One of the most frustrating tasks I face is remembering to respond to e-mail messages in a timely manner. If I don’t answer an e-mail immediately, it soon drops out of sight and out of mind. Before you know it, I’ve let something important fall through the cracks.

Flags can be helpful, as far as they go, but they’re useless if you can’t see them! Of course, you can sort by flags, but that simply groups messages by flag category — it doesn’t alert you to follow-up reminders that are past due or quickly approaching.

The easiest solution is a custom view that includes the Due By field. However, if you’ve tried that and it didn’t work you probably used the wrong date field. You must sort by the E-mail Due By field for this helpful view to force overdue and current e-mail reminders to the top of the reading pane.

To create this custom view, select the appropriate folder and do the following:

  1. Choose Arrange By from the View menu.
  2. Select Current View and then Customize Current View.
  3. Click Fields in the Customize View dialog box.
  4. Choose All Mail Fields from the Select Available Fields From drop-down list.
  5. Double-click Due By and click OK twice to return to Outlook.

The fields at the top of the reading pane should now include Due By. Simply click this field to sort messages by the flag’s due date. Overdue items will sort to the top, followed by any items for the current day, and so on.

This technique depends on the use of flag reminders. If there are no flags, or your flags have no due dates, the sort is moot. To set a Due By date for a follow-up flag (red by default), do the following:

  1. Right-click the flag icon and choose Add Reminder.
  2. The Flag To item should be Follow To (make sure to select that item if it’s not already selected).
  3. In the Due By control, choose a date from the drop-down calendar.
  4. Click OK.

Now, a single click sorts your most critically timed reminders to the top of the reading pane, where you can quickly deal with the most urgent.