Outlook as Organizer – GMail labels in Outlook


Thanks to everyone who provided comments and feedback in my first Outlook as Organizer post. In my first response to comments from that post, I'm going to explain how you can set up Outlook to organize your email in the same way that GMail labels work. In the GMail system, instead of filing your mail in a folder, you just label it. You can then view all mail with a particular label easily. The main benefit over folders is that a message can have multiple labels, whereas you can really only put a message in one folder.

To set up a similar organizational system in Outlook 2003, we can use categories and search folders. Just like labels in GMail, you can have multiple categories on an Outlook message (or any Outlook item). To set categories on messages you can go to Edit | Categories, or right click on the item to get it from the context menu. I like to use the keyboard, so I often hit the <menu> key and then "i". In the categories dialog you can set the categories for the message or go ahead and edit the master categories list.

But assigning categories isn't enough. You'll also need to set up search folders. For each category you use, create a new custom search folder. You'll set the criteria by changing the Categories text on the "More Choices" tab to the category you want to view in this folder. Whenever you create a new category, also create the corresponding search folder (which takes all of about a minute) and you're good to go.

In addition to the basic GMail functionality that this organizing scheme creates, you also get all the great benefits of Outlook. You can change the view in each search folder to make sense for the messages you're looking at. For example, you can arrange messages in a "Personal" search folder by conversation, and those in a "Project X" by who they're from, and those in "Project Y" by date.

I'm currently working to file all of my mail this way. However, to make it even easier, I'm setting up some search folders by contact, to show me all the mail to and from a certain person. I don't have to do anything to organize this mail - it does it by itself.

UPDATE: Looks like someone went and made it even easier.

Comments (10)

  1. Anonymous says:

    ask-mark.com &raquo; Outlook and Gmail labels

  2. Wes says:

    Lets not forget to mention that we can also setup rules to assign categories to new messages and then have those messages archived, i.e moved into another folder called Archived. If you are like me, I don’t like to have my inbox full I kind of use it as a todo list of messages I need to respond too, that is why I would want to move the messages to an Archive folder.

    Wes

  3. Rock says:

    True, Wes. Rules are great for things like moving items, flagging items, categorizing items, etc. I use them to great advantage with mail I know will be used as reference – mailing lists and such.

    However, if you’re going to automatically file things for use in a search folder and the criteria is simple, why not skip the Categories step and just create a search folder that looks for the same criteria used by the rule? Categories seem to make the most sense for adding metadata to a message (or at most, simplifying metadata). If a category is just a copy of existing metadata then it’s mostly useless.

    Of course, categories can be useful where you want to capture complex metadata simply. I just can’t come up with any good examples of, so I wonder how often its really necessary.

  4. Wes says:

    That’s true. I guess you could use the criteria on a search folder to instead of using rules at all. I currently just have separate folders for different mailing list and what not and have rules that move the emails to the appropriate folders. I don’t use search folders at all for the most part nor do I use categories.

    I wonder which approach would be better in the long run. It seems that after a while you would have way too much mail in your inbox for search folder to be very efficient, but on the other side I get to the point where I have way to many rules too.

    Who knows which is better? It probably would make for a good test or case study.

  5. It’s funny that I came across your posts about Outlook As Organizer. Like so many others, I received my GMail account and eagerly jumped in to see what all the hype was about. Once I saw the Label’s and threading of messages, I went Ga Ga over it. So, I started thinking, why not write a client email app to do the same thing. So, like all ideas I have, I started doing some research. And it didn’t take long to see that Outlook already does it. I was so excited and then started thinking, there isn’t anything special about GMail except that none of the other major players are providing the same functionality in a web interface. Until then, I’ll keep checking my POP3 accounts with Outlook and call it good.

  6. I have created an outlook macro to allow gmail-like labels in outlook.

    The macros provides a toolbar in outlook to assign labels to a message.

    It optionally alows you to create new labels from the GUI.

    A Search folder is automatically created for each label that you create

    You can also have "nested" labels.(like /work/projects and /home/projects separately)

    There is also a gmail-style "archive it" button that will throw the mail in an gmail-style "all mail" folder.

    its pretty alpha right now and only works in outlook 2003.

    It is available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/goutlook/

    In the next version(s), following are the features planned (in the order of priority):

    – convert vb macro into a COM add-in (easier to install + a real language + more version of outlook/office supported)

    – use built-in categories instead of a custom-field

    – improve the view for the search folders created (suggestions welcome)

    – add images on buttons of labels

    – change the label buttons to a drop down

    – show the current label and label drop down in the message window

    I am also planning lots of contact-specific improvments like:

    – a small script that automatically generates search folders for your 10 most frequently used contacts

    – create rules for people to category assignments (if its from contact X, it gets label "Friends")

    – add bayesian/heuristic assignment of labels

    – bayesian analysis on auto creation and deletion of labels.

    I welcome any feedback or suggestions.

  7. Steve says:

    The problem is there is no archive feature in outlook that will put all of these labeled items away and out of your inbox. You are stuck with them in your inbox. Folders get them out of there.

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