Center for Information Technology Services

Microsoft Outlook Best Practices—Tips for Managing Your Email

Would you like to speed up your email performance and avoid seeing that bothersome pop-up:  “Outlook is trying to retrieve data from the Microsoft Exchange Server…”?

It’s something we generally take for granted, but every time your desktop Outlook program contacts the central Exchange email server about receiving/ sending/moving messages, Outlook has to sort through--i.e., filter and index--all the messages in your Inbox (and/or Calendar, Contacts, Sent Items, etc.) folders.  The more messages stored in a folder, or the more complex the filtering and indexing operations, the more likely it is that the process will take more than five seconds to complete—the trigger-point for the pop-up message. 

However, there are things that you as an end-user can do to streamline the operation of your system:

  1. Keep the number of messages in your main Outlook folders to a minimum.  The speed with which an email folder opens declines noticeably when it contains 500 or more items. Inbox, Sent Items, and Deleted Items are all highly-accessed folders that tend to fill up quickly.  Make a habit of regularly deleting unneeded messages from each of these folders.  (Don’t forget to delete the Deleted Items!)
  2. Create subfolders under your Inbox, and/or Personal Folders on a network drive. Then periodically move messages into your various subfolders in order to avoid slowing down access to new emails in your general Inbox. 

  3. Design and establish Rules (available from the Outlook Tools pull-down menu) that will do much of your mail sorting automatically.  Remember, though, that having too many rules, or overly complex rules, at work in your Inbox could create more processing delays than it solves.

  4. Archive old messages.  Create storage folders on either your local computer or your allotted space on the network drive and compress and save old emails there.  You will still have access to them, but they won’t be taking up space in your daily working folders.

  5. Keep your Outlook account for business only.  Create a separate email account for yourself on one of the many free email services available (e.g.,Google’s Gmail or MSN’s Hotmail), and then be diligent about conducting your personal correspondence in this non-Outlook account. 

Note:  Step-by-step documentation for many of the Outlook account management skills described above is available to you via ASC Help Desk pages such as: and Microsoft’s own Outlook online help and support center:   If you still need help managing your Outlook account, try consulting either the ASC Helpdesk or your local desktop support person.