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Save Time With Search Folders in Outlook

This article was written by MysticGeek, a tech blogger at the How-To Geek Blogs.

Managing your email can be a daunting task, but Outlook provides a great feature called Custom Search Folders that can save you time if you are constantly searching for the same things, or just as a way to organize your email into virtual folders similar to the Labels feature in Gmail, except more powerful.

Outlook already has three search folders created from the default install which you can rename, modify, or delete – but we’ll create a new search folder to walk you through the process.

To create a new search folder, click File \ New \ Search Folder, or you can use the Ctrl+Shift+P shortcut key.

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In the resulting screen scroll down and select “Create a Custom Search Folder”, and then click the Choose button to customize your criteria. You could also use one of the other search folders as a base if you choose.

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In the name field type in a name for your folder. 

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Next, click the browse button to specify which folders to include in your custom search folder.  Choose as many or few as you want, and then click OK to proceed.

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You’re probably going to want to choose the specific criteria for the new folder as well.  The Criteria button is where you can really customize the search.  By words, importance, sent, received, etc…

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Under the more choices tab you can even select your searches by Color Categories.

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When you’re all done with making all the customizations to your custom search folder click OK.  Outlook will then create the custom search folder and add it to your folder view.

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This feature is incredibly powerful, and once you get used to it you won’t ever go back. Here’s some examples of search folders you can create:

  • For email to and from your boss.
  • For email with unresolved followup flags by category (For instance, you could find only the unresolved items in the personal category)
  • For email with high importance
  • For all email to and from a client (use their @domain in the search box and choose to search all fields)
  • Anything else you can think of…

What kinds of search folders do you create? You’re welcome to share in the comments.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 09/11/07

Comments (42)

  1. Fonz

    I use received this week and sent this week
    I haven’t worked out if it counts a week as 7 days previous to the current day or if it uses the beginning of the week

    I think its the former.

  2. Vaibhav Gadodia

    Yes, Search Folders are very useful. I use the Follow Up folder as well as unread mail folder exclusively.

    However, I cannot emphasize enough the usefulness of Indexed Search in Outlook. If you are using Outlook 2003, then you should download and install “LookOut for Outlook”. If you are using Outlook 2007, then this feature is built-in.

    Once this is running, you can find your emails using the search feature usually in less than 5 seconds (much faster if your PST is smaller).

    Cheers.

  3. derhans

    Great tip, I didn’t know about that feature, but it sounds extremly usefull. Will try it tomorrow at work.

  4. aj

    I know it works on your inbox. But does it work on saved email folders eg .pst files. I can’t leave all my mail in the inbox due to space issues and move them to my hard drive.

  5. andre

    where i work you can only use 20 search folders. i have so much more criteria.

  6. Jordan

    @AJ: Your “personal folders” tree will have a “Search Folders” as well. It’s separate from your main search folders, but operates the same.

  7. Jules

    I have 582 tasks in my task list and it’s growing constantly (all are recurring). How do I search for a specific task? In any other programme I can use Ctrl + F or the search button, but that doesn’t work in Outlook.
    I have 7 columns with 3 sorting filters and I need to be able to find specific tasks.
    I have tried using the “Look for: Search In: Find Now” boxes but they only search emails not my task list.
    Any suggestions?

  8. CHHA

    I’ve the problem that I would like to create a search folder with all emails that were sent to or recieved from a certain maildomain, say @microsoft.com. How can I specify a wildchar expression? I already tried the following things:

    From/To: *@microsoft.com
    From/To: %@microsoft.com
    Extended Properties, From/To contains microsoft.com (it looks like it has the same problem as when pasting an email address from the clipboard – only the display name is looked at).
    From/To: I tried to add all known addresses I have, but the field is to small

    Any ideas?

  9. RV

    I use it to combine my Inbox and sent mail in threaded view. Unfortunately I can only do this with my exchange email account at work (doesn’t suppport imap folders).

