applied tips : may 2009

microsoft outlook : categorize emails automatically

Outlook has always had the Category feature, but until Outlook 2007 it was very cumbersome to use and didn't offer much value. Plus, Appointments used a completely different feature called Labels.

In Outlook 2007, labels merged into Categories and all aspects of Outlook shared the same color-matching system for Categories. This means that if you establish Orange as your color for school-related stuff, you can have your school-related contacts be orange, your school appointments be orange, your school tasks be orange, and your school emails be orange.

Using Rules, Outlook can be configured to automatically set the Category of an email as it comes in. Emails from your coworkers, for example, can be one Category. Emails to your personal email address can be set to another Category.

Set up your Categories

If you haven't yet, take a moment to set up your categories.

In Outlook 2007, while viewing your Inbox, pull down the Edit menu and choose Categorize, then choose "All Categories".  Alternatively, you can right-click on the small category box next to any email and choose "All Categories".

In the Color Categories dialog box, add or delete categories as you see fit. Remember that these categories extend into all portions of Outlook (Email, Appointments, Contacts, and Tasks).

Enable Automatic Categorizing

There's quite a few ways to do this. I think this might be the easiest:

  1. Right-click an email from your Inbox that matches the criteria of the Category you're about to create
  2. Choose "Create Rule" to bring up the Create Rule dialog box
  3. Skip the simple options and go straight to "Advanced Options" using the button in the corner
  4. Scan through the list of Conditions, and select the one (or more) that will be a requirement for your category. You can get creative with this. For example, if you want to mark all emails from your employer, try using "with specific words in the message header" as the criteria, and set your employer's domain name as the "specific words" (such as
  5.  Click Next and move on to Actions. Choose the second, "assign it to the category category". Then be sure to identify which category by clicking the blue category link in the bottom half of the window.
  6. Click Next and move on to Exceptions. You probably won't need any, but you can set them up here if you need to. Click Next again.
  7. In the final step, give your Rule a name. Optionally, click "Run this rule now..." to automatically run through your entire Inbox and assign categories based on your new rule. Click Finish.

That's it! It looks like a lot of steps, but it's quite easy and very quick. Repeat steps 1-7 as often as necessary for each of the categories you wish to create rules for.

Creating a Category Search Folder

Once you've got categories enabled, not only do you get a nice color-coded system for your inbox, you can also perform searches much faster and with more direction.

Create a Search Folder for your new category by right-clicking any email of that category in your inbox, then choosing Categorize, then "Create ___ Search Folder".

Outlook will create a new Search Folder (usually located at the bottom of your email folders) with the name of your Category.

Any time you click to view the contents of that folder, you'll actually be seeing every single message that's been set to that category -- regardless of where it exists in Outlook.

You can create as many Category Search Folders as you like.

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