If your Microsoft Outlook inbox is cluttered and full of messages, chances are that you'll miss an important message. As a business owner, missing a message could be disastrous. It could mean lost business. And even you don't own a business, nobody wants to overlook an important email.
You can learn how to organize Outlook so that it's more efficient. Microsoft Outlook includes several tools that you can use to make your inbox more organized, if you know what to do. If you're just getting started with Outlook or if you're not current with it, you may not be using it to its full capacity.
In this tutorial, we'll show you how to organize your outlook email. We'll explain how folders and categories work. We’ll touch briefly on the Focused Inbox tool. Finally, you'll learn how to organize email in Outlook using the Archive and Delete features.
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Now let's move on to learning about folders and categories in MS Outlook:
How to Organize Your Outlook Email Inbox with Folders (Video)
Watch this quick screencast tutorial to learn the basics of how to use folders in Outlook quickly:
Or walk-through the
detailed written steps below for more information on how to organize your Outlook inbox.
What You Need to Know About Folders & Categories
If you want to learn how to organize emails in Outlook, you need to understand folders and categories. These are the main tools that you’ll use to get your inbox under control.
Microsoft Outlook Folders
Folders appear on the left of your Inbox beneath your email address (this is also called the Navigation Pane). There are two types of folders:
- Default folders. Default folders are standard with your MS Outlook software. Default folders include Drafts, Sent Mail, Deleted Items, Trash, Spam and so on. Some versions of Outlook may also have a Clutter folder, although this is being phased out.
These are additional folders that you create to prioritize your messages. It’s
important to be careful not to create too many folders or you could become
confused about which folder to use.
examples of each type of folder, look at the desktop version of MS Outlook
Important: Microsoft has several current versions of Outlook available. Your screen appearance and functionality could very slightly depending on which version you're using and how it's configured. Most of this tutorial is based on the latest version of Outlook as installed on my desktop. However, we’ll take a look at Outlook.com to highlight certain features.
the folder labeled From My Boss. This isn't a Default folder. Rather it's a Personal folder that I added for this example.
You can use categories to color code your messages. For example, you can apply the red color category to messages that are urgent, the green color category to messages you're ready to act on, the purple color category to meetings, and so on. You'll want come up with your own system.
Categorizing your inbox with color coded categories allows you to scan your inbox quickly to decide what to do with each message.
You’ll use the Categorize icon to customize and
use categories. The Categorize icon appears in the middle of the Ribbon towards
the right side:
Note: The Categorize icon is only
available for Microsoft mail users using a Pop or Exchange email setup. If you
use an IMAP setup this option isn't available.
1. How to Use Folders
Folders in Outlook are fairly easy to use if you know what to do. Here are some of the basics to using folders:
1. Create a New Folder
To create a folder in MS Outlook, click Folder tab from the Ribbon. Then click the New Folder icon. The Create New Folder dialog box displays:
the name of your new folder in the Name
field. Click on the folder where you want to place the new folder, and click OK when you are done.
In this example, I created a folder called Memos and placed it under the From My Boss folder. Here’s what the folders look like now:
Step 2. Rename a Folder
can change the name of a folder once you’ve created it. Select the folder you
want to rename by clicking on it. Click on the Rename Folder icon in the Folder
tab. You’ll notice that a box appears around the folder name:
Type a new folder name in the box. When you're done typing, press the Enter key on your keyboard. Your new folder name is saved.
Step 3. Move a Message to a Folder
Once you’ve created several folders, you're ready to start putting messages into them. Return to your main inbox to view your messages:
Click on a message to select it and simply drag the message
into the folder of your choice. In the example below, I dragged the "Project estimates" email to the Memos folder:
Step 4. Delete a Folder
Occasionally you may find that you don’t want a folder you’ve created. When this happens, you can easily delete the folder.
Click on the folder you wish to delete in the Navigation panel (on the left) to select it:
Click the Delete icon in the Ribbon. (It looks like an X.) The folder is deleted.