  10. John Gonzalez

    When publishing your wonderful How-Tos on MS Office and other products, you should note at the top of the article what version of the software the tip applys to.

  11. mysticgeek

    John,

    You have a great point! I will definitely keep that in mind for future posts!

  12. e1

    how can I add searh folder to another mailbox imported from exchange? File/New doesn’t offer option of selecting other Mailbox.

    tnx

  13. J

    Setting up a search folder ahead of time seems to indicate that you know what you won’t be able to find in the future..
    If I knew where to look, I wouldn’t need to search, and if I need to search, then I obviously don’t know where to look.
    It feels more intuitive to use ctrl-shift-f to pull up the advanced find box with subfolders. Or to let google desktop look for it.

  14. e1

    J: I think you’ve missed the point.

    Search folders I use mostly for Follow up flags, so they get listed in ToDo list. Remiders are also nice thing if I need to get alerted for some events and/or organize my time better.

  15. J

    That probably is a good use for it, but I wouldn’t call that “Search folders”. I would call that “Important items I need to keep track of folders”, or IIINTKOF – just rolls right off the tongue!

  16. e1

    LOL yeah … really catchy

  17. RBL

    It would be nice if Search Folders supported Boolean operators, such as “All mail from domain foo.com” AND “Mail categorized as FOO.”

  18. Andrew Ziem

    Thunderbird has better search folders than Outlook. (TB calls them “Virtual Folders.”) Coming from using TB both at home and at work, I am disappointed in Outlook’s limitations. Am I missing something? For example, in Outlook there is no way to create one folder that finds messages to /or/ from (everyone)@example.com.

  19. Matthew

    HI, this is great, but i am having trouble trying to edit a search criteria for email’s sent between specific date’s. Financial year so April to April and emails in 2007 or 2006 etc!! Can anyone please help.

    Thanks

    Matthew

  20. RevolverOcelot

    Andrew,

    Under the: Mail from People and Lists the 1st option is Mail from and to specific people, just type the @example.com there

    HTH

    Revolver

  21. Andrew Ziem

    Revolver,

    Thanks, it works. It just wasn’t intuitively obvious based on the label “specific.”

    Andrew

  22. Drew Vogel

    On my computer at work, Search Folders work beautifully. On my home computer (which access the SAME email account), some of my Search Folders work and some do not. I get the following error when clicking on the non-working Search Folders: “A new Search Folder cannot be created because you have reached the maximum number of Search Folders. For more information, contact your system administrator.”

    Any ideas why they don’t work the same at both locations?

  23. JOEyGADGET

    Like Andrew, I wanted to show emails from a particular domain, so thanks for the tip. However I’d like to see emails across multiple IMAP folders, the same way the Instant Search allows across all mailboxes, but I don’t know how to do the same with a search folder. I don’t want separate folders for each IMAP account – just one search folders showing all emails from @microsoft.com, for instance. Any advice? Thanks in advance, JOEyGADGET

  24. Charlie

    Help! I want to create search folders that only contain messages with (for example ) red category tag AND blue category tab; but it will only let me set the criteria as being red OR blue. Can anyone help? If not I’m about to give up on categories altogether. They seem to me like the beginning of a good system – but really badly executed.

  25. Lisa Gordon

    Searchfolders a quite nice. But they only work for one single archive. I search A LOT of emails and contacts. My way to do it is LOOKEEN. Maybe you want to try that: http://www.lookeen.com

    I am so happy to have it!

    Lisa

  26. Carol S.

    yes i use lookeen too and i love it…i spent so much time to search through my e-mails to find that mails i was seaching for and since i have lookeen it is so much easier and faster! if you have the same problem like i had, maybe you should try it!!

  27. Simon

    Hey. I agree with the girls. I also use lookeen and it is very useful. I used to spend hours in creating search folders. It was very annoying. And even if you have search folders, they grow bigger and bigger and it takes ages to search them for mails. But now I have another problem, what to do with my free time ;-).

