How to Organize Mail in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the Web

January 29, 2024
15 min read

Searching for emails that really matter to you can be a tough task. This is especially true if your organization has added you to a generic group that is supposed to receive all kinds of emails. In this article, I’ll show you how to keep your inbox organized so that you don’t miss out on emails that really matter.

For those who like to watch and learn, check out the 15-minute video at the end of this article.

The New Focused Inbox

One of the good things about the latest Microsoft 365 edition is that it ships with a built-in new Focused inbox that sorts emails for you. But the Focused inbox needs time to read or analyze your mail-reading pattern before it can make informed decisions. You might miss crucial emails during this time.

So, it's best to organize your Outlook emails on your own and let the Focused inbox do its job in the background.

This screenshot shows focus and other tabs within the inbox folder of Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 1: Focused inbox in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Creating Folders

Folders help you organize emails efficiently. For example, you could move all the emails requiring immediate attention to a folder called ‘‘Urgent.’’ Similarly, you could have an ‘‘Awaiting Response’’ folder that contains all those emails where you expect a user response.

To create separate folders for your emails, you can use the right-click option (right-click on Folders) or the Create new folder option.

Using the Right-Click Option

To use the right-click option, follow these instructions.

Right-click Folders, and then select Create new folder, as shown in Figure 2.

This screenshot explains how you create a new folder by right-clicking the folders option in the Microsoft 365 Outlook web app.
Figure 2: Creating a new folder by right-clicking Folders. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Enter the folder name, as shown in Figure 3, and then select Save.

This screenshot explains how you can name and add the new folder in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 3: Giving a name to the new folder being created. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

The newly created folder gets listed under the default folders, as shown in Figure 4.

This screenshot shows the newly created folder in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 4: Newly created folder added to the available folder list. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Using the Create New Folder Option

To use the Create new folder option, follow these instructions.

Scroll down the Folders list to the Create new folder option, as shown in Figure 5.

This screenshot explains how you can create a new folder by clicking the new folder option available at the bottom of your inbox in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 5: Create a new folder by selecting the Create new folder option. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Select Create new folder, enter the folder name (Awaiting Response, in this case), as shown in Figure 6, and then select Save.

This screenshot shows how you can add the new folder in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 6: Giving a name to the new folder being created. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

The newly created folder gets listed under the default folders, as shown in Figure 7.

This screenshot shows the newly created folder available in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 7: Newly created folder added to the available folder list. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Note: You can also create subfolders in one of two ways:

  • By right-clicking the parent folder and selecting Create new subfolder, as shown in Figure 8. (or)
This screenshot shows how you can create sub-folders in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 8: Creating a subfolder. | Used with permission from Microsoft.
  • By creating a new folder and dragging/dropping it in the relevant parent folder.

However, creating folders can help you only so much because you have to manually move your emails into these folders to maintain a sorted inbox. This is where Outlook inbox rules come to your rescue, by helping you create rules that automatically redirect your emails to these folders.

Inbox Rules

Inbox rules are a great choice if you want to automatically route your emails to different folders and keep your inbox organized. They have three components:

  • Conditions: These help you set the criteria for selecting the emails to be routed. (Example: if “Subject includes”, “From”, “Recipient address includes”, etc.).
  • Actions: These help you set the actions that need to be taken when the conditions are met. (Example: “Move to”, “Forward to”, “Mark as Junk”, etc,).
  • Exceptions: These help you override the configured condition if necessary. (Example: “Has attachment”, “I’m on the CC line”, “ Received Before or After”, etc.)

To help you understand how Outlook inbox rules are created, here is an example that moves all the incoming emails containing the word “Urgent” in the subject to a folder named “Urgent Mails.”

Select the Settings icon at the top-right corner of Outlook mail. The Settings pop-up opens, as shown in Figure 9. 

This screenshot shows the Settings icon in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.

This screenshot shows the settings pane of Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 9: Settings pane in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Select Rules, and then select Add new rule, as shown in Figure 10.

This screenshot shows how you can add an inbox rule in the settings pane of Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 10: Adding a new rule. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Name the rule “MoveToUrgentFolder” as shown in Figure 11.

This screenshot shows how you can give a name to the inbox rule being configured in the settings pane of Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 11: Naming the new inbox rule. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Under Add a condition, in the Select a condition dropdown, select the Subject includes condition, as shown in Figure 12.

This screenshot shows how you can set the condition for Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web inbox rule.
Figure 12: Configuring the inbox rule condition. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Enter the Subject includes value as Urgent, as shown in Figure 13.

