Optimise Your Outlook Panes Layout
Outlook is a great, powerful email Client – especially when hooked up to Exchange within a corporation – everything integrates very well.
However, it’s easy for Outlook to get very cluttered with various panes for one thing of another – particularly if you’re using a laptop / small screen / low-res screen.
This post will give you an over view of all these panes, what they’re for and how to manage them.
The main Outlook view may have 6 different ‘areas’. All can be tweaked, and most can be removed.
Your main ‘Actions’ point
Lists out your various folders etc
Where your list of emails is displayed
Where you can read your messages
Displays information about the person you’re talking to, such as previous interactions, meetings due etc
Shows information from your Calendar, To-Do list etc
So, as you can see, there’s a lot of information that Outlook allows you to have available to you – but have all off it, and you’ll find yourself with information overload!
Let’s go through each one again, and talk about what we can do with them.
Microsoft introduced us to the Ribbon in Office 2007 – but Outlook didn’t get it until the release of Office 2010. Introducing the Ribbon did two things – brought some of the more useful features to the surface where they were perhaps hidden away in a menu somewhere, giving them visibility to people who may not have realised it existed. It also meant, in many cases, more clicks were needed to get to some features than the old Toolbar, and typically takes up more space. So they were generally great for people less familiar with Office and its features, but frustrated a lot of power users. Whilst I do too get frustrated from time-to-time, I overall prefer them, as it makes exploring a new (to me) feature a bit easier.
There is a whole host of options for personalising the Ribbon – which I won’t go into here at the moment. But, if you value your real-estate, and don’t mind the occasional extra click, you can Minimise the ribbon by clicking the little arrow at the top-right.
This hides the Ribbon, but keeps the tab-headings. Clicking on the headings will temporarily expand the ribbon.
Note: This applies for all the Office programs – but I don’t often use it due to the extra ‘click’ required.
There are two levels of customisation for the Navigation Pane – the Pane itself, and the contents of the pane. As with the Ribbon, I will cover the Pane itself, leaving the customisation of its content for another day perhaps.
There are three levels of view for the Navigation pane. Full, Minimised and Off
Full is what we saw earlier, usually a tree-view of your folders.
Clicking on the arrow at the top-right of the pane will minimise the pane
In this view, you will be shows a series of buttons down the side of your screen
Clicking Folders bring up a temporary list of your folders to navigate through
Below this will be direct links to specific folders – just click on them, and you’ll jump to that folder. The folders that are shown are based on what you have in your ‘favourites’ (Usually shown at the top of the Navigation Pane). To add folders to favourites, right-clickà‘Show in Favorites’
To remove the navigation pane altogether, select ‘View‘ from the Ribbon, click the ‘Navigation Pane‘ option and tick ‘off’ (and use the same set of options to show it again.
Off all the Panes used in Outlook, this is probably the one you won’t want to get rid of though, I would have though.
The message Pane is actually the one part of the screen you can’t remove – no surprises there of course. You can resize its width though which is helpful, but there are probably an infinite amount of customisations you can make here, such as showing message in one line or 2 (usually dependant on how you have your reading pane configured). Best thing to do? Just play around with the settings. Clicking on the ‘View‘ from the ribbon will give you lots of quick & easy ‘pre-made’ configurations for your message pane. For more control, click the ‘View Settings’ button and dive into it – you can dictate the columns to be shown, the ordering, grouping – everything. At one point, I even had custom editable fields where I could attach my own notes to any given email – (sounds like an idea for a new post!) – You have to experiment to see what works for you.
This is where I see the biggest split is how people work / manage their mail. Those that do and those that don’t (show it)
There are actually 3 configuration options to pick from.
- On the Right shows the pane to the right of your message pane
- Bottom shows it below the message pane (so both the message pane & reading pane are ‘full width’
- Off – don’t show it.
To pick between the three, again go to the ‘View‘ tab on the ribbon. Select ‘Reading Pane‘ and pick your option.
Me, I’m in the ‘do’ camp – I like to see the message when I click it. I have mine of the right. Mainly because I find I have to do less scrolling to read the full email if I have the full height of the reading pane available – not such an issue on larger screens though
People pane pops up to tell you more about the person you’re interacting with. Although it sounds great, and is pretty useful, I find it just gets in the way. I know most of the people I interact with, and if I want to know more, I open their profile to find out. (Double Click on someone’s name if they’re in the to/from/cc boxes).
Here, again, there are three view option – Show, Minimize & Hide.
Either use the small arrow at the top-right of the box to minimise / show…
Or, from the ‘View‘ tab again, use the option under ‘People Pane’
To Do Pane
The To Do Pane is an interesting one. It tries to tie in your calendar, to-do-list, contacts etc all in one place. I find it takes up a bit too much space on my laptop – but on a bigger screen is probably really helpful – especially if you’re a heaving user of the to-do list and calendar.
A couple of helpful tricks, though.
Select ‘To-Do Bar‘ from the ‘View‘ tab of the Ribbon. From here, you can quickly turn off specific parts of the To Do Pane, such as Tasks (as I don’t use the tasks feature).
Clicking ‘Options’ takes these 4 items, and gives 1 further level of detail, such as how many months’ calendar to show.
It’s a useful addition – especially the ‘Quick Contacts’, as for me, this links to my Lync account, and shows my Lync contacts with their status, allowing me to quickly start a conversation with them.
Once again, we can minimise this or remove it altogether. ‘View‘ tab à ‘To-Do Bar‘ à ‘Normal’/’Minimised’/’Off’
And there you have it! Quite a long one, but hopefully given you some thoughts about how to best organise Outlook to be your most productive – it’s the area I spend the most time when I move to a new machine.