the normal view.

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Mary Branscombe

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