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In Outlook 2011, is there some way to assign keyboard shortcuts to specific categories, so I can categorize messages without having to use the mouse to select the drop-down from the Categories menu in the Ribbon?

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Yes, you can do this.

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Select Keyboard.
  3. Select Keyboard Shortcuts.
  4. Select Application Shortcuts in the left navigation pane.
  5. Click the + button to create a new shortcut.
  6. Choose Microsoft Outlook.app in the Application drop-down menu.
  7. Enter the exact name of the menu command you want to add. E.g. for an Outlook category named "Project X" enter that category name, "Project X."
  8. Click in the Keyboard Shortcut field and press a unique keyboard sequence such as Control-Option-T.
  9. Click the Add button.

For some more ideas about how you could add keyboard shortcuts to Outlook:Mac, check out "Unleash new uses for keyboard commands in Outlook for Mac" in the Office:Mac Help Blog.

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This was close . . . and it got me far enough that I figured out the rest on my own, so thanks. The one error was your step 7 said "Give your shortcut a name, such as 'Apply Travel Category." However, what you need to provide is not a self-derived name for the shortcut, but rather the specific name of the Menu item to which you are creating the shortcut. E.g. if I had a Outlook category named "Project X", then I have to enter "Project X." It will automatically pick up that menu item and assign it to the specified keyboard shortcut. –  Greg R. Dec 4 '13 at 19:41
    
Edited step 7 to better reflect what needs to happen. –  Greg R. Dec 4 '13 at 19:43

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