Microsoft Outlook logo on a gray background

Outlook does a great job of keeping you informed about new emails by using several different methods to alert you. Here are all of the ways you can be alerted, and how to turn off or customize them.

Outlook uses the following four methods to alert you about new emails:

  1. Playing a sound
  2. Changing the mouse pointer
  3. Showing an email icon in the taskbar
  4. Displaying a banner alert in the bottom right of the screen (top right for Mac users)

All of these can be turned off completely. Launch the Outlook application and then go to File > Options > Mail and scroll down to the “Message Arrival” section.

The "Message arrival" settings in the Options panel.

You can turn any of the alerts on or off by checking or unchecking the corresponding boxes. Click the “OK” button to close the Options panel when you’re done.

Turning off the alerts here is an all or nothing solution, though. What if you want your alerts to be a bit less annoying or untimely?

Using Focus Assist on Windows 10

Sometimes you want no notifications at all, but only for a period of time while you’re focusing on something else. This is where Focus Assist comes in handy.

Focus Assist is a built-in Windows tool that arrived in the April 2018 update and hides alerts from any (or all) apps at times and situations you choose. We’ve covered Focus Assist in-depth, but here’s what you need to do to make sure it does what you want for Outlook.

While you can open Focus Assist in a number of ways, we’re going to go there through the Settings panel. Press Windows+i on your keyboard to open up the Settings panel, search for “Focus Assist,” and then select “Focus Assist Settings” from the dropdown menu.

The Windows Settings search box.

Scroll down to the “Automatic Rules” section and turn on the options you want to enable.

The "Automatic rules" section of Focus Assist.

Each option allows either “Priority Only” or “Alarms Only,” which can be amended by clicking the option and changing the “Focus Level.”

An example of the "Focus level" dropdown.

“Alarms” specifically refers to alarms generated by clock or alert apps. If you don’t want to be disturbed at all, you can set the option to “Priority Only” and remove all priority apps.

You can additionally customize “During These Times” by clicking on it and changing the time options.

The time options in the "During these times" rule.

This is useful if you want Focus Assist turned on only at certain times of the day or just weekdays and/or weekends.

Windows Notifications and Actions

In addition to Focus Assist, there are Outlook notification settings available in Windows. In the Settings menu (Windows+i keys), search for “Notifications” or, if you’re already looking at Focus Assist, choose “Notifications & Actions” from the left-hand menu.

The "Notifications & actions" menu option.

Scroll down the list of apps until you find “Outlook” and then click it to open the application’s Notification settings.

The Outlook app option.

You can change whether banners are displayed (the same setting as “Display a Desktop Alert” in Outlook’s Options > Mail) or whether a sound is played (the same setting as “Play A Sound” in Outlook’s Options > Mail), but the other options are specific to the Notification & Actions panel.

The first two unique options are whether you want notifications displayed in the Action Center (by default, this is enabled), and whether you want to hide notifications from appearing on the lock screen (by default, this is disabled).

Two of the options in the Outlook notifications options.

The second set of unique options are how many Outlook notifications are visible in the Action Center (1, 3, 5, 10, or 20), and where in the priority list Outlook notifications are shown in the Action Center.

The Action Centre options for Outlook.

These settings won’t change Outlook’s behavior, but they’ll change what Windows does with the banner alerts and how it shows Outlook alerts in the Action Center.

Change the Alert Sound

Lastly, don’t forget you can also change the new mail notification sound to something more to your liking. A more soothing noise than the default chime may make new mail a little less distracting.

Rob Woodgate Rob Woodgate
Rob Woodgate is a writer and IT consultant with nearly 20 years of experience across the private and public sectors. He's also worked as a trainer, technical support person, delivery manager, system administrator, and in other roles that involve getting people and technology to work together.
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