Focus on Your Work, Not on Your Email

How to Display Tasks (or Any Other Preferred Folder) “on Startup” in Microsoft Outlook

When you install Microsoft Outlook right out of the box, the program nearly always is set up to display your Inbox on start-up. So it’s tempting to begin there every morning. But as you know, starting with your Inbox almost compels you to focus on the emails you haven’t seen yet, or the ones with an approaching deadline. This frequently-bogus “sense of urgency” can bog you down and start your day off with a feeling of overwhelm and frustration.

Relax. Those emails will be there when you get back to them later in the day. They aren’t going anywhere.

I strongly recommend that you tell Outlook to take you to a place that’s less daunting and measurably more serene, so that your day doesn’t feel as though it’s running away with you before you’ve even settled into your chair. By doing this, your renewed sense of control will keep your stress levels low, your heart beating at a more normal rate, and your job satisfaction will escalate. It feels great to know you’re sailing your own ship.

Open Outlook with the Tasks Folder Displayed in Seven Simple Steps

From the Main Menu:

  1. Select “Tools”
  2. Select “Options”
  3. Select “Other”
  4. Select “Advanced Options”
  5. Next to the “Startup in this folder” field, select “Browse…”
  6. Scroll down to the “Tasks” folder, or any other folder you prefer, and select it.
  7. Click OK three times as the system backs out of the dialog boxes and you’re done!


Now you can enjoy coming to work, getting things on your own Tasks list underway (and actually completing some of them) before you take on the cares and concerns of others. In fact, if you share this set-up idea with co-workers and they adopt the practice, you may find everyone feeling a renewed sense of control and fulfillment, and thanking you for it.

C’mon now. You know that if anything in your inbox were truly time-sensitive, as in “I need this in an hour!” your phone would ring or a colleague or superior would stop by your work station to let you know it. So remember: Email is a convenience, a tool, a way to communicate in a more leisurely manner. It is almost never as IMPORTANT as your other tasks!

I bet you feel better already. Have a productive day!

Interested in processing e-mail at warp speed? Read on!

“Making e-mail agile is fundamental to keeping up with all you have to do every day.”
– Taco Oosterkamp

I’m Taco Oosterkamp. I love showing people how to turn Outlook into a powerful tool instead of an application that drains the energy out of you.

Even Microsoft employees buy my book to super-charge their e-mail!

I’ve already trained thousands of people to use clear, easy steps to empty their inbox every single day without fail. I love traveling around the world and would love to visit your organization or business and super-charge your employees myself if you, too, need serious relief in an all-too-often time- and efficiency-wasting arena.

And because I’m committed to effectiveness, my presentation rocks:
•    In a live session of 1 to 2 hours I explain and demonstrate what to do in Outlook to get a better overview and work faster. Minimum attendance is 50 people, maximum attendance is not an issue.
•    You’ll get a license to use a software tool that sets up extra folders, buttons and shortcuts, all of which I’ll explain during the session. This information alone will save each attendee almost an hour a day per person. The software tool only has to run one time and it’s not a plug-in for Outlook. And if you decide you don’t want to use it, no harm, no foul: it’s optional!
•    Each attendee will get a copy of my book ‘Each Day Empty’ which explains in clear, concise English everything I will demonstrate during your live session.
•    Each attendee will also receive a mini course by e-mail. The mini-course revisits the information in a low-key, engaging style, so nothing you learn during the live session will be forgotten.

Based on the size of your organization and the physical location of the live session, I can offer you a gigantic boost in e-mail productivity at a very affordable per-person cost.

So don’t wait. My calendar fills up fast. The sooner you get these keys to greater email speed and productivity, the sooner you’ll be saving time, energy, and money.

Contact my manager Eva de Vries at today to receive a proposal or schedule a consultation by telephone.

P.S. I’ve said it once already, but it bears repeating: Even Microsoft employees buy my book to super-charge their e-mail! If this isn’t an unofficial-but-telling endorsement of the value of what I know and show, I don’t know what is!

Read Your E-mail, Faster

Processing e-mail can take a lot of time. And while writing responses may account for most of the time and effort, if you can speed up reading new e-mails, that helps a lot, too.

Minimizing the amount of keystrokes and clicks that I need to do my work has always been a great passion of mine. One of the Outlook features that really helps is the Reading Pane. You can display it via the main menu: View | Reading Pane | Right.

When the Reading Pane is visible, you can see the contents of the currently-selected e-mail without having to open it by hand. This removes a little bit of hassle for each e-mail, which adds up when you receive tens of hundreds of e-mails every day.

Most people that I train or coach are a little afraid of the Reading Pane, as there have been warnings of virus activity. Not to worry: in new versions, this has been fixed. The help file for Outlook 2007 states: “You can view messages safely in the Reading Pane. Potentially malicious scripts or attachments are not activated or opened automatically in the Reading Pane.”

Try it to see how it works for you.

Use the keyboard, Luke!

I’m immensely enjoying the GTD Summit in sunny California. And I’m not the only one. The atmosphere is great, and it’s terrific to meet people in person after reading their stories or exchanging e-mails.

