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Using colour in Outlook

This tutorial makes colour-coded organisation in Outlook easy

When you've got a full Outlook inbox, plus lots of appointments and tasks, it's all too easy to lose track of something vital. You can highlight particularly important items in different colours, depending on who sent them, their priority, or other criteria that you define. Here's how.

If you just want to highlight messages to or from particular people, you can do this easily from the Tools | Organize function (you'll need to have open a folder containing emails). Click Using Colors, then fill in the blanks - scroll down your messages till you find one from a particular sender, then complete the colour selection from the dropdown list.

But you can go much further with colour-coding, for instance flagging different types of messages by putting the text in specific fonts and colours.

With the Inbox selected, go to View | Arrange By | Current View | Customize Current View | Automatic Formatting. Select the type of message you want, and click the Font button to choose a distinct look for that kind of message.

You can also use the Add button to create new message types and assign a typeface to them. The procedure is rather like creating rules, so you can select specific items on the basis of any of the standard fields - including, for instance, sensitivity.

Colour-code anything

The same procedure applies for any other Outlook items. Overdue tasks, for instance, are highlighted by default in red type; you can ram home the point by changing that to bold red.

Outlook can use a different colour for text each time you reply to a message (assuming both sender and receiver are using HTML and rich-text messages). This sounds daft but it can certainly help identify who said what when a message contains several back-and-forth iterations. Go to Tools | Options | Mail Format and click the Fonts button. You can then select a new colour - and indeed a font - for use when replying and forwarding.

You can also colour-code Outlook appointments. You get 10 predefined colours as the background for calendar entries, each with an associated label; you can change the label text to suit your own categories (the label text doesn't appear with the appointment, of course - it's just the description for the colour).

You can select a label when creating a new appointment - the label options are on the line immediately above the text panel. Or you can assign a label colour to any existing appointment; right-click on the calendar entry and select Label from the menu.

You can also edit the label text from that right-click menu (select Edit Labels). Alternatively, use the Edit command while in Calendar view and select Label | Edit Labels.

You can automatically colour all appointments that meet a specified condition - use Edit | Automatic Formatting. The procedure is the same as for rules applied to incoming mail, with the result being the colour-coding. This applies retrospectively; when you create a new rule, all existing calendar entries that meet the criteria will take the specified colour.

To change the background colour of the calendar itself, go to Tools | Options | Preferences | Calendar Options | Background colour.

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What next?

Outlook 2003 can really help you get organised. Read some more quick tips for help sorting out your email.

We've produced a number of printed How to... guides, showing you how to do new things with Microsoft software. You can download or order them free of charge from our download centre.

The latest version of Micorosoft Office is packed full of useful features - and you can try it free. Find out more.

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