  28. bkford

    Is LookKeen an outlook add-on? I.e., does it work within email, or is it a separate program that you execute?

  29. Tche

    If you’d like to use more complex criteria for the “search folders” using OR/AND construction, just search the web for “QueryBuilder”. It is hidden by default on my outlook instance and I had to activate it defining a key in the registry. Now I do have SearchFolders with very interesting criteria

  30. Dan

    Lookeen is an add-on, is no seperate program, it is within Outlook!

  31. Jeffrey K

    Nice tip – just found it:-)

    I have multiple IMAP folders and this feature is limited to only one. Is there anyway to combine multiple IMAP folders in 1 Search folder?

    I don’t mind using categories or whatever as long as multiple IMAP folders are combined.

    Cheers

  32. Richard

    I have been looking for some help with the “for follow up” folder and your idea of creating the search folder pointed me to the right direction.

    Thanks

  33. Tejas

    Nice article. Thank you. Query Builder is useful.

    I would like create a Search Folder to find “replies to my sent mails”. Has anyone able to figure out how to do this?

    Thanks

  34. Mary Lou

    I use custom search folders but gosh they take a LONG time. My .pst files are very large, I suppose that is the reason.

  35. Robert

    Wow, Microsoft really screwed this program. All I need is an e-mail dated 9/4/2009. need to search though my extensive e-mail trees (folders, sub-folders, and sub-sub-folders).

    After spending over an hour LEARNING of this mindlessly complex search function in OL 07, I have formulated criteria for sent e-mails, and the system STILL pulls in 2004, 2005, etc. e-mails.

    This function is WORTHLESS if I need to be an amateur programer to get it to work. I now hate this product as I cannot efficiently manage informaiton with it.

    The MS engineers who re-designed the easy “search all” by date function in OL 03 into this labrynth of useless crap should be fired. Thus far, I’ve blown OVER AN HOUR on something that would have been a few easy stpes in OL 03.

    Unbelievable.

  36. Ziggy

    I agree with Robert, Word 2003 menus worked much better than in 2007/2010.
    The options picker dialogs are easier to use in 2003
    The menu bar takes up to much space that could be used for better purposes if the old style menus were a user selectable option.
    The whole package (word 2003) is better than 2007/2010.

  37. Swamination

    Open regedit: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\xx.0\Outlook\ (xx is version #), right click “Outlook”, new key, call it “QueryBuilder”. Close regedit. Open search folder customization, enjoy bacon.

  38. ranjeet

    I can’t find the old mails in my search option. but they are in my inbox…. please tell me how can i find it…

  39. SoCal

    Just read this and already using this. This is awesome. p.s. I am ahaving that same issue. I see the email in my inbox and the subject line, but when i control F i find other emails but not that email in the results. I just upgraded my laptop here at work to an HP and using Windows 7 and Office 2007. It was working up to a couple hours ago. But if it took that error to learn this it’s partially worth it

  40. anntours

    Does anyone know how to create new search folder in the criteria for “unanswered email”? Would appreciate any help you can lend.

    Thanks

  41. Dave

    How about if i want to search for a specific folder? I have about 300 active folders that i am referring to on a regular basis, scrolling up and down the folder list to select the one i need at that moment is time consuming. Is there a search I could perform that would only search folder names?

  42. GP

    Why can’t I save a search filter under Outlook 2007 within my contacts folder ? In Outlook 2003 I utilize detailed & complicated filters but I then save them on my desk top as an OSS file. I want to switch over to outlook 2007 (which I have on some of my computors) but find it frustrating to re-setup these filters each time I boot up my computor. The only “savable” filters in Outlook 2007 are for searching emails, .. not contacts. I have over 700 contacts and greatly appreciate looking up any list of clients with specific input values, then saving this search on my desktop. Any solutions out there ?

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