Outlook 2003 introduced a ton of new UI concepts, many of them with the aim of helping those of us who get so deluged by email that we can barely manage to handle it all. One of the improvements is the ability to create Search Folders, which look like real folders but are actually just saved queries which can pick up messages from across your mailbox. The idea is that you can file your messages in whichever sub-folder suits you, but Search Folders can still show ‘All mail from my boss’ or ‘Al mail sent to me in the last week which I haven’t read yet’ etc…
One of the main raisons d'être for Search Folders is that they can harness the CPU power of your PC and have all that the data stored locally, when you’re running in Cached mode. If you want to run online-only mode, you can still use Search Folders although their operation will be somewhat slower and you’ll be putting more stress on the server. Search Folders even show up in Outlook Web Access, although only if you create the Search Folder, log in to the mailbox in online mode (ie you will need to switch cached mode off temporarily if that’s your default) and refresh the folder display by clicking on it. The Search Folders now should show up in OWA, and if you want to go back to cached mode, you can re-enable it in the Outlook client.
Handling large volumes of mail is a tricky thing to achieve efficiency in – some people prefer to let everything pile up in their Inbox and just search through it to find items, whereas other will prefer to meticulously file every message and keep a clean and empty inbox. If you subscribe to lots of distribution lists, you’ll probably want to file the mail straight into sub folders (and if the rule is server-side, you won’t even see the mail in your inbox), though sometimes it’s easy to miss mails which get sent to DLs since they get dropped straight into your sub folder. One tactic for handling this volume is to use Search Folders to filter out older messages and to exclude certain mailbox folders, whilst showing you new messages which are in a bunch of other folders.
Let’s try an example, creating a Search Folder which will show everything in the mailbox which has arrived since yesterday at 8am.
- Firstly, create a Search Folder by right-clicking in Outlook on the ‘Search Folders’ root folder, and choosing New Search Folder … then navigate to the bottom of the list and create a Custom Search Folder.
- Click the ‘Choose’ button to start the creation process and give the folder a name (hit the Criteria button on the following dialog once you’ve decided on a name).
- Navigate to the Advanced tab, and using the Field button, choose Frequently Used Fields -> Received and change the condition to ‘on or after’ and the value to ‘8am yesterday’. Hit the ‘Add to list’ button.
- Next, choose ‘In Folder’ from the ‘All Mail Fields’ heading within the Field drop down, set the condition to ‘doesn’t contain’ and then follow with a list of words which you want to exclude from the results.
This last condition here sets the list of folders we want to exclude… I use ‘DL: Sent Junk Draft Deleted’, which means any item in Sent Items, Drafts, Deleted Items or Junk Items will automatically be excluded, but so will any folders which contain the letters ‘DL:’ in their name. This way, I filter social mail and less important DLs into folders which all start DL: <name> and the other DL items which are more important still show up in the Search Folder.
The last stage is to add the Search Folder to the Favorites Folders collection, and set the default view of the Search Folder to show Arrange by Folder… then it’s really easy to quickly collapse & expand the groupings to show and hide specific folders from the results. Now, all I need to do is get round to reading and responding to all that email J