Outlook’s Search Folders

I am trying something new with Outlook at work.

Before Friday I had a ton of rules that would sort messages into folders. Emails from coworkers got sorted into folders representing major groups in my workplace. Emails on certain listservs got shoved into listserv boxes.

This approach isn’t perfect. If a coworker sent a message to a listserv, Outlook puts a copy of message in both the coworker’s folder and a listserv folder. Physically dividing up the messages sometimes makes searches more cumbersome. It is sometimes difficult to track my responses to messages; I have to rifle through my Sent Items folder.

Now I have turned off most Outlook rules, and I am instead trying out Outlook’s search folders. Search folders “filter” messages based on a criteria I choose. For example, I have a search folder just for the ITS Systems group. This search folder provides an alternate view into my email, but it only includes emails to or from coworkers I have defined as ITS Systems Group workers.

Because this is a “filter”, there are no duplicate copies of messages. This search folder is simply an alternate view into my message store. If a message shows up as unread in the inbox, it will also show up as unread in the corresponding search folder. If I “read” the message in the search folder, it gets marked as read in the inbox. If I delete the message from my inbox, it no longer shows up in the search folder.

I no longer have to worry where messages are stored. Most messages now just end up in my Inbox folder. (I kept the message-moving rules for certain listservs such as SMU’s bulk announcements spam.)

Since this view shows all messages “to” and “from” identified people, I am able to easily trace discussions on a particular topic. Thanks to this enhanced grouping, Outlook’s nifty “sort by conversation” feature is very useful.

It is possible to create search folders whose criteria are about as refined as the Advanced Search feature. This could open up some interesting possibilities.

I have a search folder just for messages flagged for follow-up.

This search folders feature isn’t perfect. It is not possible to nest search folders. Outlook only sorts the folders alphabetically. There is no “catch all” search folder; messages not represented by a search folders just show up in the Inbox.

I’m committing myself to using this feature for at least a few weeks.

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