Make Outlook the Information Hub at the Center of your Life
GOAL: Provide a list of free plug-ins that will extend the power of Outlook far beyond even Microsoft’s wildest dreams.
Microsoft Outlook – The ubiquitous Email/Calendar/Organizer tool. Some love it, some hate it (try Lotus Notes before you complain) but millions use it. For many people, Outlook is the hub for their communication and personal information. We’ll cover several ways to extend Outlook’s organizational powers past the desktop, to the web, your portable devices, and beyond. You’ll see how to make it interact with Gmail, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, IM, SMS, plus your iPod and phone.
Let’s dig into some serious organization and productivity magic.
Keep Outlook in Sync with all of your Online Services with the Plaxo Toolbar
The Plaxo – Outlook Toolbar is my absolute favorite Outlook Add On. If you have Contacts, Appointments, Notes, and To Do’s in Outlook and some other places, Plaxo will automagically sync them all. What other places you say? Here’s a few that you may have heard of: Gmail, Google Calendar, Yahoo, Hotmail, Windows Live, and AOL. Do you have scattered out-of-sync data across any of those services? Well I don’t.
There is another nice thing that Plaxo does. If you have a profile on their site and you change any of your info, the updates are automatically pushed out to your Plaxo contacts. This is a nice way to keep your address book up to date.
Watch this Video to See a Walkthrough of How it all Works:
Here’s how to set this up:
- Sign up for a Plaxo account
- Enter all of your other accounts on Plaxo
- Install the Plaxo toolbar
- Click the Sync button
That’s it, you’re done. All of your Contacts, Appointments, Notes, and To Do’s are in sync. Sweet!
Integrate Skype with Outlook with the SkyLook Toolbar
If you use Skype to make free or cheap phone calls, then you should download the SkyLook toolbar. SkyLook allows you to Make Skype Phone Calls, Send Instant Messages, and many other Skype functions from emails and contacts within Outlook.
SkyLook has a 14 day free trial. Once the trial period expires, you lose a lot of the more advanced features. However, you can continue to use a limited version with the following features:
- Call Outlook contact’s phones or PCs using Skype
- Send SMS messages to Outlook contacts
- Send instant messages to Outlook contacts
- Answer incoming calls directly from Outlook
- Reply to instant messages with email and vice-versa
- Reply to voice mails with a call, email, instant message
- Reply to voice mails with an SMS
- Click an email message then click a button to call or IM the email sender
- Click an appointment then click a button to call or IM an attendee
- Synchronize your Outlook contacts with your Skype contacts
- Manually link individual Outlook contacts to Skype contacts
Not too bad for free. You’ll have to pony up $50 to get the rest of the good stuff. If you spend all day on the phone, it might be worthwhile.
You can call an Outlook contact from an email using any of their phone numbers.
When you have a Contact open, you can reach them using Skype (PC to PC), Phone (Skype Out), IM, or an SMS directly from the toolbar.
That’s definitely a nice enhancement to Outlook.
Supercharge Outlook’s Email Searching and Organization with Xobni
Xobni is the Outlook plug-in that helps you make sense of you crowded inbox. Here are some of the features that Xobni provides:
- Find Anything in Your Inbox Instantly
- Locate lost attachments, contacts, conversations and more with search that responds as you type
- Respond to Email Quickly
- View past conversations beside new messages for instant context
- Manage Relationships Effortlessly
- See sender’s contact info, photo & email history in Outlook sidebar
This video walkthrough shows off some of the cool features:
Don’t believe that Xobni is a great addition to Outlook? See what Bill Gates has to say about why he LOVES Xobni.
Keep up with your LinkedIn Contacts from Outlook
If you are a heavy user of LinkedIn, then you’re going to love the LinkedIn – Outlook Toolbar.
These are some of the features that LinkedIn offers:
Manage your LinkedIn Contacts from Outlook
- Update your Outlook contacts with LinkedIn profile information
- Receive notifications when your contacts change their LinkedIn profiles
- See when people you e-mail frequently are not in your network
Stay connected to your network
- See LinkedIn mini-profiles for everyone that emails you
- Use the LinkedIn dashboard to stay up to date with your network
- Access LinkedIn with one quick and easy click
If you have a lot of contacts on LinkedIn, then this is pretty helpful.
Take it one step further by organizing Conference Calls directly from Outlook. FreeConference.com has a plug-in that allows you to set up conference calls right from Outlook. There is a free and paid version. The free version has most of the stuff you’ll need.
Read and Send Twitter Tweets Using OutTwit
- Update your Twitter status directly from Outlook.
- Receive your friend updates as Outlook messages.
- Configurable new message check interval.
- Assign custom categories to new messages.
- Shorten URLs with tinyurl.
- Archive, manage and search your tweets the same way you manage your email (details).
- Automatically sort new tweets into per-sender folders.
- See graphs of your Twitter usage statistics (new in version 0.3).
Now you can add productivity to one of your favorite time wasters. Ironic, isn’t it?
Sync Outlook with Your iPod and Phone
You probably carry two devices that will let you take Outlook on the go with you (sort of). That’s an iPod and a Cell Phone.
If you have an iPod and/or an iPhone, you can use iTunes to sync your Contacts and Calendars .
Connect your device and follow these steps:
- Click on your device in the left panel
- Select the Contacts tab
- Select the Sync contacts from Microsoft Outlook checkbox
- Select the Sync calendars from Microsoft Outlook checkbox
- Sync your device
Pretty simple, now you have your Contacts and Appointments on your device.
If you have a Windows Mobile Smartphone, you can use Active Sync to populate your device.
Here are the steps:
- Install Active Sync software that came with your phone
- Connect your phone
- Use Active Sync’s setup wizard to configure your settings
- Sync your phone.
Now you have all of your Contacts and Appointments on your phone. If you make any updates directly on your phone, they will be pushed back to Outlook the next time you sync.
You don’t have an iPhone or a Windows Smartphone? No problem, DataPilot software and cables ($35-$40) will allow you to sync your Contacts and Appointments to your plain old boring phone.
Other Notable Toolbars and Utilities
Techhit.com is an entire site dedicated to Outlook utilities. Lots of resources, some free, some not.
http://www.melsam.com/outsync/default.aspx OutSync allows you to sync photos of your FaceBook friends with their contacts in Outlook. It’s always nice to have pictures on everyone’s contact form.
http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=7229743486 FBLook will allow you to control and modify your FaceBook status from within Outlook.
http://www.freedownloadmanager.org/downloads/outlook_plugin_software/ FreeDownloadManager has a bunch of free and shareware utilities that are helpful.
Helpful Articles on Getting things done with Outlook
Hopefully you’re on your way to being an Outlook Guru. If you think that you can’t have all of this organizational fun because you don’t want to pay for Outlook, fear not.
Stay tuned for the next installment in this series. We will show all of you
cheapskates Open Source fans How to Pump Up Mozilla Thunderbird without spending one thin dime.
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