How to Highlight All Important Emails in Outlook

Happy office worker helping clients, using laptop

Highlight Important Emails Sent Just to You by Using Color Codes

Setting up outlook to color code emails where you are the only one on the To line is a great way to quickly highlight important emails you need to check.   

  • The process described here can also be used to identify other important emails, for example emails from your boss specifically or important clients. 
  • You will also see how to highlight emails with a different color where you and others are on the To line, as a result you will know you are not the only one on the To line and may help you decide how quickly you have to get to that particular email.
  • If you have not already done so, I highly recommend you set your inbox for rapid email scanning as shown in the sample here because it may double the amount of emails you can see at one time on the screen.  This is not required before you follow the steps below, however this article is based on that enhancement to the inbox.
Sample email inbox in tight view with no conditional formatting so not able to highlight important emails

In this article we are going to set formatting to highlight important emails using two conditions:
One when you are the only person on the To line – color code Maroon.
The next when you are on the To line with others – color code Green.

Being a big fan of outlook shortcut keys and the keyboard vs. mouse in general, because studies have shown that using the keyboard to navigate and select action is usually much faster than using the mouse.

We will set up color coding using the keyboard to navigate the menus since this is faster.  If you prefer using the mouse simply follow the sequence demonstrated in the images and read the instructions for any additional information needed.  Having taught ADA classes I always like to have keyboard version of instructions available when possible since this is usually helpful.

Step By Step – Use Shortcut Keys to Color Code Emails Sent Just to You:

This section will explain how to color code emails where you are the only person on the To line of the email so it will be highlighted and you will instantly know it is important.
To begin this process load Outlook.

  1. First, we will create and name a new Conditional Formatting Rule:
    Press and hold down the Alt Key. While holding down the Alt Key:
    Press V, V, A, A
    Release the Alt Key
    For Name enter: Me Only

    Setting name for email rule where I am the only person on the To line

  2. Select the color maroon for the rule:
    Press Alt+F
    Alt+C
    Alt+DownArrow, M,
    then press Enter
    Press Enter again to close the formatting window
    You can select another color or come back to this section at a later time to change it.

    Setting email rule color to Maroon where I am the only person on the To line

  3. Set the condition for this color:
    Press Alt+C
    Alt+W
    Tab Key
    Use the Up Arrow and Down Arrow keys to select “the only person on the To line”
    Press Enter or click the OK button to close the Condition window

    Setting email rule where I am the only person on the To line

  4. Close the Conditional Formatting window:
    Press Tab Key to select the OK button then press Enter
    or click the OK button with your mouse to close the window
  5. The last step is to close the Advanced View Settings: Preview window:
    Press Tab Key until the OK button is selected then press Enter or click the OK button with your mouse to close the Advanced View Settings window

Example Inbox Showing Emails Sent Just to You Highlighted in Maroon

At this point you now have a condition in place that will automatically color every email in your inbox where you are the only person on the To line as demonstrated in the example image here.  Not only will this help you spot important emails, it will also let you know which ones you may be able to ignore all together based on the subject and the fact that it was not “To” you.

Next, we will create a second rule to show when you are on the To line but with others so you will have additional information rapidly available to help prioritize how you process your emails.

Example inbox with color coded emails to highlight important emails

Highlight Important Emails with Color Codes When You and Others Are on The To Line

  1. Load Outlook
  2. Create and name a new Conditional Formatting Rule:
    Press and hold down the Alt Key. While holding down the Alt Key:
    Press V, V, A, A
    Release the Alt Key
    (See Step in the previous section above for an image of how to do this with the mouse).

    For Name enter: Me With Others

    Color Code Outlook Emails Where I am on the to line with others

  3. Select the color green for the rule:
    Press Alt+F
    Alt+C
    Alt+DownArrow, G,
    then press Enter
    Press Enter again to close the formatting window
    You can select another color or come back to this section at a later time to change it.

    Color Code Outlook Emails Green Where I am on the to line with others

  4. Set the condition for this color:
    Press Alt+C
    Alt+W
    Tab Key
    Use the Up Arrow and Down Arrow keys to select “on the To line with other people”
    Press Enter or click the OK button to close the Condition window

    Color Code Outlook Emails Where I am on the to line with others

  5. Close the Conditional Formatting window:
    Press Tab Key to select the OK button then press Enter or click the OK button with your mouse to close the window
  6. The last step is to close the Advanced View Settings: Preview window:
    Press Tab Key until the OK button is selected then press Enter or click the OK button with your mouse to close the Advanced View Settings window

Outlook Inbox Configured for Rapid Processing

At this point you should be all set with two types of color coded emails and therefore have the new ability to rapidly identify which emails need attention.

I hope this setup works well for you.  If you have any feedback on this process or have any topics you would like us to cover, we would love to hear from you.  Also if you come up with any cool variations of this approach, please share!

Example inbox with color coded emails to me and others to highlight important emails

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