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Outlook Reminders Problem
Tuesday, June 19, 2007

(The following was done/tested with Windows XP SP2 and Outlook 2007. It may apply to other versions)

Reminders in Microsoft Outlook are one of its more useful features. They alert you with a small pop-up window, and a beep, a few minutes before an appointment is due (see fig. 1). As an Outlook user myself, I rely on them daily to keep my life on track.

Fig. 1 - Time to go

Figure 1 - An Outlook Reminder

Because they work so well, it is easy to become dependent on them. When a user recently reported that his reminders were not working, I was surprised, because they had never failed before.

The problem

He was able to make new calendar appointments just fine, and reminders were enabled, but nothing happened at the times he expected the reminder window to pop up. No beep, no error, not anything. The problem apparently started around the time he upgraded from Office 2003 to Office 2007, and he mentioned the upgrade had "hung" near the end, and he simply restarted the system. After the restart everything seemed to work, expect the Outlook Reminders.

Attempted solutions

I had never given much thought to this topic, but a web search revealed that there is something called the "Reminders Database", presumably stored in the user's *.pst or *.ost Outlook data file, and that can sometimes become corrupt. There is even a web page that seemed to fit our symptoms exactly (see ref. 1 below).

Unfortunately, none of the solutions proposed there seemed to help. We started Outlook with the "outlook /cleanreminders" command, and even the "outlook /cleanfreebusy" option, but reminders were still not working.

Recalling that the Outlook upgrade to 2007 had "hung", we next decided to try a repair install of Office 2007. We inserted the Office 2007 CD and selected "Repair" (fig. 2)

Fig. 2 - MS Office 2007 repair

Figure 2 - Office 2007 repair

This started off promisingly, and many files appeared to be copied from CD to disk, but after about 15 minutes, the progress bar seemed to stop moving, and by the next morning was still at the same place, so we terminated the upgrade.

Next, we decided to uninstall Office 2007 completely, and reinstall it. In preparation, we copied all Outlook files (by default they are in C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook) to a backup folder for safekeeping.

The uninstall and re-install completed normally, but after all that the problem was still there as before.

The solution

I was forced to conclude that the problem must be with the Reminders database, which is stored within the main Outlook database. A web search for fixing the Reminders database did not yield anything useful, other than the tip about starting Outlook with the /cleanreminders flag, which we had tried already with no success.

The user was using Outlook in POP mode, so all mail was being delivered to the *.pst file, i.e. there was no *.ost file. The thing we tried was to replace the *.pst file (named outlook.pst) with a new copy.

The following steps solved the problem:

  • Quit Outlook and made a copy of all files in C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook to another location for safekeeping.
  • Created a new Outlook data file (fig. 3) and named it outlook1.pst
  • Made the new data file the default for mail delivery by seleting "Tools -> Account Settings -> Data Files" clicking on the new file to select it, then clicking on the "Set as Default" icon in the toolbar.
  • Copied mailboxes from old data file to the new one. We did this in Outlook, by using the right-mouse button to drag folders from the old data file to new. The new file contained an Inbox already, and that could not be dragged over, so we opened the old Inbox, pressed CTRL-A to select all messages, then "Edit -> Copy", then opened the Inbox in the new data file, and "Edit -> Paste" copied all messages to the new Inbox.
  • The Calendar and Contacts databases had not yet been moved, but we decided to try a test. We created a new test appointment about 17 minutes in the future, and waited. About 2 minutes later, the normal reminder dialog (fig. 1) popped up with a beep!
  • We next copied the Calendar and Contacts list over in a way similar to how we moved the Inbox. First we selected Calendar, then clicked on View -> Current View -> All Appointments to display all appointments as a list. Then we were able to press CTRL-A to select all appointments and copy them to the new data file in a way similar to the Inbox. For Contacts, it was similar except we selected View -> Current View -> Phone List.
  • After some testing to be sure that all was working, we simply deleted the old outlook.pst file.

Problem solved. The reminders and all other features have been working fine since then.

Fig. 3 - Creating new Outlook data file

Figure 3 - New Outlook data file

Discussion

The Outlook Reminders database holds a list of upcoming reminders. It is poorly documented, but is obviously contained within the default *.pst or *.ost file for mail delivery. Our test above showed that the reminders are stored in the dafault Outlook data file, even if the Calendar itself is stored in a different file.

If your Reminders are not working, I would suggest proceeding in the following order:

  • First, check if the Reminders are enabled. In Outlook 2007, Tools -> Options -> Preferences, and make sure the check-box in the Calendar section that is labeled "Default Reminders" is "checked". In that same section, the Reminder time should be set to something reasonable, like 15 minutes.
  • If that doesn't fix it, then exit Outlook and restart it from the command line with the "Outlook /cleanreminders" command.
  • If still not fixed, then use the method described above in "The solution" section, i.e. create a new Outlook data file, and start using that.

