Ye blog of Adam Wright

DIY, tutorials, stuff for geeks, all updated when I have the time to spare.

How To Make Outlook’s Inbox More Like Gmail’s

My favorite difference between Gmail and other webmail services is the way Gmail’s Archive feature works with the inbox. You don’t realize it, but when you use Gmail, all of your email is located in one folder, and when new email is received, it gets an “Inbox” label. Your Inbox is just a label that shows any email with the “Inbox” label. Archiving an email removes the “Inbox” label, thereby removing it from your Inbox folder.

Outlook can be customized to act the same way, with some easy tweaks:

  1. Create a new Search Folder.
  2. Select “Create Custom Search Folder” at the bottom.
  3. Click “Choose…” button to customize the search folder. Name the folder “To Do” (or whatever you like), and set it to look in the Inbox.
  4. Click on the “Criteria…” button. You’re only going to set one rule; under the Advanced tab add a rule for “Flag Status not equal to Completed”.
  5. Hit “OK” to close the customization window and finish creating the Search Folder. Now right-click on the search folder you just made and click “Show in Favorites”.
  6. Now, all email messages will stay in the “To Do” folder until you mark their flag status as complete. No deleting messages, and they all stay in your Inbox folder. However, if you still prefer using folders, you can move emails into individual folders inside your inbox if you want and the “To Do” Search Folder will still show them like in my screenshot:

  7. OPTIONAL: Use color codes to sort importance of emails and current projects.

Any new emails show up in the “To Do” Search Folder, you can move them to subfolders within the Inbox folder and they’ll still remain in the “To Do” Search Folder.

Here’s my methodology for getting through all my daily email:

  1. If its just a quick “throw away” email (i.e. quick responses, “Thanks”, “Sounds good.”, office SPAM, etc) I just Mark Complete and it disappears from the “To Do” Search Folder.
  2. Anything else gets a color category so I can see what the email is (current project, information, backburner, paused project, etc) visually with a quick look.
  3. Current project emails (red category) just details any emails that have to do with the current projects I’m working on. That doesn’t mean the current email I’m working on. For that, I use the Follow Up flag. A single click on it turns it to a red flag (“Today” flag technically). In the screenshot above you can see the ship notification email is a current email I’m working on today.
  4. Lastly, once I’m done with the email I flag the email as complete, and it disappears from the “To Do” Search Folder. If the email already has a Follow Up flag, just another single click flags it complete and it disappears.

Any questions feel free to leave a comment!

Jeff Larsen notes that you can make Outlook behave even more like Gmail by following his method of grouping your replies to conversations in your inbox together with the messages you receive.

Thanks Jeff!

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9 responses to “How To Make Outlook’s Inbox More Like Gmail’s

  1. Jeff Larsen 05/06/2012 at 8:33 PM

    This is an interesting strategy to mimic archiving but doesn’t capture one of Gmail’s other great features which is to group your replies to conversations in your inbox together with the messages you receive. I’ve outlined a solution to this problem using labels and search folders at my blog here: http://intellectual-inertia.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-make-outlook-2007-function-like.html

  2. cjbrooker 06/19/2012 at 10:12 AM

    Great idea. I even added the ‘Mark Complete’ button to my toolbar so that I can ‘archive’ like I do in Gmail – pressing a button.
    Only problem I’m having is that meeting/appointment request replies marked as complete are still showing.

    Any ideas on why this might be an how I can ‘archive’ these too?

    • Adam 06/19/2012 at 11:20 AM

      That, sadly, is not something I’ve dabbled with. My first thought would be to modify the “To Do” search folder…maybe the “Flag Status Incomplete” setting doesn’t apply to meeting/appointment request replies, so maybe there’s another setting in there you could add that would filter those out? Sorry I’m not more help, I didn’t come across that issue myself. Good luck!

      • cjbrooker 06/20/2012 at 3:45 AM

        I found an alternative method:
        1) Create a new Category called ‘Active’
        2) Set the Category Quick Click to ‘Active’
        3) Set a new rule so that all new mail is given the category ‘Active’
        4) Create a Search Folder that only includes the emails with the ‘Active’ category

        Once you have read and dealt with an email just click in the Category column and it will disappear from the Active Search Folder. Works for meeting request replies too.

      • Adam 06/20/2012 at 1:34 PM

        Good to hear you found a solution!

  3. amandapingelramsay 07/31/2013 at 1:44 PM

    Oh… I love you! I’ve been struggling with the stupidity of the Outlook format for a week and a half. Thanks for a great solution!

  4. Maya 01/29/2014 at 9:34 AM

    how would you recommend automatically keeping a message’s reply in the same folder as the original message? I feel like I’m doing a lot of extra filing work (because the folder doesn’t stick with the thread as the tag does in gmail).

    Please help. 🙂

    • Adam 01/29/2014 at 9:56 AM

      Sadly, I’m not sure the best way to attempt that. Unsure if it’s easily possible without a specific rule for each email thread. Sorry I couldn’t help more.

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