Arranging Your E-Mail in Outlook 2003

Nobody gets a little bit of e-mail anymore. If you get one message, you get a ton of 'em. Fortunately, Outlook offers you a whole bunch of different ways to arrange that mess of messages so you have a fighting chance to figure out what's important and what can wait.

When Outlook is set up to display the Reading Pane on the right side of the screen, you'll see two buttons at the top of the list of messages. The left-most button has a label that says something like "Arranged By: Date." The Arranged By button describes the system Outlook is using to organize your messages. To the right of the Arranged By button sits another button with a label that offers some detail about the arrangement Outlook is currently using. (For example, if your messages are currently arranged by date, the button on the right will say either "Newest on Top" or "Oldest on Top.")

To change the way Outlook is arranging your messages, simply click the Arranged By button to reveal a shortcut menu of all the arrangements you can use. These are the arrangements Outlook offers:

  • Date: The most common way to organize messages is by date. When you first set up Outlook this is how your messages will be arranged. Click the button on the right to alternate between newest messages on top and oldest messages on top.
  • Conversation: This arrangement groups messages of the same topic together. If you've been exchanging a series of messages with someone about a specific project or idea, you can choose the Conversation arrangement to follow the thread of the conversation.
  • From: As you might guess, this arrangement organizes your message collection according to the person from whom the message was sent. Choosing the From arrangement is a little bit faster than setting up a Search Folder, but sometimes a Search Folder is still the best way to track messages from specific important people.
  • To: Most messages you receive are addressed to you, but not always. Sometimes you receive messages addressed to a list of people, so your name doesn't appear on the To line of the message. This arrangement separates your messages according to whether your name is on the To line of each message.
  • Folder: When you're viewing messages in a Search Folder, the messages you're viewing may actually be located in a variety of different folders. If you want to know exactly which folder contains each message, use the Folder arrangement. When you're viewing your Inbox, the Folder arrangement is not available; it's only for Search Folders.
  • Size: Everyone knows that size doesn't matter; it's the sentiment that counts. Well, okay, not always. Size is important to certain system administrators — and it isn't always a personal problem. Some e-mail messages include photographs, music, and all sorts of heavyweight files that can really clog up your company's e-mail servers. So when your system administrator asks you to thin out your inbox, make some use of this feature: Identify and delete the messages that are the most overweight.
  • Subject: This arrangement is similar to the Conversation arrangement, except it doesn't follow the thread of a conversation, it just lumps together messages that have the same subject.
  • Type: Not every item that arrives in your Inbox is a simple message; you may also receive Meeting Invitations, Task Requests, and all sorts of other items. When you want to separate the messages from the Meeting Requests, switch to the Type arrangement so the most interesting messages rise to the top of the list.
  • Flag: When you flag a message, you probably plan to get back to it. This arrangement puts flagged messages at the top of the list and unflagged messages at the bottom. If you use several different flag colors, this arrangement sorts according to flag color as well.
  • Attachment: When you go to your Inbox, you may not be looking for a message, you may be hunting for an attachment. Arranging your messages by attachment enables you to examine the likely suspects first.
  • E-mail accounts: You can set up Outlook to collect e-mail from several different e-mail addresses. Sometimes you want to know which message came from which of those addresses, or just to look at the messages sent to one of those addresses. If you want to see only the messages sent to a single address, choose the E Mail Accounts arrangement and then click the minus (–) next to the names of accounts you don't want to see. With this arrangement, Outlook shows you only the messages from the accounts that interest you.
  • Importance: First things first — you know the saying. When you need to see the messages marked with high importance first, this is the arrangement you want to use.
  • Categories: You can assign categories to any message you send, and sometimes other people can assign categories to the messages they send you. To see which message falls into which category, use the Categories arrangement.

The Arrange By button appears that the top of your message list only when the Reading Pane is set to appear on the right side of the screen. You can turn the Reading Pane on by choosing View --> Reading Pane --> Right. If you want to arrange your messages when the Reading Pane is off, choose View --> Arrange By to see the list of arrangements and then pick the one you want.

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