Prioritize Outlook to-do items with custom, color-coded categories


by Julie Duncan

Application: Microsoft Outlook 2016


Operating System: Microsoft Windows


When your Outlook Inbox is filled with mail, how can you ensure you aren’t forgetting something important that requires your attention? Custom categories are a powerful organizational tool that’ll help you increase productivity and avoid costly oversights.

To benefit from custom categories in Outlook, we’ll:

  • Discuss best practices for determining what categories you need.
  • Create new categories and rename Outlook’s default categories.
  • Designate a Quick Click category.
  • Use categories to search through Outlook more effectively.

It’s important to use every weapon in your arsenal to tame the volume of information in your Outlook account, or else it can quickly overwhelm you. Outlook’s categories are one such tool—crucial for keeping track of the meetings, Notes, contacts, and messages that matter to you. Categories not only highlight the connections between all the items that vie for your attention, but they also make it possible to effectively sift through the bulk of incoming messages to find what you need. By applying categories to your Inbox, and reigning in all that important information, you’ll save time, increase your productivity —and never miss another appointment.

We’ll help you determine which categories best suit your needs. Then we’ll rename the default categories Outlook provides and create new categories, so that you can really customize this tool for your own use. Finally, we’ll set up a Quick Click category and use our newly applied categories to enhance Outlook’s Search feature.

What categories do I need?

Microsoft recommends specific best practices for using categories in Outlook. Consider creating separate categories for: items to discuss with your manager, items you must complete today, items to complete in a certain location, and items that involve a specific task. We’ve compiled a list of categories in Table A.




To discuss with your manager.

Team Member

To discuss with your team member. Use their names if you need more than one Team Member category.


Must complete today.


Complete at home.


Complete on the phone.

To Email

Respond with an email.

To Read

Reading task.


Complete offline.

Table A:

Increase your productivity by categorizing to-do items by deadline or task.

When you group your Outlook items by task, you can work more efficiently. Following are a few examples:

  • You can complete all of your @Phone tasks at the same time.
  • Before a meeting with your manager, you can easily scan all the items that you two need to discuss, rather than sending a text or making a phone call every time you remember something you need to run by her.
  • The hour before you leave work for the day, you can check your Today items to ensure you’ve completed all urgent work.

The beauty of categories is that, unlike a filing system, you can apply more than one category to an item. So if someone in another department requests information from you about the quarterly sales figures and you want to run those figures by yo[...]

Join NowClose
Return to the ExcelSkillsSociety's homepage