This is a bunch of people who really get things done. Well, except for one thing: why do I see people using the mouse to move e-mails to other folders? I don’t get it.

Outlook has great support for keyboard shortcuts and if you’ll remember just four of them, you can archive your e-mails 40% faster! This is an impressive percentage when you want to get your inbox to empty every day!

To copy or move an e-mail to a different folder, use Ctrl+Shift+Y and Ctrl+Shift+V. These shortcut keys copy and move any Outlook item to another folder, so if you want to copy an e-mail to your calender you can use Ctrl+Shift+Y too. *)

To close an item, use Alt+S. This is useful after copying an e-mail to your tasks list, for instance. Outlook will show you the new task and Alt+S (Save and Close) makes it easy to finish working on the task.

And finally, to go to a different folder, just press Ctrl+Y. Outlook will display the ‘Go to Folder’ dialog. In this dialog you can select another folder using the cursor keys or by typing the name of the folder on the keyboard. If you’ve selected the correct folder, press Enter to go to that folder.

Enjoy your new speed.


*) If you think Ctrl+Shift+Y and Ctrl+Shift+V is too hard to use in real life, check out my e-book ‘Each Day Empty’. In it, you’ll learn how to set up Outlook for total productivity, including being able to use Alt+1 and Alt+2 instead of the more difficult standard Outlook shortcut keys for copying and moving e-mails.

Live at the GTD Summit in San Francisco

Right now I’m enjoying the sunshine and jet lag in San Francisco. Tonight the first-ever GTD Summit will open with a reception and jazz music. This summit will certainly be a fun place to meet new people, talk to people who, up until now, have been only names and e-mail addresses to me, and enjoy listening to great ideas about Getting Things Done.

If you’re there and you want to meet to talk about Outlook, Fingertips or anything else, I’m easy to recognize, being just over 2 meters tall (6′ 5″ feet). I will probably hang around with Martijn Aslander, Frank Meeuwsen, Elise de Bres and last but not least Marleen Kruyswijk.

Quickly find a Contact in Outlook

If you keep your address list in Outlook, it’s mighty useful to be able to find a contact quickly to look up a phone number or an address.

The standard button bar has a text field to do just that: ‘Search address books’.


Unfortunately, too many people use their mouse to place the cursor into the edit box, which is slower than if you use a shortcut key to access the functionality. And Outlook doesn’t make it real clear what the shortcut key is, so I’ll tell you: it’s F11.

If you press F11 in the Outlook main screen, you can then type in a few characters (at least three) of the name you’re looking for.

Then press the Enter key to start the search. If Outlook finds just one contact, it will immediately display the contact. If it finds multiple contacts, it will display a simple ‘Choose Contact’ dialog in which you can select the contact you want.

You can also press F11 and then press F4 (or Alt+ArrowDown). This will open a list with the most recently searched contacts.

Save attachments with the keyboard

Using more of your keyboard commends is the way to go when you value performance. If you’ve read my Each Day Empty eBook (I renamed it last week from ‘The Happy Outlook Book’ as some thought this was a confusing title), you know that I consider using keyboard shortcuts one of the most important strategies for optimizing your use of Microsoft Outlook.

Where Getting Things Done gives most of the mental strategies you need to quickly process incoming e-mail, the process is much more powerful and faster when you add shortcut keys to your repertoire.

Fortunately, Outlook has lots of shortcut keys that you can take advantage of. As soon as you get used to keeping the mouse motionless on your desk, you’ll start to find situations where you’d like to use the keyboard.

From the Reading Pane / Preview Window

Need to save one or more attachments from an incoming e-mail? Lots of people we train or coach use the mouse to save attachments. The task can be tackled using keys only.

  1. Open your inbox and display an e-mail with attachments in the Reading Pane in Outlook (View | Reading Pane | Right).
  2. Press Alt+F, N to open the Save Attachments menu item from the main menu.image
  3. Select the attachment you want to save, then press Enter to specify the location and filename for that file.image
  4. Or choose ‘All Attachments…’ and press Enter to specify the folder where you want to store all attachments for this e-mail. The original filenames will be used to store them in the folder you specify.

From an open e-mail

Some people open each e-mail to process it. Doing this is quite a bit slower, but if you want to open each e-mail when processing it, saving all attachments with the keyboard is a bit more difficult, but can be done.

  1. Open an e-mail with attachments by pressing Enter.
  2. Press Alt+H to select the first Tab on the Ribbon (Home).
  3. Press ‘X’ to select the button ‘Other Actions’.
  4. Press ‘N’ to select the ‘Save Attachments’ item.
  5. Press Enter to select the dialog that allows you to select the attachments you want to save.
  6. Specify the location of the folder in which you want to save these attachments.

If you open an e-mail and want to save just one attachment, you can also press Shift-Tab, then press the Right cursor key and, finally, press the context menu key to open the menu that allows you to save the attachment.

Save time

After you’ve trained your fingers to use the keyboard to save attachments, the new habit may save you up to 40% of the time you now need to save an attachment. And apart from saving you time, it will also help you stay focused on your work instead of having to invest the eye-hand coördination efforts that using a mouse requires.

