When Microsoft introduced colored flags for labeling messages in Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, I immediately loved them. So I was quite skeptical when I first looked at Outlook 2007 and saw that colored flags had been separated into two different types: flags and color categories. However, this change turns out to be beneficial. You can add a visual reminder to take action on an email message as well as assign color categories that let you group your messages. Let's look at how to use these features to better organize your mailbox and help you save time.

To add a flag, right-click the Flag Status icon on the far right of the message to open the context menu, then select one of the default flags. You can also define a Quick Click flag that lets you flag items with a single left-click. For example, I changed the Quick Click from its default of Today to Tomorrow because I usually respond immediately to messages and flag only those that I will answer later. Flagging items doesn't create a task in the Tasks folder; it's only a visual reminder on the specific item. You can set flags on email messages, contacts, and tasks.

All flagged items in any of your mailbox folders are displayed in the To-Do Bar, the To-Do List, and in your Calendar's daily or weekly view. However, flagged items in archived personal folder files (PSTs) aren't displayed in the To-Do Bar by default but can be enabled. On the PST's Properties dialog box, select "Display reminders and tasks from this folder in the To-Do Bar." This will add all flagged items to your To-Do Bar.

The Flag Status context menu also lets you specify a Reminder, which will give you a pop-up alert at a specified time. This feature can now be used with all your mailbox folders. In Outlook 2003 or earlier, you could apply Reminders only to items in your Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks.

Flagging messages can help organize your work. It's definitely changed my email behavior: When I open my Inbox, I read all my new messages and flag those that I'll answer later; the others are either deleted or moved to one of my archive folders. Then, I look at the To-Do Bar and check all the messages that have been flagged for today. Either I mark them as complete, or I postpone acting on them for another day. The Next Week flag is especially useful for items that can't be solved easily.

Not only can you flag received email messages, but you can also add a flag to messages that you're sending. This creates a visual reminder for the recipient and can point out the importance of the message. When creating a new message, click the Follow Up button and choose "Flag for Recipients." On the Custom dialog box, you can select "Flag for Me" and "Flag for Recipients" and add a reminder to the message you're about to send. The recipient needs Outlook 97 or later to use this feature.

Another way to organize your email is to use categories. Similar to flagging, this feature lets you color-code your email messages. You apply categories by left-clicking the category column to apply the Quick Click category or right-clicking to view the full category list. This feature helps you find email messages in the same category no matter how many items you have in a folder. You can also find categorized items from throughout all the folders in your mailbox by using Search Folders and selecting the Categorized Mail option.

The To-Do Bar is helpful for showing your daily appointments and tasks together with your flagged items. You can minimize the bar to preserve desktop space, and the minimized bar shows the number of outstanding tasks for today. Remember, if you want to remove a flagged item from the bar, mark it as complete; deleting it will actually delete the item, not just the flag! You can configure the To-Do Bar by right-clicking it to add or remove the Date Navigator, Appointments, or Task List sections.

Want to find out more? Microsoft offers free online training on managing your Outlook 2007 Inbox, which you can find at the following URL:
http://office.microsoft.com/training/training.aspx?AssetID=RC100647451033&pid=CR100654581033

Next month, I'll start to explore some of the lesser-known features of Outlook 2007. Meanwhile, email me with any interesting topics you'd like me to cover, and I'll try to include them in a future newsletter.