Creating a recurring email message in Windows Outlook 2016

The Situation

At my day job, there's an email I need to send every week. Same subject, same message. The recipients stay mostly the same, though sometimes there are changes in the lineup.

I don't want to have to manually create this email every week. I want the computer to do what computers are supposed to do: remember and do stuff for me so I don't have to remember and do it.

We use Outlook 2016 on Windows 10. Outlook lets you create recurring appointments, recurring reminders, and recurring tasks -- but not recurring emails. Fair enough. The other recurrences only bother you, but sending recurring emails can bother lots of other people.

Because our workstations are locked down, I cannot easily install any macro or automation software that could help me with this situation.

Two Solutions

So here are two solutions I cooked up using just the tools available to me from Windows 10.

The first one made me feel like the Professor on Gilligan's Island creating a catapult from bamboo and coconuts. The second one is plainer but gets the job done.

Neither of these are exhaustively tested or vetted procedures, so use at your own risk.

Solution 1: Fully automated

1. Create a contact group

Create a contact group in Outlook containing the message's recipients. Let's call it Recurring email group.

If the recipients list changes in future, then you only need to add or drop names in this group and nowhere else. The email template we create next will still work fine.

2. Create an email template

Microsoft describes the procedure in more detail, but here's the short version.

  1. Create an Outlook email with the text of the recurring message and the subject line.
  2. In the To: field, enter Recurring email group.
  3. If you usually include a signature in your emails, then do not include it in this template. Outlook will add the signature automatically when the new email is created.
  4. Save the email as an outlook template file (*.oft). For the purposes of this exercise, let's call it Recurring email template.oft.

By default, templates are saved to C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates.

You can specify a different path but it's easier to just accept the default; if you specify a different path, make a note to yourself of the file's location because you will need the file path in the next step.

3. Create a batch file

I couldn't believe this is what I had to resort to, but it was. God bless batch files. Still incredibly useful little tools.

  1. Open Notepad (do not use Wordpad or Microsoft Word, use Notepad).
  2. Add the following lines to the batch file:
@echo off 

cd C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates 

start "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\OUTLOOK.EXE" "Recurring email template.oft" 

There are many ways you could write the batch file; for example, I could have entered qualified paths to both the .exe and the .otl. In this case, I did what made sense to me to do.

Save the batch file to a folder on your hard disk. An obvious place is your C:\Users\username directory, but anywhere will do. Again, remember where you saved it because you need it for the next step.

Before you go any further, double-click the batch file and make sure it works as intended (a new email is created with the contents of the template file).

4. Create a recurring task in the Task Scheduler

Here's where our elaborate little Rube Goldberg contraption1 comes together.

  1. From the Start menu, open Windows Administrative Tools>Task Scheduler. (If you don't see an icon for the app, then try some of these methods to open it.) The Task Scheduler sports a most horrific UI. Fortunately, we won't be here for long.
  2. In the right panel, under Actions, create a Basic task.
    1. The trigger is the time you want to send the email, such as every Friday at 11 a.m.
    2. The action is to run the batch file. Navigate to the batch file and select it.

You can search Google or YouTube for more help on the Windows Task Scheduler.

5. You're done!

Now, every Friday at 11 am, the Task Scheduler will fire off the batch file, which calls Outlook to open the template file, and a new email will open up -- ready to go -- for you to review and send.

6. But just in case...

There are lots of moving parts to this contraption. Glitches happen and a component may not fire off correctly.

So, set a reminder in your calendar for an hour or so after the email is supposed to be created, something obvious like "WAS THE EMAIL CREATED??".

Aside: What methods didn't work

  1. Getting Task Scheduler to simply open the template file. The Scheduler wants either a program or script; specifying the .oft file is not enough, even though the file is associated to Outlook.
  2. The Task Scheduler would not accept a qualified path to outlook2016.exe (which took a while to find, BTW) with the .oft path as an option.

It was when these two obvious ways did not work that I hit on the batch file method.

Solution 2: Manual but maybe more foolproof

  1. Create the contact group, as above.
  2. Create the email template file, as above. Open up a File Explorer window so you can see the .oft file you created.
  3. In your Outlook folder hierarchy, create a new folder called "Templates" or something equally brilliant.
  4. Drag the .oft file from the File Explorer window to the "Templates" folder in Outlook.
  5. Set a task reminder or calendar reminder for the date and time you want to send the email.
  6. When the reminder fires off on the date and time you selected, go to the Outlook "Templates" folder and double-click the email template. A new email will open up with the template's contact group, subject, and message you specified.

The second solution is more manual, but also less prone to gremlins in the system. Outlook task and calendar reminders always perform solidly.

We just spent hours to save minutes. You're welcome.

  1. Search YouTube for "mouse trap game." I was amazed at how many videos there are. Not just of the board game contraption, but many animations recreating the action of the trap. ↩︎