Tag Archives: Outlook

Clean-up Your Inbox With Retention Policies

I get a lot of email, and I can’t always keep up with it. My first line of defense is rules. Rules help me filter out a lot of noise and tag messages in meaningful ways, but I find that if I move things out of my inbox, they slip into the out-of-sight, out-of-mind void that is everywhere-except-my-inbox.

I get a lot of notifications from Azure DevOps for things like pull request reviews. These are things that I want to know about, but it’s not something I’m realistically going to get back to if I put it off for a few days. I wanted to create a rule that was something like “delete messages that match [whatever criteria] that are more than [x] days old,” but I couldn’t find a way to do it other than by moving the messages away from my inbox to a folder with a custom archiving policy (i.e. into the void where I won’t see them) or by doing some custom development.

But then I found them: retention policies.

Retention policies control how long messages messages are kept, and they’re perfect for these sorts of highly-relevant-but-only-for-a-short-while messages. You apply the policy to a message, which can be done quite easily with inbox rules, and Office 365 takes care of the rest.

Sounds awesome; sign me up, right? It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to add the policies to my account and use them. I’m talking 2 or 3 sessions where I gave up, defeated. Fear not, though, friends! For I have figured out the path forward and present it to you here in just four easy steps.

1-3. Add Policies to Your Account

This was the part that escaped me for so long, and the issue is that I was trying to do it from Outlook instead of through the Outlook Web App.

  1. Log into O365 > Outlook
  2. Settings > View all Outlook settings > Retention Policies
  3. Add new policy > (add some policies)

Alternatively, you can jump directly to the following URL:
https://outlook.office365.com/mail/options/mail/retentionPolicies

4. Make a Rule

Now that you’ve added some retention policies, you can apply them to messages with rules. As mentioned earlier in the post, I want to delete messages from Azure DevOps after a few days, so I created a rule that applies the “1 Week Delete” policy to them.

When these messages come in, they can sit comfortably in my inbox and compete for my attention. If I happen to get a behind–which happens frequently enough for me to have pursued this several times and then write a blog post about it–these stale messages will conveniently self-destruct and go away all by themselves. Wonderful!

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Create Permanent Custom Styles in Outlook

One of my peeves in Outlook is the formatting of code snippets that I send in email. Nine times out of ten, I’m copying and pasting from Visual Studio. That works pretty well; you get keyword highlights and all that fun stuff. Life is good–unless you happen to have a dark background. I like the dark theme for Visual Studio 2012, but I can’t stand that pasted text comes with a black highlight! It’s not that I mind the black background, but the highlighted text looks like a disaster.

DarkBackgroundCodePasteIntoOutlook

At this point, you’ve got three options: go back to a light-background theme in Visual Studio, deal with it, or adjust the formatting in Outlook. It looks too ugly for me to ignore, so option #2 is out. Until know, I’ve been exercising option #1, living in a default-themed world. I decided to go in a different direction today, though. I created a style that I can use to quickly format my pasted code. (An easy solution that I considered using for a while was to use LINQPad as a formatting buffer. I’d copy/paste code from Visual Studio to LINQPad and then re-copy/paste from LINQPad to Outlook. It works.)

The key to making this as painless as possible is getting the style configured correctly. Here are the steps I used to create my new style in Outlook 2013:

  • Choose “Create a Style” from the Styles gallery (FORMAT TEXT > Styles)
  • Change paragraph spacing options
    • After: 0 pt
    • Line Spacing: Single
  • Modify borders and shading
    • Border Setting: Box
    • Border Color: White
    • Border > Options > From text (all sides): 12 pt
    • Shading Fill: Custom Color (RGB: 30, 30, 30)

To ensure the style sticks around for future emails, do the following:

  1. Change Styles > Style Set > Save as a New Style Set…
  2. Change Styles > Style Set > Set as Default
  3. Restart Outlook for the new default style set to take effect

When I paste code from my dark themed Visual Studio, it still looks ugly. I can make it prettier by simply selecting the text and applying my new style. As a final beautification, I select the text and remove the black highlight from the text. (The removal of highlighting wouldn’t be necessary if I were content to use a black background, but I think 30/30/30 gray looks nicer, and so I will remove the highlight.)

DarkBackgroundCodePasteIntoOutlook_Better

It’s definitely a few extra clicks anytime I’m sending code, but the end product looks good!

Microsoft Introduces Outlook.com

As I was catching up on my current events on CNN, I noticed an interesting headline on their bottom line: “Microsoft replaces Hotmail with Outlook.com.” After I missed out on the ideal Twitter name, I made a decision to always sign up for new services right away regardless of how much I think I’ll use them. So, with the announcement of Outlook.com, I wanted to get over there ASAP and stake my claim! Unfortunately, “adam@outlook.com” was already taken, but I still  took the chance to look around and explore some of the features.

Overall, the UI is quite nice. It feels very crisp and clean, much like the upcoming Office 2013. I wasn’t a Hotmail user, but my Live account was already setup for it, although I wasn’t receiving any email since I hadn’t connected any of my existing email accounts. As I said before, my goal was to get my “@outlook.com” email addresses, and it took me a minute to figure out how. You need to click “More mail settings” under the configuration menu in the upper right corner, and then click “Create a Outlook alias.” (C’mon, Microsoft–do a grammar check! Create an Outlook alias!) You’ll be taken to a screen with a [textbox]@outlook.com prompt, and you can claim your name. Note that you can create multiple aliases, so you may want to grab firstname.lastname and firstnamelastname or whatever other nicknames you might want. (I was hoping they’d make period placement in email addresses irrelevant like gmail, but it appears they didn’t.)

I’ve only spent a few minutes with it at this point, but here’s what I like so far:

  • Multiple @outlook.com aliases
  • Drag and drop messages and folders
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Clean UI/look and feel

If you’re a fan of the offline Outlook experience, you’ll probably really like Outlook.com. It’s definitely worth checking out!