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How do I categorize emails in outlook?

Organizing your inbox can be a daunting task, especially if you receive hundreds of emails per day. Categorizing your emails in Outlook allows you to create a filing system, so you can easily find messages later. Setting up categories and rules will help you automatically sort incoming messages, reducing inbox clutter.

Why Categorize Emails?

Here are some key reasons to categorize your emails in Outlook:

  • Find messages quickly – Email categories create a filing system so you can retrieve messages fast.
  • Reduce inbox clutter – Automatically sorting emails into categories keeps your inbox uncluttered.
  • Prioritize messages – Flag or color code important emails so you can find them easily.
  • Stay organized – Keeping emails organized helps you stay on top of tasks and communication.
  • Increase productivity – Saving time looking for emails gives you more time for important work.

Manual Categorization

You can manually categorize individual Outlook emails as you read them. Here’s how:

  1. Select the email you want to categorize.
  2. Click the Categorize button on the Home tab.
  3. Select a category you’ve already created or choose New Category.
  4. Type a name for the new category if creating one.
  5. Click Add to Categorize to file the email.

This method works well for one-off categorization. But for an ongoing system, you’ll want to set up rules.

Create Categories

First, set up category folders to sort emails into. Here are the steps:

  1. In the Folders pane, right-click Inbox and select New Folder.
  2. Type a name for the category such as “Newsletters” or “Personal.”
  3. Repeat to make additional top-level categories as needed.

You can also make sub-categories by right-clicking top folders and selecting New Folder again. For example, under “Newsletters” you could have sub-categories like “Offers” or “Updates.”

Set Up Rules

Once your categories are made, set up rules to automatically file emails. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Home > Rules > Manage Rules & Alerts.
  2. Click New Rule.
  3. Under Step 1 select Start from a Blank Rule.
  4. Under Step 2 choose conditions like sender, words in subject, etc.
  5. Under Step 3 select the category folder to move the email to.
  6. Confirm the details and click OK to save.

Your rules will now automatically file emails based on the conditions you set up.

Color Categorize Emails

In addition to folders, you can color code emails for faster visual sorting. Here’s how to color categories:

  1. Select the email and click Categorize on the Home tab.
  2. Choose a color category or create a new one.
  3. The email text will now appear in that color.

For example, always mark priority emails red for quick identification. You can still sort color coded emails into folders using rules.

Use Flags

Flagging emails provides another way to visually sort your messages. Here’s how to use flags:

  1. Right-click the email you want to flag.
  2. Select Follow Up and choose a flag like Today, Tomorrow, etc.
  3. Alternatively, click the Follow Up flag icon on the toolbar.
  4. Flagged emails will appear in the To-Do Bar for quick access.

Flags allow you to temporarily identify important action emails. Make sure to set a reminder so they don’t get forgotten.

Search and Filter

After categorizing your emails, you can quickly search and filter them. Here are helpful tips:

  • Sort by category or color to view similarly tagged emails together.
  • Filter by unread to see new emails in a category.
  • Search for keywords or senders to find emails fast.
  • Use advanced find to combine search criteria for precise results.

Take advantage of sorting and filtering to put your email organization system to work.

Review Automatically Sorted Emails

Automated rules will file your emails for you. But be sure to still review these categorized messages in case the rules need adjustment. Here are review tips:

  • Scan through sorted emails to verify they are categorized properly.
  • Check for any false positive emails incorrectly filed.
  • Tweak the rules if certain messages are not sorting accurately.
  • Clean up categories by deleting old emails or moving misfiled messages.

Regular reviews ensure your automated systems are working efficiently.

Archive Old Emails

To maintain your organized system, regularly archive outdated emails. Here’s how:

  1. Sort emails by date to surface old conversations.
  2. Select all emails you want to archive.
  3. Click the Archive icon on the toolbar.
  4. The emails will be moved to the Archive folder.
  5. Delete the Archive folder contents as needed.

Archiving old emails helps keep your categories from getting too cluttered.

Troubleshooting Tips

Follow these troubleshooting tips if you run into issues with your email categorization system:

  • Make sure rules are assigned to the correct categories and conditions.
  • Check that you don’t have duplicate rules conflicting.
  • Adjust rules that are misfiling too many emails.
  • Re-categorize emails manually if needed as a backup.
  • Delete and recreate corrupted rules that stopped working properly.

Take time to regularly tweak and adjust your email categorization to maximize its effectiveness.


Categorizing your emails in Outlook provides a simple yet powerful way to organize your messages. Set up category folders, automation rules, color coding, and flags to boost productivity. Just be sure to regularly review sorted emails and fine-tune your system. Keeping your inbox clean and efficient will make you feel in control of your email rather than overwhelmed.

Email Category Folder Name Rule Criteria
Newsletters Newsletters Sender email contains
Work Projects Projects Subject contains “Zendesk” or “Website Redesign”
Personal Personal Sender name contains “Mom” or “Dad”

This table provides some example categories, folder names, and rule criteria you could use to organize emails in Outlook. The scenarios focus on automated rules that file emails into categories based on the sender or subject line keywords. Create categories and rules that fit your specific email and workflow needs.