Outlook Inbox: Johnny's custom view

@johnnydecimal I have a question please: your website contains the item 12.01 Managing Email, with a screenshot of a custom Outlook view (link).

Question: How can I build a view like that? I didn’t find any mention of that on the website, nor in this forum.

By the way, I absolutely LOVE the style of your website. It’s ridiculously well structured - obviously! Is that hand-crafted, or based on some template that you might be able to share?

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Side-note: I found some details regarding my “by the way” question. The 01.01 Colophon says this is hand-coded, and the source is on 02.04 Github. Nice work! :heart_eyes: I can see that the license allows me to build my own based on it, provided that I incude the copyright notice.

Still desperately curious about the Outlook view. I have fiddled with Outlook but so far failed to figure it out on my own.

Haven’t had time yet, but I fully intend to. This is why I rebuilt the site, so I could add more articles like this one.

I’ll do that, but until I do, here’s it in a nutshell. From memory, I don’t have a Windows PC close:

  1. Start with a search folder that shows you all unread mail across your entire mailbox.
  2. Pin this to your favourites, it becomes my primary view.
  3. Create a new view. The trick is to group by Folder but:
  • This isn’t in the default list of fields, it’s in all Mail fields.
  • I find it doesn’t work unless you show In Folder as one of your columns — again, it’s not in the default column selection.
  • But when this is working you can remove that column later. Weird.
  1. Hmm … that’s mostly it I think? Let me know if this doesn’t work and I’ll fire up the Windows VM later.

The main downside is that I haven’t figured out how to also turn on the threaded conversation view while in this view. So this view will show your actual Inbox, but un-threaded. If I end up with a bunch of stuff in there to organise I switch back to the actual Inbox view, which is shown by Conversation, and is easier to process that way.

Oh the other magic trick is to lean heavily on Outlook’s Always move messages in this conversation feature. I don’t have any automatic sorting of the initial conversation, but if you always move it to your JD folder, all of the follow-up will find itself there. This works reasonably well for the sort of threads we have at work — fewer of them, more responses.

But yeah, there’s still a lot of manual work here. Learn the Outlook keyboard shortcuts for moving things. I tend to process to folders then read and respond.

(And none of this works on the Mac version, which is entirely different.)

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Thank you so much, that was a lot of effort! You’ve found the GitHub repo and yes it’s yours to use, but I’d say hold off a couple of weeks before cloning it.

I built it on the fly and learned a lot, but just wanted to get the site up. So it’s a bit messy. I will absolutely tidy it up, and want to do that soon before I forget what I actually did. And I’ll document the hell out of it (in the code) at the same time.

Best to wait until I do that. Knowing that someone else wants to use it will motivate me to do it better, so thanks. :slight_smile:


 * It took me ages to wrap my head around this thing, and this code is
 * horrendous. Please don't read it and please, please don't repurpose it.
 * Also it only makes sense with the accompanying Excel file of patterns.
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Thank you so much for your description of the clever Outlook folder. I have now done the same, showing “unread or flagged” items, grouped by folder. Looks great! Unfortunately my list is 50+ items across many folders… that just shows that I have so much work to do.

I have a bunch of Outlook rules that say “if the subject contains XX.YY then move the email into the folder XX.YY”. Looking at this view, I now realize that it might be difficult to even notice new messages coming in. To discover new emails, I must scroll through this view and look for unread items. That doesn’t feel right, and I’m sure you have a smarter approach that I have overlooked?

(And yes, the lack of threaded conversation is a bummer. I’m just happy that my current employer does not use Lotus Notes for email!)

By the way, I also have another Outlook rule (from before this new JD Inbox) that flags🚩 all incoming mail so that I can see all outstanding items in Outlook’s Task view, grouped by flag-due-date. This has also worked very well to plan when to work on each flagged item.

I wouldn’t be so sure!

No, I was just using this basic view. Did I mention that I turn off the Outlook setting that automatically marks a thing as read? It’s the setting that has a default something like ‘when in the reading pane for 5 seconds’. Switch that off.

Then I’m free to look through my mail without worrying that I’ll lose state. The state of ‘email has been read’ is one that I control, with the keyboard shortcut. Cmd+q perhaps? Been a while since I used Outlook thanks to quitting my job. :partying_face:

That might be the missing piece of the puzzle? Sorry it’s not more graceful. Email is hard.

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Hi. I just encountered your Outlook story today for some reason. As an Outlook user for work, I appreciate it. I tried the JD folder structure on Outlook last year (it’s been a while), but it didn’t work for me. The reason was because, first, it’s pretty much impossible to view when using on mobile devices (iPhone/iPad for me). The folder structure is really not clear, especially on phone, so I couldn’t search for items. Have you found a workaround for this?

Second, and perhaps this has been fixed, searches are “per folder”, so a search would only return numbers on the inbox, and not for folder items. This was extremely frustrating. Is there an Outlook search command I’m missing?

Third, I did a lot of rules and automation for the numbers, and eventually, to my surprise, I found out that I “ran out” of rules. I had no idea there was a limit to them.

I have followed the strategy of putting numbers [1.1.1] on emails, and that has been helpful for me, when I remember to write them. :frowning: I haven’t encountered a single person that has complained about me adding the number on a subject line. So, thanks for that hint.

Thanks for your writings and keep up the great work!

searches are “per folder”, so a search would only return numbers on the inbox, and not for folder items

Serach is context-sensitive, and I use that as an advantage: When I am in a specific folder and then use the search box at the top of the window, then I get results only from that folder. When I am in the Inbox and use the search box, I get results from everywhere. Both can be useful, depending on the need.

to my surprise, I found out that I “ran out” of rules.

I am surprised too! I have not hit that limit yet.

haven’t encountered a single person that has complained about me adding the number on a subject line

Same :slight_smile:

Yeah on the search thing, it’s been a while since I used Outlook now, but isn’t there a selector/dropdown in the icon at the right of the search box that lets you set the search scope?…

Or is this why I always found the default search a bit useless and used ‘Advanced’ search instead?

Yes, there’s a selector just as you say. In reality I never use it because I’m either already in the Outlook subfolder where I want to search, or I’m already in the Inbox and want to search across everything.