Outlook Search Folders

One of the most powerful tools in Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 is the Search Folder but most people don't really use them to their full potential. So let's talk about that...

What Are They?

A search folder is basically a saved search.  It's called a "Folder" but it's really not a folder.  There aren't any items contained in it, it's just a view that aggregates a bunch of items from other folders.  It looks like a folder, yes, but it's really not. 

Think of it this way...you run a search across all of your Outlook folders for the phrase "Property Tax".  You get a set of results - emails, RSS items, Tweets.  You like those results.  Tomorrow you want to do that search again.  And the week after that you want to run the search again.  You could re-run those searches each time, or you could just a create a search folder that does it for you with a single click.

How Do You Make One?

Simple as can be.  In Outlook 2007 click File | New | Search Folder or press CTRL+SHIFT+P (that one works in Outlook 2010 too!) to get the "New Search Folder" dialog box.  Outlook will offer you a few standard kind of Search Folders, but I tend to create my own custom search folder (scroll to the bottom).

All you have to tell Outlook is what folders you want it to look in and what criteria you need it to match.

Here are two search folders that I use all the time...

Today

This search folder searches my Inbox, my "Mailing Lists" folder (which contains subfolders for the major kinds of e-mail mailing lists I subscribe to), my RSS folders and my Twitter folders (from TwInbox) and it matches items that match one simple criteria: they were received today.  This search folder is a kinda of dashboard of my day - all the messages I've received today no matter what folder it happens to be in.

I further enhance this folder with conditional formatting that color codes my messages based upon the folder they're located in.  Blue messages are in my Inbox - i.e. they're messages that were sent to ME (as opposed to a mailing list or an RSS feed).  Purple messages are in a particular subfolder; Green messages are in a different one.   The colors just help me quickly pick out important messages among the 1100 or so messages I get every day.

Posts of Interest (POI)

My POI search folder searches across all of my messaging folders, without regard to received date, for particular key words or phrases that are on topics that interest me.  Naturally the word "Outlook" is on that list.  So is "OneNote".  This folder shows me all of the messages I've received (again, including RSS and tweets) that contain those particular keywords.

Unread Messages

One popular search folder is the Unread Messages search folder - which basically shows you all of the messages marked as "Unread" across a number of folders. It's a handy way to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Search folders are a great way to keep on top of your e-mail and messages, even if those messages are scattered across a number of sub-folders. Give them a try and I think you'll find them useful for you too.