How to Mark Up Your Outlook Inbox with Conditional Formatting

Gavin Phillips 08-04-2016

Every email is a potential distraction. You can manage your emails using rules, priority flags, and color categories. This automated workflow 6 Best Practices for Outlook to Boost Your Workflow If you spend any serious amount of time using Outlook, you should investigate your workflow. Make your email work for you and save time for more important tasks. Read More will help you keep your Outlook inbox clear and your mind free from clutter.


Consider automated conditional inbox formatting to take your productivity to the next level. Each message can be classified and filtered the instant it enters your inbox. This article is aimed at all Outlook users, though could be particularly useful for those using IMAP email accounts. IMAP accounts don’t allow for the extensive use of color categories users of POP3 can enjoy IMAP vs. POP3: What Is It and Which One Should You Use? If you have ever set up an email client or app, you will have certainly come across the terms POP and IMAP. Do you remember which one you chose and why? If you are not... Read More .

What Is Conditional Inbox Formatting?

Conditional Inbox Formatting is an automated method of colorizing messages as they enter the inbox. We can assign a different range of colors, fonts, and styles to each message, specified on a range of conditions. If the conditions are met, the message will receive the respective formatting conditions, making it stand-out, and easing your workflow.

Now I’ll show you some quick examples to get your inbox moving.

Setting Up Conditional Inbox Formatting

Setting up several conditional inbox formatting rules is really quite easy, and can make a big difference to your workflow 25+ Outlook Keyboard Shortcuts to Make You More Productive Outlook is one of the most popular desktop email clients in use today. If you're one of those many Outlook users, the following keyboard shortcuts are sure to save you lots of time. Read More .

Outlook Current View Settings Tab


Head to the View tab. Under Current View, select View Settings. This will open the Advanced View Settings panel. Select Conditional Formatting. This will show you a list of default conditional formatting options, some of which will already be in use.

Outlook Conditional Formatting Rule Panel

Press Add. Enter a name for your first rule. I’ll make sure I never miss a school newsletter, so the rule is accordingly named “School Newsletter.” Now, choose a Font. You have the full range of Windows fonts available OTF vs. TTF Fonts: Which Is Better? What's the Difference? Most fonts these days are either OTF or TTF, but what does that mean? What are the differences? Should you even care? Read More , meaning Comic Sans, Chiller, and Wingdings are at your disposal How To Download Free Fonts & Manage Them In Windows Fonts are the building blocks of digital aesthetics. Since Windows doesn't come with a font manager, we've looked at third-party alternatives. Read More . However, as we are attempting to maintain our inbox workflow, I would suggest sticking to something sensible, that doesn’t distract you!

Outlook Conditional Formatting Font Selection


Once you’ve selected a font, choose a color, and increase the font size to big (for some reason this system does away with regular font points, presumably so we don’t select an absurdly large size, which would break the Outlook inbox pane). When you’re ready, press OK.

Now, select Condition. I’m only adding a single address to this rule, in the From box. If you know the single address, enter it where applicable. If you’re adding a long list, or even just multiple addresses, pressing From will open your Outlook address book. Once you have added the requisite addresses, press OK, and head back to your inbox. The rule will apply from the next email you receive.

Adding Color Categories

Now we know how to create a conditional format for incoming mail, we can begin to specialize our rules. The Conditions panel has three tabs: Messages, More Choices, and Advanced. We can put each tab to use to streamline our inbox Buried In Emails? Shrink Your Massive Inbox To Zero With Mailstrom We've offered a number of solutions through the years to manage your Gmail account and to clean up a cluttered inbox. Nothing is more convenient than a central online solution like Mailstrom. Read More .


Use the Messages tab to create a specific word-search for each email as it arrives. Isolate a keyword, words, or phrases that repeatedly enter your inbox 5 Action Steps for Curing Your Inbox Zero Email Frenzy Inbox Zero is one of the most popular buzz words. To truly solve your email issues you need to go beyond Inbox Zero and address the underlying problems. Read More and, if they’re important, apply a filter.


Outlook Conditional Formatting Filters

We can also apply formatting to our emails, based upon a variety of time filters, including time Received, Sent, Created, Modified, and when the email landed in your inbox, such as Anytime, Yesterday, In the last 7 days, or Last week.

Outlook COnditional Formatting Time Filters

More Choices

The More Choices tab is where you’ll find color categories, as well as options for matching items that are unread or read, have multiple attachments, have varying importance levels, or have been independently flagged by the user.


Outlook Conditional Formatting Color Categories

The color category formatting filters are the same as any you’ve already established, but it makes it easier to build on any color-rules you’re already using. This way, you can automate your colors!


The Advanced tab allows us to create specialized conditional formatting criteria to filter and apply to your inbox. Clicking the Field button will grant you access to a somewhat overwhelming list of potential filter criteria, of which you can select multiple choices to build a “filter tree.”

Outlook Conditional Formatting Advanced Tab

There’s a significant number of options here, but don’t let that put you off creating your own lists. Take your time and scan through each list. A large number of the options simply will not apply to your inbox, so it should theoretically narrow your search range.

You’re Now Conditionally Formatting

You should now be able to set up a range of conditional formatting rules for your inbox, whether you filter everything into specific folders or not. Even the emails heading into those specific folders can take the formatting with them, allowing you some variations on how you apply specific colors. For instance, instead of highlighting specific names, try coloring and filtering a specific theme, or a keyword.

Conditional formatting is incredibly easy to set up, and once you’re up and running, it will keep your inbox – and hopefully your mind – somewhat clear of digital clutter 5 Action Steps for Curing Your Inbox Zero Email Frenzy Inbox Zero is one of the most popular buzz words. To truly solve your email issues you need to go beyond Inbox Zero and address the underlying problems. Read More .

Do you use conditional inbox formatting? Do you have any tricks or tips for our readers? Let us know below!

Related topics: Email Tips, Microsoft Outlook, Productivity.

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  1. helpdesk123
    August 31, 2016 at 9:09 am

    what does "messages in other folders" mean in the conditional formatting box?