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Outlook Categories: Everything you need to know in 2024

Explore Outlook Categories and Mailbutler's Outlook Tags to keep your email communication tidy and easily accessible.

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11 minutes

    By James

    James has seven years' experience as a Content Marketer, bylines on Left Foot Forward, Submittable, and INOMICS, and a Master's in History. In his free time he likes to read, play guitar, and write for his personal blog.

    What are Outlook Categories?

    Outlook Categories is a feature offered by Microsoft Outlook that lets users visually organize or color code messages in their inbox for better organization and easier retrieval. Outlook Categories makes it easier to find the messages you need, by using the search function within your inbox to view only emails of a specific type. This allows you to locate your messages and visually distinguish items based on desired criteria or themes.

    Beginner functionality: Organizing emails into categories

    To make use of Outlook Categories, you need to assign these categories to your email, as seen below.

    • In the email window, select the Message option button in the Tags group in the Message tab
      Outlook Tags group in the Message tab
    • In the properties dialogue box, select a category from the drop-down list.
      properties dialogue box in outlook
    • Compose your email and send it with the specified category assigned for outgoing messages in the Sent Items folder on Outlook.

    If you want to filter and search your emails by category, then Outlook is helpful to locate and organize your emails with the utmost efficiency. Here are a few steps you need to follow. Or you can check the video below:

    • Click on the search bar and find the folders that have the emails you want to filter. The downward arrow at the right opens the Filter menu.
      Filter menu in Outlook
    • In the next menu, add information that will specify your filter.
      information that will specify your filter in Outlook
    • Click on Search, and you’ll get access to three of your latest searches. 


    Advanced functionality: Using categories for calendar events and tasks

    Once you're comfortable with the basics, Outlook offers advanced categorization features to further streamline your workflow.

    Outlook lets you add categories to their calendar events which enables you to organize and visually differentiate different tasks and events. To use this feature:

    • Click on the Calendar icon and open your calendar
      Outlook Calendar
    • Select Categorize and select the category you want to apply to it, or mark the checkbox next to the category to remove it.
      Categorize in Outlook calendar
    • If you don’t see the category you are looking for, create a new category from the list.
      create new Outlook category in Calendar

    The tasks on the calendar can be easily organized into categories. Each category can be color-coded, allowing you to easily identify and group related tasks. You can also set the date and time, along with the recurrence of the event when the appointment is scheduled

    Customizing Outlook Categories for your personal workflow

    Customizing Outlook Categories is a great to organize your emails and tasks to suit your workflow. Let us show you how to create or modify the categories for your workflow.

    Creating new categories

    To use Outlook categories, you need first to create a new category, customize it, and sort it. Let's look into how to create a new category below.

    • On the Outlook Home tab, easily navigate through the Tags section and click on Categorize.
      Outlook Home tab, easily navigate through the Tags section and click on Categorize
    • In the pop-up box, scroll down to the bottom and select Manage Categories.
    • A box labeled as color categories appears.
      Outlook tag categories
    • In the inbox section, you can create a new name.
    • Choose a custom color from the drop-down menu and add a shortcut key.
      Choose a custom color for the outlook category
    • Click on save, and a new category will be added

    You can name each of the categories and add different colors for easy identification of your emails.

    Modifying existing categories

    Color categories are great for grouping similar messages, calendar events, tasks, or contacts. Here's how you can do it:

    • Select the Outlook item.
    • Click on Categorize in the Tags section and select Manage Categories.
      Manage Outlook Categories
    • Click on the category and Rename the item.
    • Type the new name and set the color category, and you're all set.

    Microsoft Outlook doesn’t have a dedicated feature to merge categories; you have to manually merge categories.

    • Go to the folder of the items you want to merge and select the items.
    • Select the Categorize button.
    • Choose a new category that you want to assign and effectively transfer the category.

    Deleting categories

    In Outlook, you may want to delete categories for various reasons. Here are some of the common scenarios which may make you delete a category.

    • Simplifying categories- People may create many categories, which may make managing tasks and emails complicated. You can delete unnecessary categories, which helps in simplifying your organization.
    • Merging two categories- If you find that you have several similar categories, then the best way is to merge them into one and delete the ones that are redundant.
    • Not relevant or maintenance- After using Outlook for a while, you may accumulate unwanted categories. Cleaning up your categories may help you free up space and maintain an organized workflow.
    • Rebranding- There may be some names in the categories that no longer serve a purpose, and you can change the name or remove the category entirely.

    To safely remove a category, head over to the category section and delete the item without deleting associated emails or events.

