How to get faster, more accurate email searches

(MoneyWatch) Here's a fun little quiz: The next time you need to find something on your computer, where will you look? Sure, you'll make the occasional foray into the documents folder or some other location, but the reality is that -- for better or worse -- most of the time you'll look in email.

We store almost everything important in Outlook. That's where you'll go to find out the status of a project, find an attached Word or PowerPoint document, and even look up someone's contact information. Given how critical email is to getting business done, you'd think most of us would have mastered better ways to search in Outlook. Here are a few tricks to get you better and faster results.

The most common kind of search in Outlook is the standard compound string. You know that Paul sent you an email about the TDS status, so you type "Paul TDS" in the search box and hope for the best. The problem is that this kind of search is almost certainly going to return too many results and maker it hard to find the email you really need.

The solution? Use the filters in the oft-overlooked Search tab in Outlook's ribbon. First, click in the search box, which will make the search tab appear. Then use the filters that will help you find what you need. For example, consider the email I mentioned earlier -- Paul's note about the TDS status. Type "book," then click "From" and type "Paul." Now the search zeros in only on messages from Paul with the word TDS somewhere in them, ignoring all the other messages from other people which might mention both Paul and TDS.

You can combine these filters in a million ways to rapidly find just the information you need. You can search by a slew of different filters, including:

Sender's name

Subject keywords

Presence of attachments


Sent date

Flagged messages

The recipient's name in the To or CC fields


Read/unread status

... And more. For additional Outlook search tips, check out Microsoft's Outlook blog.