This screenshot shows how you can configure what the subject should include as part of the inbox rule condition in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 13: Configuring what the subject should include as part of the inbox rule condition. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Note: You can supply or add multiple words as values to Subject includes.

From the Select an action dropdown, select Move to, as shown in Figure 14.

This screenshot shows how you can set the action for the inbox rule in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 14: Configuring the inbox rule action. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Select the Urgent Mails folder from the list of available folders, as shown in Figure 15.

This screenshot shows how you can set the action for the inbox rule in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 15: Selecting where the mail should get moved as a part of the inbox rule action. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Select Run rule now, and then select Save, as shown in Figure 16.

This screenshot shows how you can run the inbox rule by enabling the run rule now checkbox and saving the rule.
Figure 16: Enabling the Run rule now checkbox. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Note: You can also save the rule and then choose to run the rule at a later date.

The newly configured rule gets listed in the Rules pane, as shown in Figure 17.

This screenshot shows the configured inbox rule being displayed within the app settings pane of Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 17: Newly configured inbox rule. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

This rule will ensure that all the emails flowing into your inbox containing the word “Urgent” in the subject get moved to the Urgent Mails folder automatically.

Sweep Rules

These rules help you move emails in bulk. They are an easier alternative to ‘move emails from [[email protected]] to [sample] folder’ inbox rule. You don’t have to deal with the conditions, actions, or exceptions, since sweep rules move your emails with a couple of clicks.

To understand sweep rules better, take the example of moving all the emails from the user called Ben to a separate folder.

Select an email from the user whose emails you are going to move to a separate folder, and then select the Sweep icon, as shown in Figure 18.

This screenshot shows how you can select an email and apply a sweep rule to it using Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 18: Selecting an email to apply the sweep rule. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

The Sweep messages pop-up opens, as shown in Figure 19.

This screenshot shows different options for setting up sweep rules in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 19: Options for sweeping emails. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

You are provided with four, self-explanatory options for moving the emails. All of them help you move emails out of your inbox and into a different folder, each with a slightly varying condition.

  • Move all messages from the Inbox folder: This moves messages from the selected user into a folder that you choose. However, it does not apply to future messages.
  • Move all messages from the Inbox folder and any future messages: This move applies to future messages as well.
  • Always keep the latest message and move the rest from the Inbox folder: This move keeps the latest message (the one you just selected) in your inbox and moves the rest.
  • Always move messages older than 10 days from the Inbox folder: This moves all the messages (from the selected user) older than 10 days out of the inbox.

Once you have selected the option for moving emails, select the folder where you want the emails to be moved to using the Move to dropdown, as shown in Figure 20.

This screenshot shows how you can move all your mails to a specific folder when applying sweep rules in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 20: Moving emails of the selected user to a different folder using sweep rules. | Used with permission from Microsoft

To confirm your action, select OK, as shown in Figure 21.

This screenshot shows how you can move all your emails to a specific folder when applying sweep rules in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 21: Selecting OK to confirm the sweep rule being created. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Note: The main object of sweep rules is to bulk-delete emails. That’s the reason Deleted Items is chosen as the default Move to folder. However, as you saw, you could also use it to move the emails to a different folder.

Categories

You can also use categories to group your emails. Categories help you organize emails based on the departments you interact with. For example, an accounting category can store all your interactions with the accounting department; a marketing category can contain all your interactions with the marketing department, etc.

To move an email under a specific category, do one of the following:

  • Select the email by right-clicking on it, select Categorize. and then select the category you want to move the email to, as shown in Figure 22.
This screenshot shows how you can add a mail to a category in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web by right-clicking the email.
Figure 22: Adding email to a specific category by right-clicking on the email. | Used with permission from Microsoft.
  • Select the email, select the Categorize icon, and then select the category from the category dropdown that you want to move the email to, as shown in Figure 23.
This screenshot shows how you can add an email to a category in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web by selecting the category dropdown.
Figure 23: Adding email to a specific category by selecting the category dropdown. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Adding Categories Under the Favorites Folder

You can ensure the categories you are using show up under your Favorites folder by doing the following.

Select Manage categories using either of the following methods:

  • Select the email > Categorize > Manage categories, as shown in Figure 24.
This screenshot shows how you can access the manage categories option by right-clicking on the email in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 24: Accessing Manage categories by right-clicking the email. | Used with permission from Microsoft.
  •  Select the email, select the Categorize icon, and then select Manage categories from the category dropdown as shown in Figure 25.
This screenshot shows how you can access the manage categories option by selecting the icon in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 25: Accessing Manage categories by selecting the category dropdown. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

The Categories pane opens. Select the Star icon against the Category that you want to add to your Favorites folder, as shown in Figure 26.

