Slow Contact Activities search results

The following was asked as a responds to the previous tip about customizing the Contact Activities view;

I’m a quite frequent user of the Activities section for contacts and I was hoping that I could speed it up a bit by applying a filter to the view as currently come in just way to slow to remain useful. Sadly, the “Filter…” option is disabled.

Why is Contact Activities so slow and is there any way to speed it up?

Outlook’s Contact Activities features uses the old (built-in) search engine of Outlook rather than the Instant Search feature which uses the fast Windows Search engine which is index based.

There is no actual method to speed up the old search engine or to replace it with the new engine. However, many of the Contact Activities features have been replaced (and often also improved) by other features in Outlook which are much quicker.

The Activities’ search icon sometimes spins forever before it produces some results.

In short; why Outlook’s old search engine is slow and how to improve

The old search engine of Outlook isn’t index based but instead searches based on the order data has been written to you pst-file. In practice, this usually means that it displays older items before newer items and the size of the pst-file and the amount of items in it play a big factor in how quickly results are being displayed.

In Outlook 2007 and previous, you could improve the speed a bit by selecting which folders Contact Activities should search in. However, this feature has been dropped in Outlook 2010.

If you really want to continue to use the Activities tab for Contacts and want to speed up the results, you’ll have to reduce the size of and items in the main pst-file or mailbox. You can do this either by deleting everything you do not need anymore or by archiving old items to a separate pst-file. These items will then of course not be displayed in the Activities list anymore.

For an effective approach to clean up your mailbox, see the guide; Tips For Cleaning Up Your Mailbox

Features which are aimed to replace Contact Activities’ functionality

The fact that the Contact Activity “Folder sets” cannot be modified anymore and that it is still using the old built-in search engine of Outlook are both quite strong indications that Microsoft wants to phase out the Contact Activities feature rather sooner than later.

It is really not that surprising since over the years, features have been added to Outlook with similar functionality which are also much more flexible. For instance;

  • Instant Search
    Build on Windows Search, Instant Search provides lightening fast search results. Typing a name is usually enough already to get you started but there are also many search commands and fields to track down your Contact Activities.
    An additional benefit over Contact Activities is that it is not limited to your main pst-file or mailbox but that it can search additional mailboxes and archive files with a single search as well.
  • Find Related
    Right click on a message and choose “Find Related” to see all messages within that conversation or with that contact. It is based on Instant Search and is basically a shortcut to execute a search query based on the contact’s name or the subject of a message.
  • Search Folders
    By creating a single Search Folder for multiple folders, you are basically creating what used to be Contact Activity “Folder sets”. By applying a filter to the folder’s view or by combining it with an Instant Search query, you can quickly get the Contact Activity results your need.
    Unlike Contact Activity “Folder sets”, sadly, this feature is limited to Mail Folders only.
  • People Pane
    Displayed under the Reading Pane of a message, the People Pane is the new “central hub” to quickly display the latest activities of a specific contact. This can be emails, meetings, attachments but also Social Media updates via Social Connector Providers.
    Note that the People Pane is also shown at the bottom of an opened contact form.

Compared to Contact Activities, the main difference for most of the above features is that you do not first open the contact’s record but start from within a folder or a message from that contact.

For even more contact tracking features, Microsoft also offers Business Contact Manager (BCM) and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. There are also 3rd party CRM solutions like OpusFlow CRM available.

Doing an Instant Search with “All Outlook Items” on one or more name fields will show similar results as the Contact Activities view but much quicker.

Extra Tip: If you are using the Journal, using the “contact” search field will return all journalized items for a specific contact;
contact:(Robert Sparnaaij)

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