How-To Geek

Color Code Outlook for Easier Management

Organizing and keeping track of numerous emails at the office everyday can be a job unto itself. Today we take a look at using color codes to make it easier to identify message subjects and who is sending them.

This feature has been available in Office 2007 from the beginning but we never covered it yet, and it was something I overlooked. After playing around with it for a while however, I found that it is a good way to manage the multitude of emails I get everyday. Here we will go through colorizing contacts who are sending messages so they’re easier to spot. Also categorizing the subject matter into different color groups seems to help in keeping thing straight.

Color Code Senders

Open Outlook and click to highlight the message you want to color code.


Go to Tools and then Organize.


Ways to Organize Inbox opens up and you want to click Using Colors. Now you can select the color you want to associate with that contact. You can also choose a specific color for messages sent to only you, which comes in handy as a way to distinguish between group and personal messages.


Here is an example of what can be done with the colors. You might only want to create a couple of colors for the most important sender though, I went a bit overboard with this example.


Color Categories

Another helpful way to visually organize your messages is adding color categories to them. You can customize the which email subjects are related to each color category.


The message will have the category color bar across the top and you can Right-click the bar to change the color.


You can also Right-click on a message under the Categories section to change the category.


You can rename each category to whatever makes sense to you.


You might want to make a new category for different mails. Go to Actions \ Categorize and All Categories.


In the Color Categories screen click on New and give the category a name and color, you can also assign a keyboard shortcut to it as well.


Now you can sort through your email messages based on the type of category they are in.


If you want to be able to quickly glance at your email to get an idea of what is there, using color categories can be helpful. Hopefully this can get you started with organizing your emails so you know what the pointy-haired bosses want you to do more effectively.

Brian Burgess worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. He's been a tech blogger and journalist for the past seven years, and can be found on his about me page or Google+

  • Published 10/7/09

Comments (8)

  1. Ice

    Why the heck is “red category” blue? lol

  2. Aashish

    This is pretty nifty…It is more useful than it looks

  3. LotusKnows

    Been doing this in Lotus Notes for years ! Compare Outlook with a decent collaboration system…

  4. Jeremy

    This has been around for years, get a decent email system :)

    Wish there was a way to manage it via group policy though.

  5. fred

    We’ve been colorizing mails by sender or destition (ex: “sent only to me”) by color since at least Outlook 2003. I believe the Categories feature was there too, but the ribbon makes it more obvious

  6. Michael

    Categories are very old, but having colors for categories is new with OL07. For that, the old colored flags are gone. With flags you had about six colors, now with categories there’re 25; and you still can choose to use a category without any color.
    Flags now have a different (and more useful) function.

    @Jeremy, since OL07 you can share category names via GPO, but with that it’s not possible to share the colors as well. For that you need a third party application. Please see ‘Category Manager’ on for details.

  7. Michael

    I’m sorry, this is the English url:

  8. Joy

    Is this the same in Outlook for Mac 2011? Can someone advise me on how to do the same thing in the new version of Outlook for Mac? Between school and work emails I am going crazy! Thanks!

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