661 – Finding mail and slimming down

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Learning how to find stuff in email is crucial, since many of us get so much that we let it accumulate until eventually it becomes a problem. Sifting through the many cc’ed work mails, or finding the order confirmation email in your personal mailbox amongst all the other stuff, we’re more reliant on search than ever.

This is a topic that has been covered numerous times in previous ToWs – 573 – Searching in Outlook and 504 – Searching Outlook for example – but is worthy of a revisit since we may have a chance to pursue the fallacy that is Inbox Zero over the next few weeks. And maybe it’s a time to find and delete the special offer emails and once-in-a-lifetime invitations that may be clogging up our personal mailboxes too.

Work mail

Dealing with desktop Outlook on the PC, there are plenty of tools available to help you find specific messages, in fact there’s a whole toolbar full of them.

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As you look to search mail that meets your chosen criteria – it’s from someone in particular, maybe with a keyword in the subject, or that you know has an attached PowerPoint file, you’ll see that clicking the filters and options inserts the actual commands that will drive clip_image006the search, into the Search bar positioned at the window’s top.

Remembering a few of these means it’s quick and easy to search for mail from a person (you don’t need the quotes, really, and you could use just a part of their name) by typing straight into the box. ALT+Q (for query?) sends your focus straight onto the search bar, so if you’re a keyboard warrior, you could ALT+TAB to Outlook, ALT+Q and enter a search command, before your clip_image008 mouse-toting colleagues have even clicked a toolbar. While we’re at it, remember that CTRL+number jumps to the location on the (now vertical) icon bar on the left, so CTRL+1 will normally be mailbox, CTRL+2 is calendar, CTRL+3 contacts, and so on.

Commands could also be used to filter on properties of a message that are not so easily visible through the UI – eg from:ewan messagesize:>10mb or from:nico sent:”last week”. See here for more examples of the kind of thing you can type. Look under Recent Searches to re-run ones you’ve typed before.

Reducing Mail Bloat

clip_image010Is your mailbox size is starting to look under strain (look under the File menu to see how big your ‘box is and what the limit is)? With an active work mailbox in M365, it shouldn’t be much of a risk unless you genuinely never delete anything, but a quick way of identifying the big rocks and getting rid of them may be needed occasionally.

clip_image012clip_image014You could run a one-off search for all big mail as per the instructions above, or for extra control try creating a Search Folder. Expand the folder tree on Outlook’s left side, and scroll towards the bottom, to locate the Search Folders hierarchy, right-click on the top of the tree and choose New …

This will bring up a wizard which creates a query across your entire mailbox or other data file, but which looks like a folder; it’s visible only in Outlook desktop (ie not in web or on mobile) but can be a great way to locate stuff that might be filed away in the darker recesses of your mailbox.

You can choose from some set templates or do your own custom thing entirely. The age of this feature is somewhat given away by the default value for “Large mail”… click the Choose button and enter something meaningful (like 10000 for ~10MB).

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This should give you a few easily deleted big mails to at least get any short-term capacity problems dealt with.

Right-click on the Search folder and choose Customize… to give it a better name, or to tweak the criteria.

Home email

If you have a Hotmail / Outlook.com etc mailbox, there may be a more pressing size issue, as over a period of years you might have been signed up to a newsletter every time you buy something online, and without realizing it, those could account for gigabytes of data bloat on your mailbox. If every notification from Amazon or eBay is 400K, they soon mount up to a meaningful size.

clip_image018If you have a free Outlook.com account, you should have a 15GB mailbox quota and if you have the account associated to a Microsoft 365 home or work subscription, you’ll get 50GB.

To check, go into Settings and search for Storage.

The UI for Outlook.com is simple and effective, but one thing it doesn’t do a great job of is handling message sizes.

clip_image020Sort by size and you’ll see a group heading showing which emails are clip_image022the largest (displayed by default with the biggest on top), but nowhere can you find out what the actual message size is.

If you want to do a mass clean-out of your Outlook.com account, then you could try sorting by From, however the UI won’t let you click on the group heading to select all emails from that sender and make it easy to delete them.

The Windows Mail app on Win11 doesn’t offer Size either, not even to sort by.

clip_image024Sometimes, the old ways are the best – you get much more functionality if you add your Outlook.com account to full-fat desktop Outlook, allowing you to change the view, see and sort by message sizes etc. Oh, and yes, you can even set up a Search Folder too. Now, tidy away!

This is the last “regular” Tip o’ the Week until January.

If you’re still here next Friday, look out for next week’s special edition – it’ll be a belter.

605 – Snooze la differénce

clip_image002Microsoft has always been good at having several ways of doing the same thing. Internal competition was encouraged with the idea that if several teams built solutions for the same problem, it would spur them all on and the best would win out. The Best Laid Plans don’t always work, and sometimes politics and machination gets in the way.

One modern incarnation of the multiple-ways principle is electronic mail; despite many attempts to replace email with other means of messaging, persistent chat etc, it’s still a huge deal (especially in business) and it’s still growing.

In the days when companies ran their own IT on-premises, there was Exchange, and the companion mail client Outlook arrived shortly after. Web-based consumer services like Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail changed the expectations of many users. Home and work email services have been getting closer in form and function since.

Microsoft’s current email clients are quite diverged: you can use the full-fat Outlook application to connect to your business email as well as your private Hotmail MSN Live Outlook.com / Gmail etc account. Then there’s the Windows Mail app, which is linked to the Outlook mobile apps so much so, that you can launch the Mail app by pressing WindowsKey+R then entering outlookmail: to start it (see more here). clip_image004

The Mail app is pretty good – it can connect to a variety of sources including Office 365, so while it might not be an ideal primary business email application, it can be a good way of connecting to multiple personal email services.

clip_image006One feature which appeared in different ways across multiple services and apps is the idea of Snoozing your email; initially pioneered by Gmail,  others followed suit. It’s a different concept to flags and reminders, rather if you select an email and say snooze until 10am tomorrow, it will literally disappear from your inbox and it would reappear at the top of the pile the following morning.

Well, that’s how it works on some combinations. In the browser versions of both Hotmail / Outlook.com and clip_image008Exchange/Office365, it works as you’d expect – you Snooze an  email and it is actually moved clip_image010into the Scheduled email folder (and you’ll see when it is later due to reappear in Inbox if you look in there). At the elected time, it shows up again on at the top of the mailbox. Let’s compare to some other Microsoft clients & services…

Outlook client and Office 365 – there is no snooze feature. Sorry. Just be more organised. If you snooze an email from another client, it will disappear from Inbox, but when it reappears, it’ll be in the same place as it was before – eg. if you Snooze a 9am email from the web app until 1pm, it will move into the Scheduled folder – but when it moves back into the Inbox, the Outlook and Windows Mail clients will show it down at 9am again so you might as well flag it and be done.

clip_image012Windows Mail client with Outlook.com or Office 365 Zip. Too bad.

Mobile Outlook and Web clients on Outlook.com or Office 365– Mail disappears and shows up again at the allotted time, right at the top of the mailbox. In the web clients, you’ll see the time stamp of the message as if it has literally just arrived; in the mobile version, though the message is ordered correctly (eg a 9am snooze to reappear at 1pm will show up between 12:30 and 1:15 mails), the displayed time is correct but a little clock icon is shown alongside. Clever.

At some point, there is a plan to deliver a single, unified, email client. An Ignite 2020 session talked about the roadmap and further commentary speculated that the One Outlook client may be coming, but isn’t going to be with us for some time yet.

clip_image014In the meantime, maybe now’s the time to try the switch full time to Outlook Web App? You can even install it like a regular app, pin it to Start and so on.