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Conditional Formatting: Highlight your most important mails

(Our numbers tell us that many people want to learn about conditional formatting in Outlook–a clear explanation is below–so we’re moving this post back into the top spot to better share it with all of you.)

Last month I wrote about how to quickly create rules to help rid your Inbox of so-called graymail. This week I wanted to share another tool for making sure the right email messages stick out when you’re reading down the message list in your Inbox. This advice comes straight out of the Outlook Best Practices – a series of guidelines to help you be as productive as possible with Outlook.

Conditional Formatting allows you to customize how different messages appear in your Inbox message list based on criteria that you set. By default, conditional formatting makes unread messages bold. By adding your own customizations, you can highlight the messages that are most important to you.

For example, when you are at work, emails that are sent directly to you and no one else are probably some of the more important messages for you to review. For that reason you might want to set these messages to appear larger than others in your Inbox.

To set up Conditional Formatting from your Inbox, on the View tab, in the Current View group, click View Settings, and then click Conditional Formatting. Click Add to create a conditional formatting rule.

Let me take you through an example. I first created a formatting rule for mail that is sent only to me, so after clicking Add, I named it “Only You.”


Next, I clicked Condition and then specified that I want this to apply for messages where I am the only person on the To line.


After clicking OK, I clicked Font and then selected how I want the text to appear in the message list. Because these are the most important messages, I chose a red color and a larger, bold font.


I repeated these steps to create conditional formatting for mail where I am on the To line with other people, mail that I was on the CC line, and mail that was sent to a specific distribution list (DL) instead of directly to me. Here are the results of what these look like in my Inbox.


The different sizes and colors help me see the most important emails and leave the others for later. I recommend that you try conditional formatting rules that help you keep your Inbox more organized. For some people that might mean using a specific color for messages from family members, or making messages from your boss larger than others. We love to hear what works for you, so leave a comment below.

Josh Meisels

Outlook Program Manager

More info on Outlook conditional formatting

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