If you encounter a problem/solution with Outlook Reminders not covered above, do let me know how you solved it.

References

  1. Calendar or Task reminders do not appear in Outlook 2000 http://support.microsoft.com/kb/195964
  2. How to Troubleshoot Reminders and Free/Busy Issues by Using the Exchange 32-Bit Client http://support.microsoft.com/kb/292183

Comments
(in order from older to newest)

"Thank you so much for the info. I've always had problems with my Outlook reminders. This is great."

Aug. 7, 2007, 5:44 PM by Andrew K.

"I fixed the problem by opening Calendar, then clicked on View -> Current View -> Recurring appointments. I only had 12 of them. I opened each one until I got the message "recurrance data not found" and deleted that appointment and all is well now."

Dec. 7, 2007, 8:59 AM by DM

"I'm facing the problem while the reminder prompting out, my Outlook 2007 was not responding and it shut down automatically. I can't get any solution for this problem. Will you able to help me on this?"

Jan. 29, 2008, 2:50 AM by tan

"I had been having problems with a corrupted recurring appointment for ages. I followed the suggestion posted by DM and it worked! Thanks for the site as this is the only place I was able to find which offered a solution to the problem."

Oct. 13, 2008, 5:22 AM by SCH

"I have a recurring birthday notice that will not allow me to open and delete. 9 weeks now. It now shows up every 5 min. Driving me crazy. I have eliminated it on all my calendars but its embedded some where."

Nov. 23, 2008, 7:44 PM by Daniel W.

"Thank you so much! With your help I have finally fixed the outlook reminders problem my father was having on his laptop. Great stuff, I've been looking for ages for a proper solution."

Nov. 25, 2008, 2:25 AM by Shanan

"The solution posted by Andrew K worked for me! Thanks so much."

(I assume he means the solution posted by DM on Dec. 7, 2007 above - rk)

Jan. 14, 2009, 10:08 AM by KM

"There is good tool,which works with outlook and possible more type files in this sphere-http://www.recoverytoolbox.com/view_ost_files.html, as far as i know tool is free, it "allows to recover *.ost files, when Microsoft Exchange Server gets out of order and your data may be lost, open damaged files, you can open your corrupted *.ost file and estimate data losses,can convert *.ost files to *.pst files, that can be easily opened by any email client, compatible with Microsoft Outlook, convert your *.ost to *.pst, but to extract a list of files in such formats, as: *.eml. *.vcf and *.txt, allows to view a ost file and avoid extracting, for example, 50 Mb of your content, you can extract all files from .ost viewer mail, than just to copy and paste emails and contacts, that you need, view ost file runs under all versions of Windows operating system, such as: Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Windows XP and Windows Vista."

(I have not tried that OST file viewer, but it is not free, just the demo version is - rk)

Jan. 22, 2009, 4:41 AM by zlatan24

"Do you know how to fix such reminder issues when connected to an exchange server? I wonder if you have to delete then recreate the Exchange account and import the calendar etc. as you did for the .PST file? My reminders go wrong when the PDA sync to the exchange server it seems and get some reminders being 51 weeks out of date."

(If you're using cached exchange mode then deleting the .ost file should do the trick (make a copy before deleting, just in case). Outlook should re-build the .ost file when you reconnect to the Exchange server. Also disabling and re-enabling cached Exchange mode may do the same, as suggested by Dustin, see entry dated Apr. 26, 2009 below - rk)

Jan. 28, 2009, 4:23 PM by Peter

"Thanks for this - rebuilding worked perfectly and solved my problem with reminder failures."

Feb. 25, 2009, 4:28 PM by RDK

"Very useful. It has been explained very well."

Feb. 26, 2009, 8:56 AM by K.N.

"Excellent! Thank you so much for this little tutorial. I do Outlook training and support and a client was having this same issue. We couldn't figure out what was going on until I found your post. Yay! I appreciate the info.

Oh hey, I provide free Outlook video tips at http://www.productivitypodcast.com just in case any of your readers might be interested. No strings, just free video tips for Outlook and SharePoint users."

Apr. 13, 2009, 9:18 PM by Andrea K.

"I had this problem and found a different solution. For each task I removed and then re-applied the reminder either by unticking / ticking the box or clicking on the bell icon in list view. Everything is working as it should. The problem occurred after I reinstalled Outlook following a reinstall of XP."

Apr. 23, 2009, 4:06 AM by PC

"I also had this problem but decided on a different path due to the complexity of my Outlook setup regarding multiple profiles.

I solved the problem by disabling Cached Exchange Mode Settings>>>Closing Outlook>>>Opening Outlook>>>>Re-enabling Cached Exchange Mode Settings.

When I launched Outlook the last time, I had dozens of old appointments listed of which I spent minutes dismissing all of them :>)

I would recommend listing this as a possible solution to the problem as well as yours. For the record, none of the Microsoft recommended stuff (/cleanreminders, /resetfolders. etc) worked.

