Outlook 2003: Flagging Email Messages for Better Productivity

In Outlook 2003, you can automatically organize your email messages into manageable folders using Filters and Flags. This tech-recipe explains how this is done.


I have recently been upgraded to Outlook 2003, and as a result, have been playing with it a bit. To be honest, I am disappointed with the lack of new features in it. I would have thought that task handling would have been improved and that they could have incorporated a few project management features into it. Anyway, here is my take on filtering mail in a GTD-styled method for Outlook 2003.

This method uses the in-built colored flags in Outlook 2003 to filter messages into different folders (contexts). The reason we are using colored flags is that they can be applied both automatically when the message hits your inbox and also when right-clicking on the flag icon on any message. This allows the filter flag to be applied quite easily.

The following example can be applied to any type of message you wish. For the purposes of this tutorial, I have chosen an “Order Email.”

Basically, you only want to see new orders that have arrived, but you want to be able to keep a record of all order email messages for future reference. You do not want to have to go through hundreds of messages to find those that you have not processed. Therefore, we set up a Search Folder to show only the messages that are relevant to us.

Here is the workflow:

– An order email message arrives in your inbox.
– It is automatically flagged as a new order.
– It is automatically moved to an Orders folder for archiving/reference.

First, we create a folder to hold the order email messages:

– Go to File > New > Folder (or press CTRL+SHIFT+E).
– Enter the name of the folder. In this case, it is Received Orders.

Second, we set up a rule to mark the email message with a flag and move it. To set up a rule, use these steps:

– Go to Tools Menu > Rules and Alerts > New Rule , and click Start From a Blank Rule.
– Step One – Select Check messages when they arrive.
– Click Next.

Select the conditions of the rule

For the purposes of this tutorial, we will assume that the email message subject line is “My Website Order,” but you can use to address, from address, etc. To set up the move rule, follow the steps below:

– In the conditions box, check with specific words in the recipients address.
– In Step Two, the rule is prebuilt. Click on the blue underlined specific words and type in the following: My Website Order.
– Click Next. Now, we tell Outlook what to do with the message.
– In Section One, check Move it to the Specified Folder, click on the blue underlined Specified in Section Two, and select the Received Orders folder.
– Click OK.
– In Step One, select Flag message with a colored flag.
– In Section Two, click the blue underlined a colored flag, and choose the color of the flag you want to assign to the rule.
– Click OK.
– Click Next.
– If you want to ignore any email messages that have certain criteria (which we do not), enter them here.
– Click Next.
– Type in the Rule Name Orders Rule.
– In Step Two, check Run this rule now on messages already in the Inbox.
– Make sure Turn on this rule is checked.
– Click Finish.

All messages in the Inbox with the words “My Website Order” will now have been flagged with the selected flag and moved to the selected folder.

At this point, move to the Received Orders folder, and unflag (Right-click > Clear Flag) any processed orders so that they do not appear in our search folder later.

Creating the Search Folder

We are going to use the Search Folder to pull in only those orders that have not been processed from the Received Orders folder. To to this, follow the directions below:

– Click New > Search Folder (or CTRL+SHIFT+P).
– Scroll to the bottom of the list, and click Create Custom Search Folder.
– Click the Choose button.
– In the name, enter Orders to process.
– Click Criteria > Advanced > Field > Frequently Used > Flag Color.
– In the Value drop-down, select the color of the flag you used earlier.
– Click Add To List
– Click OK > OK.

The search folder is now added and highlighted for you in the All Mail Folders.

To stop you having to browse to the Search Folders section each time (and as it is right at the bottom of the list, it is easy to forget about), right-click on the Orders To Process folder and select Add To Favorites. This adds the folder to your favorites folder.

If you click on the Mail tab and the Favorite Folders pane is not visible, click on the Folder List icon at the bottom of the navigation pane.

There you have it. All new orders will be flagged and moved, and you can ignore any other order email messages until you need to view them.

You can apply this for GTD by having an “@ Waiting for” flag, an “@ Email” flag, etc., with each context having its own filter and flag color.

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