    Synchronizing Outlook Categories across devices

    The importance of synchronization

    Synchronization ensures your emails, calendar events, and other data remain updated across various devices, reducing confusion and ensuring accurate records. This not only enhances productivity but is pivotal for effective collaboration and safeguarding critical business communications.

    Synchronization process

    Outlook allows you to sync data with mobile devices, desktops, and web applications. The platform syncs regularly with Microsoft Exchange and e-mail accounts. The accounts of the tool are hosted on an Exchange Server. When you use it, your contacts, emails, tasks, and notes are synchronized automatically.

    Some of the common troubleshooting issues to maintain the consistency of data across multiple devices are:

    • Internet connection
    • Syncing frequency
    • Issues with account settings on multiple devices
    • Outdated application
    • Server-related issues
    • Exceeded folder size
    • Mobile device sync settings
    • Security can interfere with email synchronization

    Collaboration and sharing with Outlook Categories

    Outlook Categories are a great way to collaborate and share files within your organization and with clients or companies you are working with.

    Using categories for collaborative projects

    “Categories” is a feature of Outlook that helps users collaborate with their colleagues. You can assign custom colors for the categories and set rules to automatically move emails based on the desired criteria. The project progress can be tracked with categorized emails and tasks.

    Sharing category labels with team members

    Users can share the category labels with their colleagues on Outlook to ensure consistent categorization. Outlook doesn’t have a dedicated sharing feature, but you can create a document and share it with your colleagues via email or a shared drive.

    Make sure to give precise names to your categories so there is consistency when the document is edited or shared with your team members. Regularly review and update the document when your needs change.

    Best practices for collaborative category use

    Effective collaboration on Outlook can enhance team productivity and communication. This is why you need to ensure that everything is consistent, from category naming to color codes. You have to set clear guidelines for each of them. Outlook categories and Gmail labels can also be used to organize team meetings and events.

    Let's look at an example: 

    Imagine a team at an educational institution tasked with the development and launch of a new online course. They are coordinating curriculum design, connecting with guest lecturers, and integrating multimedia resources from various platforms. 

    With Outlook's robust categorization, each aspect of this complex project can have its unique color. The curriculum emails might be blue, in green for guest lecturer communications, and multimedia integration updates in yellow. 

    A system like this ensures that when an email related to the online course platform arrives, it's instantly recognizable, enabling the team to maintain efficient communication and prioritize their responses effectively.

    Cons of Outlook Categories

    Limited customization and complexity

    Outlook Categories offer limited customization options, which might not be sufficient for users with specific organizational needs. Additionally, they can be overwhelming for new users and somewhat complex for beginners.

    Syncing issues

    Users of Outlook Categories sometimes face syncing issues, which can lead to inconsistencies across devices and platforms. This could be a significant drawback for those who rely on seamless synchronization for effective collaboration and communication.

    Storage and feature limitations

    Some users have noted that the Outlook app includes certain features on the web version that aren't available on the app itself. This inconsistency can be inconvenient for users who switch between different platforms. The Outlook app can consume considerable storage space on devices, which is a concern for those with limited storage capacity.

    Recommended post: How to create distribution list in Outlook

    Slow synchronization and email management

    There are reports of slow synchronization and delivery of emails in Outlook. This can obstruct the efficiency of email management, which is crucial for users who rely on timely and organized communication.

    Inconsistent user experience

    Some users have expressed dissatisfaction with changes in the Outlook theme and user interface, preferring previous versions. This points to a varying user experience that might not meet everyone's preferences.

    Outlook Categories vs Mailbutler Tags

    Outlook Categories and Mailbutler Tags both serve to organize emails but in different ways:

    Outlook Categories:

    • Predefined or custom labels.
    • Color-coded for visual organization.
    • Can be applied to emails, calendar items, and contacts.

    Outlook tags (as in Mailbutler):

    • Custom labels for more granular organization.
    • Applied to emails, contacts, tasks, templates, signatures, and notes.
    • Allows for a more detailed level of sorting and finding emails.

    Mailbutler email Tags

    Mailbutler email Tags

    Mailbutler's tagging system enriches Outlook's existing categorization, allowing for the creation and assignment of custom tags to emails with ease.

    This helps in refining your workflow and ensuring important communications don't get missed.

    With Mailbutler Tags you can add tags also on:

    • Emails: Categorize, prioritize, and organize.
    • Contacts: Label, sort, and identify.
    • Notes: Tag, find, and reference.
    • Tasks: Prioritize, manage, and track.
    • Message templates: Organize, categorize, and access.
    • Email signatures: Label, sort, and select.