Caution: If you delete a folder, any messages in that folder will also be deleted.
2. How to Use Categories to Get More Organized in Outlook
Let’s take a closer look at how to customize and use categories to organize your inbox.
Step 1. Rename a Category
By default, the categories are named by color. To rename a
category click the down arrow to the right of the Categorize icon. From the drop-down menu select All Categories. The Color Categories dialog box appears:
a checkmark next to the color you want to rename and click the Rename button. Type over the default
name of the category to rename it. Click the OK button when you're done renaming
an example of some renamed categories:
Your own custom categories may be different.
2. Delete a Category
you’ve customized your categories you may find that you’re not using all of
them. If that happens, you can delete the unused category.
delete a category, click on the All
Categories option in the Categories drop-down
menu. The Color Categories dialog
Click the checkbox next to the color you want to delete. In the example above, I’m deleting the Orange category because I’m not using it. Click the Delete button.
When a prompt appears asking you to confirm the deletion click Yes. When you're done making changes to the categories click OK. The Orange category no longer appears on the Categorize drop-down menu and you won’t be able to apply it to an email message.
Step 3. Apply a Category to a Message
you’ve customized your categories, you’re ready to start applying them to
messages in your inbox. To apply a category to a message, click on the message
to select it. Click on the Categorize
icon. The Categorize drop-down menu
Click the category you want to apply to the selected message. The category is applied to the message. You’ll see the category color as a square to the right to message sender in your inbox. In the body of the message itself it appears below the sender name.
an example of an inbox with categories applied to all the messages:
A message may have more than one category applied to. To apply an additional category to a message, select the message and click on another category in the Categorize drop-down menu.
Step 4. How to Remove a Category from a Message or Change It
Over time, the category of a message may change. You can remove a category from a message or change it. Here’s what to do.
To remove the category from a message, click on the message in your inbox to select it. Click the Categorize icon. From the drop-down menu, click on the category that is currently applied to the email to remove it:
You can apply a new category to the message from the Categorize drop-down menu or leave it uncategorized.
To remove all the categories from at once from an email message that has more than one category, select the message and click the Clear All Categories option from the Categorize drop-down menu:
3. How to Use a Focused Inbox
Microsoft is in the process of rolling out a new feature called Focused Inbox to Outlook users. Whether or not you currently have access to Focused Inbox depends on the version of Microsoft Office you're using.
your version of Outlook was using the Clutter
folder to sort out unimportant messages, that feature has been rolled into the
new Focused Inbox. Your existing Clutter
folder will become a regular folder when your system is updated to the Focused Inbox feature.
The Microsoft Outlook Focused Inbox is designed to organize your inbox automatically. When it is activated, your inbox is divided into two tabs
- Focused tab. Emails sorted into this tab are the most important and require quicker responses.
- Other tab. Other email is sorted into this tab for you to deal with as you get a chance.
I don’t currently have the Focused Inbox feature available on my PC desktop yet. However, it's available in many Web versions of MS Outlook right now. That includes this free version of Outlook email I've got from Outlook.com. Here’s a look at the Focused Inbox with the Focused tab open:
switch to the Other tab from the Focused tab, simply click on it:
As you can see, in this example the Focused tab contains schedule notifications from my Outlook Calendar while the Other tab includes less important routine product announcements. The Focused Inbox feature put these messages in the appropriate folder automatically without me having to decide which message goes where.
Outlook.com is a free web-based email services from Microsoft. To learn more about Outlook.com, review this tutorial where it's compared with Gmail:
4. How to Archive or Delete Old Messages & Clean Up Your Mailbox
Most of us save too many emails, and this can make for a messy inbox. Another way to organize your Outlook inbox is to archive or delete old messages.
While both archiving and deleting emails removes messages from your inbox, it’s important to understand the difference:
- Archive. Sends a message to an Archive folder. The Archive folder is intended for older messages that you intend to save. When you archive an email, you can easily retrieve it at a future date.
