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Five Outlook Nightmares (and How to Fix Them)

Five Outlook Nightmares (and How to Fix Them)
You use Microsoft Outlook to manage your email, your appointments, your contacts, and your to-do lists. In other words, you use it to manage your work life. So when this program doesn’t behave the way it’s supposed to, you have a nightmare.

I’m here to help relieve you of those waking bad dreams. Following are solutions to five common but serious Microsoft Outlook problems. I’ll tell you what to do if your data set has grown too large and cumbersome. I’ll explain why you seem to be spamming your friends. I’ll help you check your mail on more than one computer. And I’ll show you how to back up and restore your Outlook data, as well as how to make Outlook contacts display the information you want to see.

These tips are for Outlook 2007 and 2010, although in their generalities--if not their specifics--they’ll work with earlier versions, too.

Your Outlook Data Suddenly Vanishes

Let’s nip this nightmare in the bud, before it happens.

You keep a lot of information in your Outlook data file--including your email messages, your contacts, and your appointments. If something destroys or corrupts that file, you’re in trouble. And since Outlook handles its data files in its own unique way, your regular backup routine may not be protecting its data. (You do back up regularly, don’t you?)

Getting to the Account Settings dialog box in Office 2010 requires you to click an Account Settings button, which pulls down a menu with only one option: Account Settings.
Getting to the Account Settings dialog box in Office 2010 requires you to click an Account Settings button, which pulls down a menu with only one option: Account Settings.
So you need to make sure that you’re backing up your Outlook data. But first, you have to find that data.

You can do so in the Account Settings dialog box. To open it in Outlook 2007, select Tools, Account Settings. For version 2010, click the File tab, and then select the Info option in the left pane, followed by Account Settings, and Account Settings again. (Yes, I know that's redundant.)

Once you’re in the dialog box, click the Data Files tab. Select your data file (probably Outlook.pst), and then click the Open Folder button (version 2007) or the Open File Location button (2010). Windows Explorer will open to your Outlook data folder.

With Outlook closed and the folder open, copy the contents of the folder to a safe location, such as an external hard drive. Better yet, make sure that your regular backup routine includes this folder.

When the nightmare hits and you’ve lost your data, here’s how to restore it:

1. Reinstall Outlook and go through the setup wizard. This will create a new but empty data file.

2. Once Outlook is up and running, launch the Import and Export Wizard. In Outlook 2007, select File, Import and Export. In Outlook 2010, click the File tab and then the Open option on the left, and choose Import.

3. In the wizard, select Import from another program or file and click Next.

4. For the file type, for Outlook 2007, select Personal Folder File (.pst). For 2010, choose Outlook Data File (.pst).

5. On the wizard’s next page, click the Browse button and find the backed-up Outlook folder. Select the appropriate file (probably Outlook or Outlook.pst).

6. As you go through the rest of the wizard, select Personal Folders, make sure Include subfolders is checked, and click Finish to start importing your backed-up data.

Your Outlook Data Set Is Too Big and Cumbersome

If Outlook is slowing down, it’s probably time to shrink your Outlook.pst data file. By default Outlook 2007 can handle a 20GB data file, and Outlook 2010 can manage a 50GB one. You can increase those size limits--but frankly, you’ll get better performance by decreasing the size of the actual file.

The previous tip described how to find and open the folder containing the file. Do so to check its current size, and to see how the size changes as you follow the suggestions below.

The Open File Location button (or Open Folder in Office 2007) will tell you where your Outlook data files are located.
The Open File Location button (or Open Folder in Office 2007) will tell you where your Outlook data files are located.
Start by compacting the file, which removes empty space. In Outlook 2007, select File, Data File Management. Select outlook.pst, and then click Settings. Click Compact Now. In Outlook 2010, click the File tab, and then select Info in the left pane. Click Account Settings, and Account Settings again. In the Account Settings dialog box, click the Data Files tab. Select the file and click Settings, Compact Now.

If that doesn’t shrink the file sufficiently, try archiving, which moves old messages and appointments to another .pst tile (the default is archive.pst). You first need to reach the AutoArchive dialog box. In Outlook 2007, select Tools, Options. Click the Other tab, and then the AutoArchive button. In Outlook 2010, click the File tab, and then choose Options in the left pane. In the Outlook Options dialog box's left pane, click Advanced. Click the AutoArchive Settings button.

Once there, you’ll find plenty of options for what to archive.

You can also start archiving now, rather than waiting for the next time it happens automatically. In Outlook 2007, select File, Archive. In 2010, click the File tab and select Info. Click the Cleanup Tools button, then Archive.

Outlook 2010 offers several options for slimming down your mailbox.
Outlook 2010 offers several options for slimming down your mailbox.
The program has other tools for cleaning up email. In Outlook 2007, select Tools, Mailbox Cleanup to find them. In Outlook 2010, click the File tab and select Info. Click the Cleanup Tools button, then Mailbox Cleanup.

After you’ve done everything you can to archive and clean up your data, your Outlook.pst file will remain the same size--but it will have considerably more blank space. Compact it again to reap the benefits of your cleaning job.

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