Here’s the scenario… You are quickly clearing your email inbox before going home. You open a rather lengthy message and start to read through it. A vague idea forms in your head about what your response will be, but you’ve been reading it for 5 minutes now and haven’t gotten through the entire chain yet. It’s time to go home. You move the message to your @FollowUp folder but you don’t want to lose your train of thought. Here’s where this little trick comes in.

Click the “Note…” button on the message toolbar and just start typing, then close the dialog box. Move the message to your follow-up folder, and then come back later with your “note to self” intact. Okay, I know you probably don’t have this button, but I’ll show you how to create it.

This trick utilizes the colored message flags in Outlook. As you can see below, when you click the “Note…” button it brings up a dialog box. You can start typing any message you want (up to 100 characters). When finished, just click OK or hit [Return]. Your note is automatically saved with the message. Messages with notes can quickly be found because they have flags set, and your personal note is displayed on the dark bar in the header of the message (as shown below).

You can also schedule a reminder if you like by setting a date & time in the “Due by” field after typing your note. Another nice feature is that your notes are private. When you reply or forward the message, the note stays attached to the original message but does not travel with your outgoing message.

Here are the detailed instructions for setting up the button. Note that all of this is specific to Outlook 2003. It may work for other versions of Outlook, but I can make no claims.

To set up the button, click the small arrow on the right side of the toolbar where you want the button added. Navigate the drop-down menu by selecting “Add or Remove Buttons” then “Customize”, as shown in the screen shot below.

A pop-up window will appear. From the Commands tab, select the Actions category and find the “Add Reminder…” command. Click this entry and drag it up onto your toolbar and drop the button where you want it (as shown in the screen shot below).

With the Customize dialog box still open, right-click on the button you just added. You will see a drop-down menu where you can customize the button you just added (see screen shot below). First, change the name to “Note…”. Next click “Change Button Image” and select the push-pin. You can pick another icon, I just like this one because it feels like I am pinning a note to the image. …and it sure beats the frowny face! Also, make sure that the “Image and Text” option is checked.

When you are done with your edits, click the “Close” button on the Customize dialog box. Your button is now ready to use! You can add the button in multiple places. I would recommend adding it to the menu bar inside the email message window, and also in the main Outlook explorer window so you can pin a note to a message without having to open it.

By the way, there have been other suggestions about just typing a note to yourself right in the subject line of the message. This works okay too, but I prefer to leave the original subject lines intact. Another disadvantage of the subject line method is that you may forget to strip your potentially embarrassing comments from the subject line before replying.

Well, that’s it. Enjoy!