Outlook in drag

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We look at Outlook’s drag feature which lets you can drag an item from one Outlook folder to another and create a new item based on the old one.

After last week’s issue of Office for Mere Mortals on Outlook tips we had a lot of similar letters from readers, and we love hearing from readers.

The mere mention of dragging an attachment to a calendar item prompted people to tell us about the ‘new’ feature where you can drag an item from one Outlook folder to another and create a new item based on the old one.

Ahem — it’s an old feature, it’s been there since the first Outlook. It’s the type of feature that used to warrant great hoopla at Microsoft demos but is now considered old hat. Certainly we’ve mentioned it before in Office Watch newsletters but it’s time to revisit it.

Sorry about the title of this issue – it’s Mardi Gras time in Sydney and I could not resist.


The basics are pretty simple. You can click on an item of one type – eg an email in Inbox and drag it to another folder – for example Calendar and a new item will be created based on the dragged item. The details will be converted to the new item where possible.

Take an email from someone new, drag that email to your contacts folder and presto! a new contact item is opened with various fields populated.

The email address is in the right field. The persons name is in ‘Full Name’ assuming it was properly in the message. The entire email message is copied into the comments field.

The latter item is useful because you’ll probably have to fill some missing Contact fields, company name, title, phone etc might be in the email and you can drag text from the email to the right places on the Contact form.



The most common use is to drag an email to another folder like Calendar (to make a new appointment) or Contacts (to make a new contact entry for the sender)

You can create a Task by dragging an email to that folder. That might not be necessary in all cases because you can set a reminder against an email directly (right-click on the message and choose ‘Follow up’.

Dragging an email to Notes, creates a new note – big surprise there. Remember that Notes are plain text only (still!) so any formatting in the email will be lost.


No real surprise that any notes can be dragged to another Outlook folder to make a new Appointment, Task or Contact. It can also create a new outgoing email – this is more useful than you might think.

For reasons passing understanding you can’t synchronize a Draft email on a Pocket PC with the Drafts folder in the desktop Outlook. If you start an email on a Pocket PC you have to send it from there. The common scenario of starting a message on the PDA then polishing it and sending from your desktop has yet to occur to Microsoft (or really, it has occurred to some developers but no-one in power is paying attention).

The solution is to make the draft message on your Pocket PC as a note, not a new message. The note is copied automatically when you synchronize your PDA and you can drag the note to the Inbox to make a message.



You can drag items from outside Outlook to make a new Outlook item – but it has limitations.

A common use is to drag a web link to create an email message (to tell a friend) or Task (reminder to revisit the site). Go to the Internet Explorer Address Bar, click on the tiny icon to the left of the web address and drag it to the Task folder in Outlook (you might have to position the windows beforehand to let you do this). A new task is created with the web link as a .url file attachment in the comment field.

So far, so good. But the .url file is a long-standing gift to hackers and so is now blocked as an email attachment in Outlook. Even making a Task will earn you a security warning message when you try to save the new item.

I said it was a common use and it was, but no more. The security warnings plus the hassle of positioning windows means its really easier to simply copy the web link from the IE address bar and paste it into a new Outlook item.


Dragging an item makes it easy to create a new item – perhaps a bit too easy. Before saving the new Outlook item – double-check it.

Are the details correctly in place? – make sure the email address doesn’t have any extra characters.

Ensure you fill in all the necessary extra items. It’s too easy to drag something to Calendar and forget that the new appointment needs you to fill in the date and time (the defaults are almost never right).

Categories of items are copied in this process. This is probably good but be careful. Let’s say you have a category ‘Difficult Clients’ and drag a task with that category to Inbox to make a new message – look in the text of the message and you’ll see the categories for that task are copied in clear text to the email.

Creating an appointment by dragging a contact will create an appointment with an invitation sent to the dragged contact. This may, or may not, be what you expected.



Dragging an appointment to Contacts works but isn’t often useful. The new item is based on whomever created the appointment, which is probably you. If you have a shared calendar then presumably the creator of the meeting is already in your Contacts list.

One notable omission in Outlook 2003 is that you can’t drag to the ‘Search Folders’. It would have been a good way to start making a new search folder criteria but this obvious consistency with a long-standing Outlook feature didn’t make the cut.

Personally I find this feature not useful on a day to day basis, it looks good in demos but demos are not real life. That said, we all work differently so give it a try and it might suit you. If nothing else you can use this tip to show-off to your Woody’s Watch deprived friends.

The data from the original item is rarely copied to the new one in the way you want. But you might find it fits your needs better. Certainly Microsoft has found that most people don’t use it even when they know about it – which is why you see more toolbar and right-click options to do similar things in recent versions of Outlook. For example in Contacts you have (depending on your version of Outlook) Actions or right-click menu items to make an email or appointment.

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