Categories tend to be overlooked by many Outlook users. Perhaps, a better way to think of categories is as labels that help you find, sort, filter or classify items. After all, we tend to classify information anyway whether it's grabbing the New York Times Business section or giving that complicated coffee drink order at Starbucks.
Classification also provides a host of actions relating to finding and organizing your data. A category can be attached to any object in Outlook such as an email, calendar events, tasks or notes. Moreover, Outlook allows you to create your own categories so you're not locked into someone else's classification system.
Advantages of Outlook Categories
Although you can use Outlook folders to organize information, categories offer many advantages.
1. You're not dependant on location.
In many companies, employees are allowed to have personal and business information in Outlook. Yet, some system administrators may allow only one Contact folder rather than a work contact folder and a personal contacts folder. You can get around this limitation with categories. As example, you can designate "John Burton's" contact record as "personal".
2. You can assign many categories to an item.
Chances are your friends are multi-dimensional so besides assigning a "personal" category, you might assign John Burton another category called "Golf" or "Prospect". Outlook doesn't care how many categories you assign to an item.
3. Categories allow you to mix and match data types.
Although Outlook allows you to create folders, it only allows one type of information in that folder. You can't set up a folder called Budget05 and include emails and tasks. You have to designate that folder as containing the same data object whether it's emails, contacts, notes or calendar events. In contrast, you could assign any of those items with a category called "Budget05".
4. Categories allow you to focus on your data.Once you've assigned a category to an item, you can create special views or search folders. Search folders are a new feature to Outlook 2003, which act like virtual folders. You can get a similar result in older Outlook versions by creating category views.
Many Outlook versions have a defined current view that is based on category. Below is an example of a Task by Category view.
5. Categories allow you to customize Outlook to meet your needs.
Outlook comes predefined with a Master Category list, but you can add and delete categories. For example, I tend to use 15 categories because I synchronize with a PDA. My primary PDA is a Palm device that allows 15 categories unless I use a third party program such as Chapura's KeySuite.
I've incorporated ideas from David Allen, Sally McGhee and Life Balance into my Outlook routine. I have a system that helps me decide what I should do next based on various factors. Sometimes, I'm restricted to what I can do based on my location such as making phone calls. Other times my decision may factor in my energy level or state of mind. As example, if I'm feeling under the weather, I might click the @Reading category and see what's next on my list. Or, if I'm in a bad mood, I stay away from any Website changes.
The nice thing about categories is that you can define your system. Some people may find my 15 categories inadequate. They may prefer to break down my @Computer category into:Email
Alternatively, they may prefer a structure like Computer_email.
Creating an Outlook Category List
Before creating and assigning categories, you should think about your structure.
- How do you want to classify items (people, places, projects and so on) ?
- Are you restricted to a set number of categories?
- Do the categories need to be shared with others?
Another item to consider is whether the category should be in Outlook's Master Category list. The benefit to having an item in the Master list is that it can be used on any type of item. Some people start by typing a category name such as School in the Categories textbox for a Task and then become perplexed when they don't see that category listed when they try to assign it to a Contact. Typing category names directly in this fashion limits the category to that item type such as Tasks.
To get around this orphan category problem, I suggest people create a list of their categories and enter them using the Categories dialog. You can get to this dialog by selecting Categories from the View menu.
You may also want to use a special character to precede the category name. Some people use the @ character to show they need to be at some location such as @Home or @Office.
A related tip is preceding a category name with a non-alpha character. By default, the category list is sorted alphabetically. If you precede your category name with a special character such as a ~,!, @, +, it will appear at the top of the list.
Working around Subcategories
Outlook doesn't allow for subcategories, but you can be creative and work around this issue. As I mentioned, I restrict myself to 15 categories because of my PDA. One way I've subcategorized is by using the Subject line. For instance to get the @Computer breakout as mentioned above, I might start each of my @Computer items with a keyword and colon in the Subject line such as:
Although I may not get the same precision, I can easily sort within a category to achieve the desired result. Alternatively, I could create a View based on the category and then use a filter for the keyword in the Subject line.
Attaching Categories to Outlook Items
Each of the data objects in Outlook allows you to assign categories although the field is in different places. Like many Outlook functions, there are multiple ways to attach categories.
Contacts and Tasks place a Categories button and textbox in the lower right.
To add a category to Notes, click the icon in the top left corner and then select Categories from the menu.
Assigning a category to emails is a little trickier. I think the easiest way is to right-click on the message and select Categories. Otherwise, you need to open the email and select Options from the View menu. A dialog will appear which has the Categories button.
- Microsoft Article on Migrating Categories to another Computer
Last Updated (Monday, 16 August 2010 08:13)