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Organizing Your Emails in Outlook 2003

By vfredrick ·
Organizing Your Emails in Outlook 2003

At the outset I would like to clarify a few things, this is article is from the perspective of a Helpdesk Analyst, we get at least 30 emails a day, about Outlook 2003, simply because it is what we use at our office, is a collation of good ideas I have come across and found that using them together is more efficient, may not be readily applicable to everyone, does not cover the various Outlook plug-ins / add-ins that are available.

Now let me describe my situation a little, I work for a pharmaceutical company helpdesk as a Level II tech, which means I am one of the first point of contact for quite a few issues and included in quite a few internal distribution lists, sometimes I need to take immediate action on an email, wait for someone else to work on it first, follow-up on an email even though I am not specifically mentioned in the email (which might after several days sometimes) or not respond at all. In other words, I have to efficiently sort, archive and retrieve email, moreover in as short span of time as possible.

Usually we can break-down the emails as Received or sent on daily basis, Which need to be worked on or followed-up till the issue is closed, Generic Updates.

Its extremely important to archive the emails in such a way that its easy retrieve when needed. Now I have seen people organize their emails in rather strange ways.

1. By Sender - Not at all useful, whenever an email needs to be retrieved they usually start asking who sent it.
2. By Subject - Good, but not very efficient, particularly if the email has information related to multiple issues.
3. Dump Everything - Put everything in one folder and depend on search tools to find an email.

As mentioned by Paul Reed in his article How to Organize Your Email (, people usually are

1. Filers - Create folders and multiple sub-folders so that they can find an email quickly as possible. Quite efficient, by exhausting and quickly becomes tedious if the volume of emails is high and an email can be filed in multiple folders!
2. Searchers - Dump everything and depend on searching to find emails
3. Taggers - Use a combination of filing and tagging to efficiently sort and find emails.

The Solution

Outlined below is the solution which I have implemented and found to be quite efficient.


As outlined by editor Gina Trapani in her podcast Organizing our digital lives (, it helps to use a minimum of folders, ideally just three!

1. Follow-up - Emails that you need to work on
2. Hold - Emails that need to be worked on by someone else first
3. Archive - For everything else

Basically, the idea is to keep things simple, whenever you get an email, if you need to work on it, put it in Follow-up, Hold if you need to wait for further action or Archive with proper tagging.


This is perhaps, my only original idea in this article, Outlook allows one to tag or assign Categories to emails.

1. You can assign one category to emails with different subjects-lines but related to the same issue, which helps in tracking an issue efficiently.
2. You can assign more than one category to the same email. This helps if an emails contents relates to different subjects.
3. Allows one to quickly refer or retrieve emails when needed.

Ill provide an example where tagging is very useful; a user needs a 3rd-party program to be installed on his laptop, this has to go to Home-Office for approval, then another email has to be sent to Hardware Services instructing them to install the software and follow-up with the user is required as well. Its certain that quite a few emails will be involved and most certainly with different subject-lines, but all related to the same issue.


Tagging helps in grouping emails, flagging helps you marking emails for follow-up with 6 different flags of different colors. Whenever a message is flagged, it would be shown in the For Follow Up under Favorite Folders in Outlook; this means that you will never miss following-up on an email.

More information on flagging can be found at You can enable Favorite Folders in Outlook 2003 by going to Go>>Mail (Ctrl+1), you can also create a toolbar names for different flags for ease of use. There is another article at with details on how to go about it. A small disadvantage is; any email that is moved to a personal folder will not show up in For Follow Up


You definitely need to setup a few rules to deal with those emails which one gets on regular basis with the same subject line etc., You need to setup rules in such that an email is assigned a category and is flagged as well.


Marking emails from certain people or subject-lines in a certain color helps.

1. In Outlook Navigation pane, click the Mail category.
2. Select an e-mail message from a contact.
3. On the Tools menu, click Organize.
4. Under Ways to Organize Inbox, click Using Colors.
5. Select the color you wish and click Apply

Hope this helps in dealing with the flood of emails a few of us encounter on a daily basis. And a disclaimer; I have take various ideas from various sources and collated them, hopefully I wont be accused of plagiarism!

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Some nice tips

by BorisDer In reply to Organizing Your Emails in ...


thanks for this article. I consider myself/my email-self to be what you've entitled 'dump&searcher'. Let the search do the work and care later about structure and organisation.

I do like the idea of working with colors and flagging certain e-mails. I recently became a 'rookie folder sorter'. Improves the general overview quite significant :)

However, the old dump and search habits won't end soon. I found a nice little helper in Lookeen ( that does a good search job so far...

Working on improving the Outlook work-flow, and you steps might be the first ones in that direction :)

Greets Kevin

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by vfredrick In reply to Some nice tips

Hey! Thanks for the reply, good to know that I was of some help!

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Greats tips! Something for everyone

by AV . In reply to Organizing Your Emails in ...

I'm more of a dump everything person, but I like folders for some things. I depend a lot on rules, because I get such a volume of email, I can't keep up with it.

I like that you mentioned flagging. I've used it sometimes, but never used it to that extent.

A great article. Thanks.


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by vfredrick In reply to Greats tips! Something f ...

Thanks for the reply AV! There are a few other features that I haven't covered, but if combined are very helpful; Search Folders, Taglocity Add-ins, etc., I'll write a full review soon hopefully!

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