Sunday, December 1, 2002

Calendar and date tricks for the holiday season


By Diane Poremsky

It's the holiday season and that means lots of parties and events to remember. You can add these as appointments or tasks to your Outlook Calendar or Tasks and set reminders. In this column, I'm going to share some favorite tips that will make it easier for you to create new Outlook items.

The first tip is pretty well known by veteran Outlook users. When you need to create a task or appointment from information contained in an email, drag and drop the mail from your inbox to the task or appointment folder and a new Outlook form opens with the body of the email in the note field. You'll need to add a subject, the date and time, but you won't need to retype (or copy) information from the email to the new item or search for the message later. This trick works for all Outlook items, including contacts, where the sender's display name and email address are added to the appropriate contact fields for you.

Once the new item is created, you still need to add the date and time and there are some neat ways of doing this. Outlook understands natural language; this means you can type in words and phrases you use to describe dates and Outlook will understand. If the office holiday party is scheduled for next Friday you can type "next friday" and Outlook converts it to the date next Friday falls on. Many phrases work, although it's generally easier to just type the date for common dates such as the day after Christmas and Valentine's Day. Outlook isn't picky about the case either, you can use all lower case letters if you like.

If you know the date is in a specific number of days but don't know the exact date, you can use shortcuts instead of the date picker. While you can use natural language, it's more typing than you really need, if you know the right abbreviations to use. The abbreviations include d for day, w for week, mo for month, y for year. Hour and minute are h and m. So, instead of typing "2 days", you can type just "2d" and Outlook enters the right date. When you are entering times, Outlook helps shift-challenged users (me!) by accepting the period (.) in place of the colon (:) used as the hour:minute separator. You can enter 2.45p and Outlook formats it as 2:45 PM for you. Both the shortcuts and natural language phrases work in most of the date or time fields found in Outlook.

If you don't want to create new tasks or appointments, you can flag the message and set a reminder, however, reminders only fire from the default Outlook folders and this won't work if you move the message to a new folder. You can use a COM add-in called Extended Reminders ( to fire reminders from any mailbox folder.