What You Need to Know About Folders & Categories

If you want to learn how to organize emails in Outlook, you need to understand folders and categories. These are the main tools that you’ll use to get your inbox under control.

Microsoft Outlook Folders

Folders appear on the left of your Inbox beneath your email address (this is also called the Navigation Pane). There are two types of folders:

  1. Default folders. Default folders are standard with your MS Outlook software. Default folders include DraftsSent MailDeleted ItemsTrashSpam and so on. Some versions of Outlook may also have a Clutter folder, although this is being phased out.
  2. Personal folders. These are additional folders that you create to prioritize your messages. It’s important to be careful not to create too many folders or you could become confused about which folder to use.

For examples of each type of folder, look at the desktop version of MS Outlook inbox below:

The Microsoft Outlook Ribbon appears above your inbox.

Notice the folder labeled From My Boss. This isn’t a Default folder. Rather it’s a Personal folder that we added for this example.

Microsoft Outlook Categories

You can use categories to color code your messages. For example, you can apply the red color category to messages that are urgent, the green color category to messages you’re ready to act on, the purple color category to meetings, and so on. You’ll want come up with your own system. 

Categorizing your inbox with color coded categories allows you to scan your inbox quickly to decide what to do with each message.

You’ll use the Categorize icon to customize and use categories. The Categorize icon appears in the middle of the Ribbon towards the right side: 

The Categorize icon allows you to color code your messages.

1. How to Use Folders

Folders in Outlook are fairly easy to use if you know what to do. Here are some of the basics to using folders:

Step 1. Create a New Folder

To create a folder in MS Outlook, click Folder tab from the Ribbon. Then clickthe New Folder icon. The Create New Folder dialog box displays:

Use the Create New Folder dialog box to add folders and keep your emails organized.

Type the name of your new folder in the Name field. Click on the folder where you want to place the new folder, and click OK when you are done.

In this example, I created a folder called Memos and placed it under the From My Boss folder. Here’s what the folders look like now:

You can add a subfolder beneath an existing folder.

Step 2. Rename a Folder

You can change the name of a folder once you’ve created it. Select the folder you want to rename by clicking on it. Click on the Rename Folder icon in the Folder tab. You’ll notice that a box appears around the folder name:

Type a new folder name in the box. When you’re done typing, press the Enter key on your keyboard. Your new folder name is saved.

Step 3. Move a Message to a Folder

Once you’ve created several folders, you’re ready to start putting messages into them. Return to your main inbox to view your messages:

Click on a message to select it and simply drag the message into the folder of your choice. In the example below, I dragged the “Project estimates” email to the Memos folder:

Step 4. Delete a Folder

Occasionally you may find that you don’t want a folder you’ve created. When this happens, you can easily delete the folder. 

Click on the folder you wish to delete in the Navigation panel (on the left) to select it:

Here’s how to organize your Outlook email inbox by deleting unneeded folders.

Click the Delete icon in the Ribbon. (It looks like an X.) The folder is deleted.

Caution: If you delete a folder, any messages in that folder will also be deleted.