Search Folders – A Kind of Magic

If your first reaction is “what a search folder is” then you are going to witness a magic. OK, not a magic, but a really cool and useful feature of Outlook.

I assume you came around the following dilemma – I have email I would like to follow up with my manager in my next weekly with her. I don’t want to put those emails in a dedicated physical folder named “Boss” since such folder will only grow in time. Plus, there are certain emails that I would like to follow up on both with my boss and with my leading engineer. Mmm… what should I do?


Well, Outlook offers us exactly the solution we need – search folders. A search folder is a virtual folder (as opposed to a physical folder) that shows emails based on a search criteria. Sounds complicated? Not at all.

Search Folder in Details

The emails that a search folder shows are physically located somewhere else, but still they appear in the search folder. Think on a search folder as if it is a filter on your entire emails, and you can define what this filter would look like.

Let’s go back to our example – we want to have an easy way to see all the emails that we need to talk with our manager. Moreover, after we would talk with our manager about a specific email, we want an easy way to remove it from the search folder.

The basic tools for reaching that goal are flag and category. When I want to see an email in a search folder, I first make sure I have the right category set up. For example, I would create category called “follow up with manager”. When I have email that I want to follow up on with my manager, I would categorize it as “follow up with manager”. On top of that, I would add a flag to this email.

There are 2 reasons I’m adding a flag on top of the category:

  1. Once I need to remove an email from a search folder, unflagging will do the job in the easiest way. The reason for that is that we will define the search criteria as category+flag. We will see that in a minute.
  2. Outlook sometimes categorizes other emails that appear on the same email thread as the email we have categorized. It is like Outlook is duplicating our category to the email thread. Having combination of category and flag would make sure the search folder would show the email we intended it to show.

So we have an email categorized as “follow up with manager” and with a flag. Now we can create a search folder that would catch it.

Creating a Search Folder

  • Right click on “Search Folders”
  • Select “New Search Folder”


  • Select “Create a custom Search Folder”


  • Select “Choose”
  • Enter the search folder name


  • Select “Criteria…”
  • Go to the “More Choices” tab
  • Check the “only items which:” checkbox and select the value “are flagged by me”
  • Click the “Categories…” button and select the relevant category from the list


  • Click OK x 3

Now you have search folder named “Follow up with manager”. This folder would show the emails that you have categorized as “follow up with manager” and that have flag set. BTW – the name of the search folder can be different then the name of the category.

It might take Outlook a few minutes to find the emails for this search folder. It happens only on the first creation of the folder. After that, each email that you categorize (+flag) would be shown immediately.

Number of Emails in a Search Folder

One last trick before we are done. The search folder show by default the number of emails that are un-read. We don’t really care about the count of un-read emails in the search folder. What we really care is how many emails in general this search folder holds. In order to see that:

  • Right click on the search folder
  • Select Properties
  • Change the radio button from “Show number of unread items” to “Show total number of items”


Remove an Email from a Search Folder

When you want to remove an email from a search folder, you just un-flag it. So, suppose I had a weekly with my manager and I have talked with her about a specific email I have in my “follow up with manager” search folder. I just click the flag (for removing it) and the email would disappear from my search folder. Remember, the search folder we have created shows emails that have both “follow up with manager” category and have a flag set.


Published by

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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