    Mailbutler's tags offer a more advanced level of organization compared to Outlook's categories, catering to individuals managing complex projects or a multitude of tasks.

    Understanding Outlook Categories

    Categories are a versatile organizational feature offered by Microsoft Outlook that allow you to categorize items with utmost efficiency. The functionalities offered by them are:

    • Easily group emails, calendar events, contacts, and tasks.
    • Visually identify and differentiate items in the same category.
    • Customized categories to suit project and team-specific categories.
    • Filter items by category to help focus on desired content or task list.
    • Search through items associated with a specific category.

    All this allows for better task management and improved organization with better visual clarity. Categories are beneficial for project management and team collaboration as you can tailor them to your specific needs.

    Understanding Outlook tags

    Outlook Tags offered by Mailbutler is a feature that is designed to categorize and organize your items, like emails, tasks, contacts, templates and signatures. It provides a way to mark, categorize, or flag any item based on its status, importance, and other criteria.

    tag labels

    Mailbutler Outlook Tags are available in different categories that allow you to enhance inbox productivity. Your tasks can be organized across different lists to your task names. You can easily add tags when you create a task or when editing them.

    Comparing categories and tags

    Categories and tags have a lot of similarities to each other, and they are used to organize and label items in Microsoft Outlook. They are primarily designed to categorize and organize your emails, calendar tasks, and contacts for optimum workflow. However, both have some differences in their use and function.

    Categories are a specific feature of Outlook and are employed to organize and color-code items on the platform. But Mailbutler email tags can be used on other email clients beyond Outlook (such as Gmail and Apple Mail), and they have a broader application. In case you are looking for more customization, then Mailbutler Tags will allow for a detailed classification of your email items.

    Combining categories and tags

    Combining categories and tags in Outlook and Mailbutler will help keep your emails and tasks tidy and easy to find. Here's a simplified way to use them together:

    Set up a Hierarchy: Use categories for broad grouping like projects, and tags for details like deadlines or teams.

    Keep Names Simple: Name your categories and tags clearly and consistently to avoid confusion.

    Use Colors: Color-code your categories and tags to tell them apart easily.

    Create Rules: Set up rules to sort incoming emails into categories and tags automatically based on sender or subject.

    Make Folders: Create folders for different categories or tags to find emails faster.

    Stay Regular: Always categorize and tag new emails and tasks to keep things organized.

    Review Periodically: Check your categories and tags now and then, removing those no longer needed.

    By following these simple steps, managing emails and tasks becomes more streamlined, making it quicker to find and act on what matters.

    Outlook Categories FAQs

    Is it better to use categories or folders in Outlook?

    The choice between using categories or folders in Outlook largely depends on personal preferences and the specific organizational needs of the user. Categories allow for color coding and can be applied to emails, calendar items, and tasks, providing a visual organization method. They allow for a more flexible organization since an item can have multiple categories.

    On the other hand, folders provide a more traditional method of organization, where each item can only be in one folder at a time. For a more straightforward, physical separation of items, folders might be preferable. Combining both can also be a viable strategy for effective organization.

    What are good email categories?

    Good email categories are those that help you streamline your email management and find the information you need quickly. Common categories could include:

    • By Project: e.g., Project X, Project Y.
    • By Priority: e.g., Urgent, Low Priority.
    • By Type: e.g., Invoices, Client Communication.
    • By Department or Team: e.g., Marketing, HR.
    • By Status: e.g., Completed, Pending.

    The key is to create categories that reflect your workflow and help you manage your emails effectively.

    Can I make a folder for categories in Outlook?

    While you can't create a folder specifically for a category in Outlook, you can achieve a similar organization by creating a search folder based on a category. Here’s how:

    • Go to the Folder tab in Outlook.
    • Click on New Search Folder.
    • Scroll down and select Create a custom Search Folder then click Choose.
    • Name your search folder, then click Criteria.
    • Go to the More Choices tab, then click Categories and select the category you want.
    • Click OK to create the search folder.

    This way, all emails with the specified category will appear in this search folder, essentially grouping them together similarly to how a folder would.

    Wrapping up

    Microsoft Outlook remains the dominant client in professional communication, and its unique features like Categories only enhance its effectiveness.

    Its feature Outlook Categories allows users to:

    • Visually organize or color code messages in the inbox for better organization and efficiency.
    • Create custom categories based on your organization's requirements.
    • Easily filter and search the categories when needed.
    • Sync across several devices to maintain consistency.
    • Share work with your colleagues while maintaining a consistent workflow.

    Whether collaborating with a team or managing individual tasks, understanding and using these features is key to maximizing Outlook's potential.

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