How to clean up your Outlook inbox and manage your email

If you’re overwhelmed by too much email in Microsoft Outlook, don’t despair! We can show you how to get rid of email you don’t want by using filters, rules, folders, and Outlook’s own Focused Inbox. As a bonus, we’ll even show you how to use Gmail to manage your Outlook email, too—it sounds weird, but it works. And, of course, we’ll show you to auto-delete and archive old email. 

We also have tips on how to get rid of spam in Outlook, and more Outlook tips to manage your inbox by categories. But for now, let’s clean up your inbox!

How to filter email in Outlook

Microsoft Outlook exists as both a standalone app within Microsoft 365, as well as a web app. You can work within either, and your changes will propagate inside both versions. Unfortunately, the two differ from one another in both look and feel. Even worse (and yes, this is dumb), there are features that are available in one Outlook app but not the other, meaning that you may need to shift back and forth. We’ll provide instructions for each.

What we’re trying to accomplish is to create folders in which to group and store email—both to take a substantial chunk out of your inbox, as well as create an easy go-to location to find that email in the future. But we don’t want to move every email manually; instead, we’re going to use Outlook’s built-in email rules system to automatically route email into those folders and out of your way.

How to create email folders in Outlook

First, think about what you’d like to store in each folder—perhaps all of the automated notifications from Facebook, for example, or emails from a specific contact. You can also organize your Outlook inbox like Gmail does: creating folders for social notifications that you don’t want to delete, but you don’t want clogging your inbox, either. 

Microsoft Outlook create a new folder webmail Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft Outlook for the Web offers the most convenient way to add new folders. Once created, you can drag them around and organize them as you’d like.

In the Outlook Web app, the process is simple: Click the New folder link at the bottom of the list of folders, way down below your Inbox. If you want to create more than one, just click the link again.

In the Outlook desktop app, right-click the name of your email address (not the Inbox) and select New Folder. Outlook’s UI makes this unnecessarily difficult, and more often than not you’ll end with a sub-folder in an odd spot. You may be better off opening the web app via the link above and performing this step with the handy shortcut the Outlook web app provides. 

Next, we’re going to use Outlook’s rules system to organize your existing email automatically, as well as assign email to your new folders automatically as they come in. 

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