Adjusting Our Outlook Messages Pane: Coloring

In this post I would focus on the option of coloring our emails and using those colors for better triage of the emails.

As I’m writing this post from DFW airport at Dallas/Texas, I consider this post as my first international post :)


Why should we color our emails?

Let’s start with a motivation. The motivation is the ability to tackle first the emails that hold a task that is important and/or urgent for you. How do we detect such an email? Good question.

A trivial thumb rule is that emails that are directed specifically to us mean that someone is trying to reach out to us either for a question or for a task assignment. Therefore, we should first look at the emails that are directed specifically to us. Meaning, emails that contain our name on the To list, and we are the only ones on the To list.

A second priority emails we should all look at would be emails that are directed to us, but there are also other people on the To list. The third priority emails would be all the rest.

Having that said, wouldn’t it be great to visually detect them and handle them according to priority? This is the motivation…

Disclaimer: the first priority emails (the ones you are alone on the To list) might include the lowest priority emails. Yes, I’m talking about the spam emails that are “directly targeted for you” – on those emails you are alone on the To list. However, by having a good spam elimination application you should be good here (in Outlook you can define junk-email rules).

How do we color the emails?

Please find the below instructions for Outlook 2010.

  1. Right click on the Messages Pane title (above the first email message)
  2. Select “View Settings…”
  3. Select “Conditional Formatting…”
  4. Select “Add”
  5. Select “Condition”
  6. Chose the desired “where I am” value
  7. Click “OK”
  8. Go to “Font…”
  9. Select the desired font.

Do steps #4-#9 twice – once for the first priority emails and once for the second priority emails.

I call the first one “ToMeAlone”, and the second one “ToMeWithOthers”. The first one I color in red and the second one in pink. Choose the colors that fit you best. The first priority items should be colored using a color that catches your attention the best.



Now what?

Simple – now you should review your emails according to the coloring priority. If you like the latest-to-newest email review approach – start reviewing from the latest first-priority email to the newest first-priority email. Then, go to the latest second-priority email and start reviewing up to the newest second-priority email. At last, review the others.

If you like the newest-to-latest email review approach, do the same, according to priority, just in reverse order – newest to latest.

This approach ensures that even if you don’t have enough time to review all the emails, at least you have reviewed the most important ones.

What if someone gave you a super-important task in an email, but has put you on the CC list? Well, that’s another problem – an “education problem” as I call it – teaching people what the base rules are for email writing. I might write a short post on that as well.


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Erez Morabia

I’m an engineer and a leader in the computer software industry which is passionate about leading teams, embracing new technologies and improving soft skills for work efficiency.

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