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How to Set Tags, Flags, and Reminders in Microsoft Outlook

How often do you receive an email in your Outlook inbox only to decide that you’ll deal with it another time? And how often do you forget to return to that email?

Yep, that’s not unusual. Many of us get so much email that we often leave our inboxes filled to the brim with messages that go unattended and unanswered. There must be a way to categorize and flag certain emails so they remain on your radar. And there is, if you’re using Outlook.

Microsoft’s desktop email program offers different ways to handle an email that you don’t want to face right away but still need to keep alive. You can tag a message with a name and color category so you can easily spot it and know how to respond to it. You can flag a follow-up to an email to nudge you to look at it on a specific day. And you can set a reminder on a message so you’re alerted about it at a specific date and time.  The goal of these actions is to highlight important emails in some way so your attention is drawn or redrawn to them. Let’s check out how to set tags, flags, and reminders on your important Outlook emails.

I’m working with Outlook 2016 as part of my Office 365 subscription, but the steps are the same or similar in the prior couple of iterations of Outlook. To start, open Outlook, stay in your inbox, and right-click on a message that you’ve already read but have yet to answer or organize. Here’s one thing you can do right off the bat. From the popup menu, click on the command to Mark as Unread. This action highlights your email in bold and shows you that there’s now another unread message in your inbox.

Another option is to place emails into color categories, a visual clue that tells you that you still need to deal with these messages. You can use color categories to highlight and organize related messages. And you can use each color category for different types of emails and create your own categories if color names don’t do the trick. Right-click on a different email and hover your mouse over Categorize. Click on a specific color category, such as Blue. The first time you use that category, you’re asked if you want to rename it. Let’s leave the name as is for now. Click No. Notice that your email now has a blue header at the top telling you it’s in the Blue category.

Select a few more messages and assign them to the same color category. Alternatively, you can select a message and click on the Categorize icon on the Home Ribbon to assign a category. Select a couple more messages and assign them to a different color category. Select a couple more and assign them to a third color category. You can select multiple messages and assign them all to the same category in one shot. Now click on the View tab to switch to the View Ribbon. By default, your messages are likely sorted by date. Change the view to categories by clicking on the Categories icon on the Ribbon, and your messages are now organized by category. Change the view back to date.

You can also search for a specific category. Click in the Search field and then click on the Categorize icon on the Search Ribbon. Select the category that you wish to search. Only messages in that category appear in the search results. Click the X in the Search field to remove the search.

To remove a message from a category, right-click on the message, move to the Categorize command, and select Clear All Categories. Next, you can rename your categories or create new ones if you want more descriptive names than just colors. Click on the Categorize icon on the Home Ribbon and select All Categories. At the Color Categories window, click on the New button. Type a name for the new category and assign a color. Click OK. To rename an existing category, select the category and click on the Rename button. Type the new name directly in the field of the existing name and press Enter on your keyboard. To remove an existing category, select it and click on the Delete button. Here’s one more trick before we leave this window. You can assign a keyboard shortcut to an existing category. Doing so lets you select a message and press the keyboard shortcut to put it in that category. Select an existing category, click on the dropdown menu for Shortcut Key, and select a shortcut. Click OK to close the Color Categories window.

Check your existing messages for a category that you renamed and notice that they display the new name. Select a message that you want to assign to a category for which you created a shortcut key. Press the keyboard shortcut and notice that the message takes on that category.

You can also draw your attention to certain emails by setting them with a follow-up flag and adding them to your Outlook To-Do list. Right-click on a message and hover over the Follow Up command. At the flyout menu, you can select a specific day or week, such as today, tomorrow, this week, or next week.

Select Today. A flag appears in the message as a visual clue that you need to attend to this message. Hover over or click on the To-Do List icon at the bottom of the left pane. Any messages you flagged this way appear in your To-Do list.

If you accomplish the To-Do item by responding to or dealing with the message, click on the Flag icon. A checkmark indicates that the item has been marked as complete. Okay, that’s fine, but what if you need a reminder to alert you to respond to a message? Right-click on a different message and move to the Follow-Up command. This time, select Custom. At the Custom window, select the way you want to flag the message or just leave the option set to Follow up. Select the Start date and the Due date. Then check the option for Reminder. Select a specific time for the reminder. By default, the Windows reminder sound will play when the reminder is due, but you can change that to a different sound. Click on the sound icon and browse to and select the sound you wish to hear. Click OK to close the Custom window. The item is added to your Outlook To-Do list but also carries with it a reminder.

When the due date and time arrive, a visual and audible reminder goes off, alerting you that it’s now time for you to pay attention to this message.

Whitney, Lance. “How to Set Tags, Flags, and Reminders on Your Microsoft Outlook Emails,” Windows Secrets, Best Practices, Office Productivity, January 9, 2018

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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