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At work, I tend to receive a couple of hundred emails a day. To keep from being overwhelmed, I have been using categories to sort and prioritize my mail messages. I auto-assign categories, then group by them: Code Reviews, To, CC, Distribution List/BCC. This means that, for example, a message that's explicitly to me will always show up higher in my inbox than one I get because I'm on a Distribution List. It's a huge time saver and it brings important emails to my attention much more quickly.

Recently, the email threads I'm involved in have started to get quite long, and I'd like to be able to use conversation view, or at least sort by subject. Outlook, however, doesn't seem to support any (useful) combination of conversation view and categories. I've tried the following things without success:

  • Grouping by category, then conversation view -- Outlook gives me an error (the grouping/sort combination is too complex).
  • Using a custom view to group by conversation -- category doesn't show up as an option to sort by
  • Grouping by category, then subject -- Getting closer, but the top subject is the first alphabetically, not the most recent
  • Grouping by conversation, then category -- This works, but it doesn't do me much good, because the top conversation is the latest, without regard to what category it belongs to

Is there a way for me to retain my category system or something similar while taking advantage of grouping related emails together? I don't at all care about the semantics of the solution, so I don't necessarily have to use Categories proper or Conversation View proper; I really just want to be able to use some kind of priority system to emphasize emails sent to me while having email threads grouped together in some way.

I've written Outlook plugins in the past, so even that's not too out there to serve as a proper solution. Anything that works, really.

Update: I still haven't seen a good solution. I'd like everything to be in a single view. Separate folders or search folders aren't good, because, for example, if I've cleared out my TO list, I don't automatically see CCed emails at the top, I have to manually go to a different view for that. At that point, there's nothing to make TO inherently ordered before CC besides the order I click on the folders.

Being able to aggregate several folders/search folders into a single view would likely be a great solution. I haven't seen any answers even mentioning custom scripting/programming, and I suspect that any solution that fits my criteria would require it. The bounty is there because I'm pretty sure the solution isn't trivial.

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3 Answers

The best way I've found to aggregate several inboxes is to use color categories, rules and Search folders. The short version is you set rules that label your incoming mail into color categories based on if you need to get them done today, tomorrow, by next week and in 30 days. Then you create Search folders that show all email under each color. Everyday, you just go through the email and then triage them. This blog post goes even further. . .

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ianpal/archive/2008/06/03/email-task-and-time-management-with-pifem.aspx

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"you set rules that label your incoming mail into color categories based on if you need to get them done today, tomorrow, by next week and in 30 day" This is what I do, but I filter it based on whether it's TO, me, CCed to me, or from a DL (distribution list). Search folders aren't an ideal solution, because they don't give me a single view. If there's nothing in my TO list, I don't automatically see CCed emails at the top, I have to go to them separately. Being able to aggregate search folders into a single view would be an awesome solution; as I mentioned, I'm not afraid of code. –  Greg Jackson Jun 27 '11 at 16:36
    
I'm doing the same. Just added all the search folders to the favorite folders bar in the order I want them. Each search folder shows its unread items count (or total count if you want). It's not hard to look into each of team. –  oleschri Jun 28 '11 at 20:53
    
Fair enough, but it's not really the solution I'm looking for. I'm already aware I can use multiple folders, so this honestly doesn't really get me any further than I was to start off with. See the update on my question for more details. –  Greg Jackson Jun 28 '11 at 22:26
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How about automatically moving each email to a category-specific folder?

Then you can simply check the folders in the order of your priority. The folders are basically your primary sort/filter on category, so now you can just view by conversation. I think conversations should work as expected even if emails end up in different folders based on your categories. Use sub-folders to separate from other folders and prepend a number to order them as you wish.

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The problem with this is that it greatly reduces the visibility of the different categories of email. I still want all these different types to land in one view so I don't have to check what essentially amounts to four different inboxes. CC and List I could maybe get away with this, but both code reviews and things that I'm on the "To" line absolutely have to land in the most visible place for me. Perhaps there's a way to show multiple folders as one? I suppose that's essentially what Categories do. My goal is to keep from regressing current behavior. –  Greg Jackson Jun 23 '11 at 23:07
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Since you say that grouping by category, then subject is "getting closer", have you tried grouping by Category, Received, then Subject? That should solve it not being the most recent.

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Grouping by "recieved" groups by the minute and breaks up conversation threads to the point that they are completely useless. Even grouping by day, which it doesn't look like I can do, might split up certain threads too much (I regularly have high-priority issues that have threads spanning multiple days). –  Greg Jackson Jun 27 '11 at 16:31
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