The easier you can perform each step while processing e-mail, the greater the chance that your inbox will be emptied each day. At least once every day.

Get your inbox to empty after your holiday – fast

In my Each Day Empty eBook, I describe how to quickly empty your inbox reliably day after day. But after an extended holiday, you may need some extra help to tackle your inbox. My own Outlook downloaded 3,200 emails when I returned –  was I ever glad I already knew some of the following tips!  Now they’re yours, too!

  1. Learn how to sort and group e-mails in your mail reader. In Outlook you can use the View | Arrange By item in the main menu.
  2. Sort all mails in your inbox by Subject. A lot of the spam that gets through your spam filter will be grouped together now. You can quickly remove all mail starting with Cyrillic symbols (unless you happen to live in Russia) and any spam that has the same subject repeated in the Subject box can easily be spotted.
  3. Next, sort all of your mails by the To field. This may not be relevant to everyone, but I still get e-mails (especially spam) that was sent to an e-mail address other than my own. Sorting this way helps remove these messages easily.
  4. Now sort the remaining e-mails by From and Date. This way you group all mail that came from each specific sender, in the order they were sent. Your rate of speed may vary while doing this, but I tend to scan quickly through all mail, starting with the oldest ones. But I don’t reply to any of the mails at this stage because this way I can read up on the developments, better understand my customers and employees, and keep myself from replying to something which has changed or been revoked in a more recent e-mail.
  5. After taking these steps, I’m up-to-date again. I’m aware of current issues, I know whether there are serious problems that need my attention, and I know which e-mails I’m going to want to answer first.

Even before I go on vacation, I think about my first days back in the office. In my out-of-office autoreply, I mention the date I think I will be answering e-mails again – and make that date several days after I return from vacation. This way, I don’t have to tackle e-mails while in an ‘urgent’ catch-up mood and I can continue to feel rested and relaxed from the vacation I’ve just enjoyed.

Fortunately, as soon as I’m up-to-date again, it’s a breeze to keep my inbox empty each day for the rest of the year.

Use Fingertips to add tasks to Outlook

As soon as you start using Outlook as your trusted system, you’ll run into a few problems. One of them is that adding tasks to Outlook folders can take quite a few steps. Time can be much better spent on more satisfying or creative tasks.

Enter Fingertips.

Throughout nearly all of Outlook, you can press Ctrl+Shift+K to create a new task item in the default tasks folder. This works pretty well, but only for the default tasks folder, not for your Someday/Maybe and Waiting For folders. And it still requires you to start Outlook or switch your focus to Outlook.

For frequent users of the task list functionality in Outlook, using Fingertips is a great idea. With Fingertips, you can easily add tasks from anywhere in Windows to any task list in Outlook. And you can create custom commands to add tasks with specific categories or boilerplate text.

Open Fingertips command window

After you’ve downloaded and installed Fingertips, you can open the Fingertips command window from anywhere in Windows to add a task to Outlook, start an application, or surf to a favorite website.

Press Ctrl+Grave (`) to open the Fingertips command window

The Grave is located either at the top-left side of your keyboard or left of your spacebar. Pressing this key combination should display the Fingertips command window. (Note: In the options dialog of Fingertips, you can set this key combination to another combination if you want.)


Type the “na” command and the subject for the task

Type na, a space and the description of the task that you want to add to Outlook

“na” is the default Fingertips command to add a Next Action to the default task list in Outlook. Any text that you type after the default command and a space will be used for the subject of the task. Don’t use commas right away, as they are used by Fingertips to separate parameters for tasks.


Press Enter, or add a semicolon

Press Enter, or add a semicolon ( ; ) first, if you don’t want to see the Task Item itself

After you press the Enter key, Fingertips will add the task to Outlook and display the Task Item for you to add any other information, set categories, or modify the subject. If Outlook isn’t running yet, Fingertips will start Outlook first.

If you want to add a task to Outlook without extra information, you can close the command line with a semicolon ( ; ). Fingertips will then just add the task to Outlook without displaying the Task Item first.


Creating custom commands in Fingertips

Once you get the hang of it, you can press the “Edit” or “New” button at the bottom-right corner of the Fingertips command window to open the Options Dialog. In this dialog, you can modify or copy commands or create new ones.

As far as I know, using Fingertips is the fastest and easiest way to add tasks to Outlook. What are you waiting for?

Featured on

Gina Trapani has written two articles about two of my projects on, the premier website with lifehacking tips and tricks.

The first article is about Fingertips, a free utility that allows you to quickly add items to any list in Outlook. I developed it to make it super easy to use Outlook as a trusted system. I will definitely write more about Fingertips on this website.

The other article is about The Happy Outlook Book (now renamed The Each Day Empty eBook), the book  I wrote about using getting things done in Outlook.

Or as Gina Trapani says:

“For more GTD-inspired Outlook productivity strategies like this one,
check out the Happy Outlook Book e-book,
my source for this excellent Move and Copy toolbar tip.”

Thanks Gina!