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.

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 more screen real-estate, on the cheap

Did you know? With Outlook 2007 and newer versions, you can hide or display the Navigation Pane (at the left side of the screen) by clicking Alt+F1.


Use Alt + F2 to toggle the display of the To-Do Bar at the right side of the screen.

Ctrl + F1 hides or displays the Ribbon. This doesn’t work in the main Outlook window but it can help to free up space when editing a Task Item or other item.