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Searching mail faster with keyboard shortcuts

I’ve been trying to use my mouse less for common computer tasks. With a little practice and the right keyboard shortcuts, this often ends up to be much quicker than using my mouse as well.

As I search through my emails on a regular basis, I was wondering whether there are any useful search shortcuts in Outlook?

Outlook Search buttonThere are quite a few keyboard shortcuts in Outlook regarding Search.

The CTRL+E shortcut is the most prominent as it is shown directly above you message list. Depending on your default search settings and version of Outlook, it will either search your current folder or your entire mailbox.

Extra tip: Using F3 rather than CTRL+E will also take you to the Instant Search field. It’s like a shortcut for a keyboard shortcut ;-)

Search Scope

Being able to set the correct search scope is crucial to find what you need as quickly as possible. Rather then pressing CTRL+E, you can use any of the keyboard shortcuts below to directly set your search scope.

All Mail Items CTRL+ALT+A
Current Folder CTRL+ALT+K
Subfolders CTRL+ALT+Z
All Outlook Items CTRL+ALT+O

All Mailboxes, Current Mailbox or All Mail Items
Outlook 2013 has separate search scope options for “All Mailboxes” and the “Current Mailbox”. Sadly, there are no separate keyboard shortcuts for this. Instead, it uses the CTRL+ALT+A keyboard shortcut to search “All Mailboxes” when multiple mailboxes are configured. When you have multiple mailboxes configured and want to search the current mailbox only, you can either change the default Search scope or use the method discussed in the “Search query refinements section”.

Default Search Scope

The default search scope for Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 is the Current Folder. For Outlook 2013, the default is to search the Current Folder or the Current Mailbox when you are in the Inbox folder.

You can change the default Search Scope in Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013 via:
File-> Options-> Search

You cannot change the default search scope in Outlook 2007.

Outlook 2013 offers options to set the default search scope.
Outlook 2013 offers options to set the default search scope.

Search query refinements

There aren’t any direct keyboard shortcuts to set search query refinements such as the From or Subject field, the Has Attachments option or a date.

However, you can still “walk” through the options on the Search ribbon by pressing (and releasing!) the ALT button, followed by the down arrow on your keyboard. Via the arrow keys, you can now highlight a specific search refinement and select it by pressing the spacebar.

Example: To set the search scope to “Current Mailbox” when you have multiple mailboxes added to Outlook 2013, you press the following keys in order:
F3, ALT, DOWN, RIGHT, SPACEBAR

If you regularly use some refinement fields, you can add them to the Instant Search field via the More button on the Ribbon. You can then quickly select and specify them by using the Tab button to jump from field to field.

You can add regular search fields to your Instant Search form to make it more keyboard friendly.
You can add regular search fields to your Instant Search form to make it more keyboard friendly.

Note 1: The fields will automatically show or hide when you enter or leave the Instant Search field.

Note 2: In Outlook 2007, you can expand the Search Query Builder by using: CTRL+ALT+W

Search query refinements via Advanced Find

Another way to go would be to use Advanced Find (CTRL+SHIFT+F). This separate search dialog already shows a lot of search fields and options. It also is easier to navigate via a keyboard by using traditional methods such as TAB, SHIFT+TAB, arrow keys and spacebar to make selections.

Advanced Find is quite more keyboard friendly when you want to specify multiple search fields (click on image to enlarge).
Advanced Find is quite more keyboard friendly when you want to specify multiple search fields (click on image to enlarge).

Other Search keyboard shortcuts

There are some other keyboard shortcuts which can be helpful as well.

Close Search/Reset results ESC
Find a Contact / Search People F11
Search specific text within an opened item F4
Find the next instance of specific text within an opened item SHIFT+F4
Find and Replace specific text within an opened item CTRL+H

Searching Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Notes folder

Most of the mentioned keyboard shortcuts in this tip work for other Outlook folders and items as well; not just mail folders.

Example: If you are in a mail folder and quickly need to find something in your Calendar folder, you can first switch to the Calendar Navigation by using CTRL+2 and then press CTRL+E to go to the Search field. To get back to your mail folder use CTRL+1.

Below is an overview to change your Navigation Panel via a keyboard shortcut

Mail CTRL+1
Calendar CTRL+2
Contacts/People CTRL+3
Tasks CTRL+4
Notes CTRL+5
Folders CTRL+6
Shortcuts CTRL+7
Journal CTRL+8

Note 1: For more Outlook keyboard shortcuts see the guide Keyboard shortcuts.

Note 2: For search commands you can directly type in the Instant Search field see the guide Instant Search query commands reference.



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