Microsoft Outlook is one of those programs that has many features that you stumble across. One of these is date interpretation. Although Outlook is great for typing a date or selecting one from the Calendar control, it also has some smart date logic based on natural language. These shortcuts are handy when the dates are based on another reference or strung together like a formula.
The advantage to smart logic is it can save you keystrokes and opening the date picker. And it can also be faster in finding “computed dates” or “calculated dates.” Typically when we enter dates, we know the exact date. But there are times when we need to think of a date based on another reference. These might be holidays, project milestones, scheduled maintenance, and so. Instead of using the date picker, we can type our request in the date field, and Outlook will add the correct date.
These computed dates will vary by country because the holidays are different. Outlook does a remarkable job in deciphering countless combinations of numbers and text to arrive at the correct date. And these dates don’t have to be a holiday. You can calculate the number of days between two dates.
Smart Date Examples
I’m not certain what Outlook calls this feature. It seems to be part natural language processing and part text parsing. There is some algorithm behind it that does the magic. The nice thing is the computed dates flow through nicely to other parts such as Outlook Tasks views. I’ve sorted these into two groups.
- Quick Numeric Formulas
- Intepreted Date Phrases
Quick Numeric Date Formulas
These dates are the easiest to learn because they use letters that represent time lengths. Note that the “m” is for minutes, whereas “mo” is for months. Personally, I would’ve flipped these because there are fewer fields where I can use the minute’s shortcut.
- d = days
- w = weeks
- mo = months
- y = years
- m = minutes
- h = hours
To use a shortcut, you simply type a number followed by the abbreviation. For example 2mo = 2 months. Spacing is not required, but you can use the + sign to string time items together such as 3w+4d. (Three weeks and 4 days) However, you can’t use something like 3w-4d. The - will not work.
Another quick tip is if you’re using a date in the current month, you can type the numbers. For example, if it’s November, I can type “30” to represent November 30th.
Interpreted Date Phrases
Alternatively, Microsoft Outlook can interpret the following text and correctly convert it to the correct date. In these examples, you’ll notice I’ve included words like “before,” “from,” “3rd”, and “yesterday.” I suspect there are many more terms that we naturally speak to reflect proximity. As you might guess, it’s easier for Outlook to compute your date than opening the date picker. Think of this as a mix and match approach.
- 70 days before 10/16
- 4 weeks from 7/4
- 3rd Tuesday in August
- 12 days from yesterday
- 10 Days after Christmas
How to Add Outlook Shortcut Dates
To use this logic you need to clear any data from the Date field and type your new entry. When you press the Tab key to go to the next field, Microsoft Outlook will convert your date entry.
In the example below, I’ve entered “last Tue of the year.” I’m not restricted to the Start date as I could just as easily typed that into the End date field. You’ll also see that I shortened Tuesday to Tue. Outlook didn’t care.
Outlook Smart Logic Isn’t Perfect
While Outlook may do wonders with its’ natural language processing, it’s not perfect. The problem isn’t with the translation, but using this smart logic in both the Start date and Due date on a task. For example, if I entered in 3w in my Due date for a task, it computes correctly.
However, if I then decide I want to have my Start date be in 2 weeks, my original Due date shifts when I hit Tab.
Both my Start date and Due date will show as 12/21/2020. My suggestion is to use the Outlook date-picker for the other field.
The Reminder fields on Tasks and Calendar items allow for some additional tweaks. While you can’t type 45m into a Task reminder field, you can type an entry like 8.10a for 8:10 AM. For appointments, you can type 45m for 45 minutes.
With Reminder entries, you have some additional shortcuts:
- . = colon :
- a = AM
- p = PM
Works for Appointments
The same date and time shortcuts work in the calendar area as well. In fact, this is where you can use the “m” for minutes. The Appointment Reminder field does allow you to use the “m” such as “45m” for 45 minutes. I think you really don’t have to worry about the Start time and End time conflicting like above since most meetings occur on the same date.