This screenshot shows how you can add a category to your favorites list in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 26: Adding a category to the Favorites folder. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

The Category you selected should show up under the Favorites folder, as shown in Figure 27. This will contain all the emails you add to the Accounting category.

This screenshot shows the category selected as favorites showing up in the Favorites section of Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 27: Newly added category appearing in the Favorites folder. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Flagging and Pinning Emails

If you have too many folders in your inbox and just need to mark important emails so that they can be retrieved easily, you can either flag or pin emails.

Flagging

All emails you flag as important can be retrieved easily. Just ensure you don’t flag too many emails because this can lead to confusion. You can flag an email as important by doing one of the following:

  • Right-click the email, and then select Flag, as shown in Figure 28.
This screenshot shows how you can flag an email by right-clicking on it in Microsoft 365 outlook on the web.
Figure 28: Flagging an email by right-clicking on it. | Used with permission from Microsoft.
  • Select the email, and then select the Flag icon, as shown in Figure 29.
This screenshot shows how you can flag an email by selecting the flag icon in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 29: Flagging an email by selecting the Flag icon. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Viewing Flagged Emails

To view all your flagged emails:

  • Select the filter icon, and then select Flagged, as shown in Figure 30.
This screenshot shows how you can filter your inbox and look for only flagged mails in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 30: Using the filter to view only the flagged emails. | Used with permission from Microsoft.
  • All your flagged emails get listed, as shown in Figure 31.
This screenshot shows all the flagged emails listed in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 31: All the flagged emails are listed. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Pinning

Pinning is another option you can resort to for marking emails. Ensure you only pin important emails. This is because when you pin emails, they stay pinned to the top of your inbox, appearing even above your latest emails.

To pin an email to your inbox, do one of the following:

  • Select the Pin icon, which appears when you hover over the mail as shown in Figure 32.
This screenshot shows how you can pin an email by selecting the pin icon, which appears when you hover over an email in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 32: Pinning an email by selecting the Pin icon that appears when you hover over the email. | Used with permission from Microsoft.
  • Right-click the email, and then select Pin, as shown in Figure 33.
This screenshot shows how you can pin an mail by right-clicking it and selecting Pin in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 33: Pinning an email by right-clicking it and selecting Pin. | Used with permission from Microsoft.
  • Your pinned emails will appear at the top of your inbox, as shown in Figure 34.
This screenshot shows all your pinned emails in the inbox folder of Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 34: All the pinned emails are listed at the top of the inbox. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Filter-Based Sorting

You can also sort your inbox emails by using the filter-based sort shown in Figure 35. This enables you to sort emails based on the date, importance, size, and subject of the emails. You can also sort emails based on the sender and by changing the sorting order (newest on top or oldest on top). The best way to sort your emails would be to sort them by date and have the sort order as Newest on top.

This screenshot shows how you can sort emails using the filter option in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web.
Figure 35: Sorting emails using the filter dropdown. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

The filter also allows you to filter your inbox for the following emails (as shown in Figure 36):

  • Unread: Emails you haven’t opened yet.
  • Flagged: Emails flagged by you as important.
  • To me: Emails that were directly sent to you.
  • Has files: Emails in your inbox with attachments.
  • @Mentions me: Emails in which you were mentioned.
This screenshot shows the filter options available in Microsoft 365 outlook on the web.
Figure 36: Filter options available in the filter dropdown. | Used with permission from Microsoft.

Final Thoughts

Keeping your inbox organized is important. It saves you time spent searching for important emails amongst a pile of others that might hardly relate to you. Therefore, implement the inbox organization tips discussed in this article, so that the next time you miss out on an important email, you can track it down easily.

For Those Who Like to Watch and Learn

The following video is a 15-minute version of this article. It shows you how to organize mail in Microsoft 365 Outlook on the web. It also explains how you can create folders, inbox rules, sweep rules, categories, flag/pin emails, and filter mail based on the default filters available.

 

Thilak Kumar Singh

Thilak Kumar Singh

Thilak Kumar Singh is a trainer who believes in teaching about IT in the simplest possible way with more emphasis on visual mode of learning. He firmly believes in democratizing IT knowledge, especially of Microsoft solutions, in which he specializes as a trainer and consultant.

He observes that in this era dominated by cloud computing and collaboration, where IT has reached users unimaginable hitherto, IT knowledge must not be an obscure science, but rather be available to anyone who wishes to engage with IT.