- Delete. Sends a message to the Deleted Items folder (it looks like a trash can). If the Deleted Items folder is emptied, it may be difficult to retrieve the message. Delete is typically reserved for emails you don’t expect to need in the future.
Outlook also has a Cleanup Tool.
You’ve probably gotten one of those messages where a bunch of previous messages
are copied at the top. You may also have each of those previous messages in
your Outlook inbox. When you apply the Cleanup Tool to a conversation or to a
folder or subfolders, the tool removes those duplicate messages.
However you do it, removing messages your mailbox can free up space in your inbox. To properly organize your inbox,
it’s important to learn how to use each of these tools:
1. Delete Old Messages
It’s easy to delete an old email. Simply click on the email to select it:
the Delete icon in the Ribbon (it looks like an X). The
message is moved to the Deleted Items folder.
permanently remove a message from your email, click the Deleted Items folder to open it. (It’s in the Navigation Pane on
the left and looks like a trash can). Click the message again to select it.
Click the Delete icon to permanently
delete the selected message.
Caution: Some permanently deleted messages may be able to be recovered from the server if they are still in the Deleted Items folder, but it’s also possible you won’t be able to recover an email after you delete it.
Step 2. Manually Archive Messages
A less permanent way to remove old emails from your inbox is to archive them. To archive an email, click on the message to select it. Click the Archive icon in the ribbon next to the Delete icon:
you’ve not used the Outlook Archive feature before, you’re prompted to create
an archive folder. Click the Create
archive folder button. Outlook creates a new folder titled Archive and
sends the email you selected to it:
the future when you archive an email it’ll go to this folder.
3. Set Up Archive Parameters
can also change MS Outlook’s automatic archive settings. Click File > Options to open the Outlook Options window:
Click the Advanced
option from the Navigation pane on
the left. Then click the AutoArchive
Settings button. The AutoArchive
dialog box appears:
the check boxes to select the archive options you want to choose. Click OK on
the AutoArchive dialog box when you're done. Then click OK on the Outlook Options
4. Use the Outlook Cleanup Tool
Emails have become more conversational. If you’ve taken part in an email conversation where you and a recipient have replied back and forth in a series of message, you know what I mean. When you reply to an email, your reply appears above the original messages and all earlier replies. Unfortunately, all of that replying can fill up your folders—making it harder to find those messages you need.
Outlook has a solution with the Cleanup Tool. This tool removes redundant messages, so it removes earlier messages that don’t include the latest reply. You haven’t lost any information, because all your earlier messages are included in the latest message.
Let’s see how it works. In the From My Boss folder below I have two message that are all part of the same conversation. The first message has the subject line “New Work.” The latest message has the subject line “Re: RE: RE: New Work:”
can use the Cleanup Tool to clean up a conversation, a folder, or a folder and
subfolders. In this case, we’ll use it to clean up the From My Boss folder.
Click the folder to select it. Click the down arrow on Cleanup Tool icon. (It’s on the Home tab to the left of the Delete icon.) You’ll see the Cleanup drop-down menu:
the Clean Up Folder option on the
drop-down menu. A prompt appears warning you that redundant messages will be
deleted. Click the Clean Up Folder
button on the prompt. The original message is deleted:
original message is deleted because it’s redundant with the latest message.
This is particularly helpful feature if you’ve got a lot of email conversations
in your inbox.
Note: Email messages that contain a different element—perhaps a reply from a
different recipient or an attachment—won’t be deleted because they don’t meet
the requirement of being redundant.
5. Organize Your Email With Better Inbox Management
You're less likely to have a cluttered MS Outlook inbox if you're following good email management practices. Learn how to
reduce your email inbox clutter
with our free eBook:
that you've learned how to organize Outlook using folders, your email inbox
should already be less cluttered. You've also learned the basics of using
Microsoft Outlook categories and understand the importance of archiving or
deleting old messages.
As a business person, you'll appreciate being able to use your Outlook inbox more efficiently because it's organized. Best of all, you won't have to worry about missing an important email message.