Organise Outlook email using categories and make searching simpler

Is your email inbox a mess? Can’t see the messages you want? Searches aren’t helping? You need to organise email using categories. See what’s important and find emails faster.

We spend a lot of time dealing with email every day and one of the problems we face is that the inbox is a disorganised list of messages. Some emails are urgent, others can wait. Some are work related, but others are not. Some may be part of a discussion, a work project, club or mailing list. tries to impose some order on emails by providing Focused and Other inboxes, but to really organise your emails, you should use categories.

A category is a label that can be attached to an email and a simple use would be to have Work and Personal categories. Work could be attached to work emails and Personal to those from your friends and family. Work emails could have a subcategory of internal (work colleagues) and external (customers, suppliers and so on).

The categories that are best for you depend on the emails you receive, so everyone’s category list is different. Think about the messages you get and what categories they would fit into.

Let’s see how to create categories using Microsoft email. Although the menus are different, this feature is very similar to the way Google Gmail works with its labels.

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1 The Categorise menu

Assign email to categories using  email

Select an email in the inbox to display it in the preview pane and then click Categorise in the menu bar at the top. There are several categories already available and Outlook creates them based on colours. I don’t find them useful at all and it is best to click Manage categories at the bottom of the menu.

2 Create new email categories

Create categories for email at the website

The ready-made colour categories cannot be renamed and you may as well click the trash icon on the right to delete them. You can change icon colours, but giving the Blue category a green icon would not make sense.

Click the + Create category link at the top and create the categories you need in order to organise your email messages. Make them your favourites by clicking the star on the right.

3 Pick a category colour

Choose a colour for an email category at the website

After creating one or more email categories, click the icon to the left of the name and then select a colour for it. Repeat this with all the categories you make.

4 Add categories to emails

Assign an email to a category at the website

Close the settings and return to your email. Select a message to view it and click the Categorise menu. Your newly created categories are at the top of the menu. Select one to add it to the email.

It depends on your categories, but it is possible for an email to belong to two or more categories, such as Work and Important, if you had those. Attaching multiple categories to messages is fine.

5 Categories in the inbox

Category tags attached to emails in the Outlook inbox

Go through your recent emails and add categories to them. There is nothing you can do about old messages, but at least you can start categorising emails now. The categories appear in the inbox list making it easy to spot them.

Category tags attached to an email at the website

Categories also appear on messages in the preview pane at the top, after the title.

6 Filter emails by category

Show all emails with the same category tag at the website

The real power of categories is the ability to filter emails and those category buttons in the inbox are clickable. Click one and only messages with that category are displayed. The category is instantly applied to the view via the search box and this enables you to filter out unnecessary inbox clutter and see what is important.

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