I'll be blogging about this at: http://kingofbytes.spaces.live.com/"

Apr. 26, 2009, 12:54 PM by Dustin

"Well, I tried the /cleanreminders and the /reset folders solutions. No fix.

I tried your new .pst file solution. No fix. With the NEW .pst file, I tried setting a test appointment with a quick reminder time. Nothing. When I opened the appointment, I found that the "reminder" dropdown was set to "None." In fact, whenever I create a new appointment and set a reminder, if I open it right away, there is no reminder! ("None")."

June 9, 2009, 6:51 PM by LB

"This is the kind of help one could only wish that Microsoft would provide. After reading and trying without success numerous other suggestions on various web sites (including Microsoft), this one works! I especially appreciate the well-documented step by step prescription, rather than having to read a train of 20-question type postings to figure out what the guy is trying to say.

BTW, for importing in Outlook 2007, the quickest way to do it is by using the File/Import and Export function after you've created the new Outlook1.pst data file. You browse to the backed up Outlook.pst file (the one where the reminders don't work), and import the Personal Folders file."

Jul. 1, 2009, 9:41 PM by Terry

"So do these things work when you have the opposite problem? I have a user who has her options set so that she doesn't default to automatically having a reminder set on calendar objects but she gets one anyway. Even if she un-clicks it she still receives a reminder. The only way she can stop the reminders is to leave a reminder selected and set it to 0 minutes. Any suggestions?"

Aug. 11, 2009, 11:59 AM by JV

"I have a problem on Vista 64/Outlook 2007 that when I dismiss a reminder, the Outlook client stops responding and then crashes. I have tried repairing all of psts, osts but no avail. Any idea?"

Aug. 14, 2009, 2:02 PM by Hal

"I have the same problem using OL2003 connected to Scalix (which acts much like Exchange). There is only one special thing to mention: All "waiting" reminders pop up after a restart of OL2003; they just do not show up during the "session" of their creation / definition.

There is a thread on that topic on the Scalix forum:

http://www.scalix.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=13484

Thats not me, but however.

I will check out the "less tedious" repair options first..."

Aug. 25, 2009, 7:16 AM by zipwiz

"The solution provided by DM worked like a charm! Thank you!"

Aug. 26, 2009, 10:25 PM by Alan L

"I solved this problem by going to :

tools
options
mail setup
Data Files

Here i found two sets of data files. I deleted the one NOT marked as default and presto everything worked."

Sep. 21, 2009, 7:22 PM by JT

"I don't know if you are still active on this blog but I want to thank you BIG TIME. My Outlook 2007 had gone into a total funk (no reminders, tasks not showing up etc) and I looked everywhere and tried everything to no avail. Then I found your blog and THE ANSWERS as well. Whoever you are- thanks so much for being there."

(Ed, Thanks very much! Glad you found something you could use. - rk)

Nov. 14, 2009, 1:16 PM by Ed D

"Thanks, there's two more utilities at Slipstick and http://www.pstfilerepair.com. I think they're free trial, but have only used the latter."

Dec. 6, 2009, 1:07 PM by JF

"You're my hero! I've been trying to figure this out for days! My entire computer crashed and died, and when we loaded my back up, all the reminders were gone. This worked like a charm and the directions were perfect. Thanks!"

Dec. 9, 2009, 2:20 PM by SST

"I found this page because I'm also having problems. Nothing I've found has fixed my problem: /cleanreminders, /resetfolders, reinstall, remove/rebuild OST, disable/enable cached mode.

Whats happening in my scenario is this: appointments get saved w/ a valid meeting reminder value but once that reminder time is met, something then wipes out the value and sets it to "None".

E.g. Setup a meeting for 4p with a 15 minute reminder. At 3:30 view the properties: shows a 15min reminder. 3:45 comes and goes w/ no notification. At 3:50p view the meeting properties: it now says "None".

Note that if I use my Webmail to configure a new appt, a reminder WILL appear in the web interface. Thick client seems to be the item contributing to the problem.

I'm just taking a stab by posting here and maybe I'll get somewhere."

Mar. 17, 2010, 3:04 PM by KT

"In the event it comes up again, I wanted to let you know that my fix turned out to be quite simple. I use a closed laptop attached to a separate monitor. Turns out that the reminder screen [which I couldn’t get to appear on my monitor though it rested on my taskbar] was on the screen of my laptop, so I just needed to drag it back to my monitor screen. I have sometimes used my laptop monitor beside the other one when I have a lot of research documents to display while writing a story, but I have not used the monitor for some time, so I’m not sure why the reminders ‘jumped’ over there. I wasted so many hours on this today, and almost did a system restore and uninstalled many Windows Updates………. so I wanted to share this with you to prevent others from trying more drastic fixes when a simple one might do."

Oct. 11, 2012, 2:54 PM by gh

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