The Outlook Reading Pane (sometimes called the Outlook Preview Pane) is an Email feature which allows you to view the contents of an Email message without opening the actual message.
Other Email systems have similar features, but we are going to focus on the Outlook feature for this discussion, although the key points we outline apply to all Email systems.
Reading Pane Advantages:
- Allows you to see the initial content of an Email message without needing to double-click to open a message.
- Can be very helpful to determine if a message may require priority processing or can be readily discarded.
- Adds more information to your Inbox view.
Reading Pane Disadvantages:
- It works against the primary goal of Email processing and Inbox triage, which is to quickly organize, scan, and prioritize the messages in your Inbox by viewing a limited set of available information, such as flags and categories.
- It takes-up useful space in the Inbox that can be better used for increasing the number of visible Email messages that can be displayed on a single screen.
- Email triage best practices states that you should not need to open a messages unless you intent to review it in detail.
- Increases the chances of distracting you during your Inbox triage sessions, causing you to get side-tracked from your dedicated triage activities.
The steps to configure your Outlook Reading Pane:
- Select "View"
- Select "Reading Pane"
- Choose one of these options to position the reading pane:
- Right – Places the reading pane in a window to the right of your inbox.
- Bottom – Places the reading pane at the bottom of your inbox.
- Off – Turns off the reading pane feature entirely.
(Note: The above steps are for Outlook 2007 – different versions of Outlook may have slightly different steps).
How do I use the Outlook Reading Pane in my Email processing and triage routines?
I do not use the Outlook Reading Pane at all and my personal recommendation is to turn the Outlook Reading Pane "Off".
I find that it tends to distract you more than it helps you. And it definitely slows down your ability to quickly scan your Inbox and triage your messages. Opening a message is an easy mouse "double-click" or quick press of the "Enter" key. I prefer to have all the screen real estate possible devoted to my Inbox messages, which allows me to visually view, organize, group, and scan many more message at once.
However, for those who use the Outlook Reading Pane (some do find it helpful), here are a few suggestions:
- Research has found that it works best if you set it to the "right" and keep the reading pane long and narrow, because your eye can scan vertically down a message faster than reading across it.
- You can turn-off the message header using the "Customize Current View" / "Other Settings" options, which greatly reduces the amount of space that the reading pane occupies on the screen.
- If you use the Reading Pane together with the To Do Bar (which is on the right), then you should put the Reading Pane at the "bottom", since otherwise you will lose the bulk of your Inbox width.