Colors and Categories

May 9, 2018 by Brian Clayton Image result for microsoft outlook categories

Often many of us like to use Outlook as a database to manage our entire work and/or personal interactions with others.  We tend to use titles, locations and other fields in a very specific manner in order to get the most out of organizing our correspondence, events and notes.  Many of us also create a complex design of folders to also store hundreds if not thousands of emails, etc.  An often overlooked simple feature is color categories.  If you are using the BEC Docket Enterprise product you have already experienced the value of this feature.  This post will briefly describe the feature and also cover a couple things to be aware of when you start to depend on these heavily.

What are Color Categories?

Color categories allow you to easily identify and group associated items in Microsoft Outlook. Assign a color category to a group of interrelated items—such as notes, contacts, appointments, and email messages—so that you can quickly track and organize them.

Color categories enable you to quickly scan and locate related items. You can choose from a set of default categories or create your own, and then assign the categories to your Outlook items. The category colors are prominently displayed in table views, such as your Inbox, and within the open items themselves. You can rename the categories to something more meaningful to you or choose different colors for the categories. This flexibility enables you to design a color category system that fits your personal work style. 

Only the 15 most recently used color categories appear on the Categorize menu. To see the rest, click All Categories on the Categorize menu.

Delegates not seeing color or categories of mailbox owner?

Categories only apply to items in your Outlook mailbox. If you apply a color category to a meeting request or a meeting you’ve received from another person, that color category will only show in your calendar.

Since Outlook 2007, The Color Categories are stored within the main Calendar folder of the mailbox owner.  If you are sharing areas with your Outlook and want the delegate to be able to see your colors and categories, the mailbox owner needs to assign you at least “Reviewer” permissions. This includes the “Full Details” read permission which is required for displaying Color Categories.

Problems after Migrating to another version of Exchange or Office?

If you migrate to another version of Office (or Exchange) or import contacts, appointments, or mail that is categorized but the category is not on the master list, colors will be randomly assigned (not totally random: Outlook chooses the next color on the list).Outlook has a feature that will look for categories assigned and add them to your master categories list. The feature is title ‘Upgrade to Color Categories’ and you can run this by right clicking on the top level folder (where Outlook Today is, or for secondary accounts in your profile, on the top level of the data file) and choose Data File Properties from the menu. In the Properties dialog, click the button to Upgrade to Color Categories. This will convert the categories and add any not already on your master color category list, to it. If you have more than one account in your profile that uses an existing data file, you need repeat these steps for each account.

Backing up Outlook Categories

Outlook doesn’t have a built in option to back up the Outlook categories you’ve created, there are a couple easy options to protect the categories and colors you set up.  The simplest way  is to assign all of the categories to one item and then save that single item onto your desktop outside of Outlook. With that item you will be able to restore the categories. Also, the master category list will be saved on your PST file.  A third way to backup your categories is to follow the below process:

  1. Create a new Note item, which can be done by using the Outlook shortcut of CTRL+Shift+N.
    Name it ‘Categories’ and close the note item.
  2. Now switch over to the Notes folder. You can also use the shortcut CTRL+5.
  3. Right click on your new note and go to Categorize > All Categories…
  4. Now save this item outside of Outlook. Go the classic route of File > Save as… and save it as a msg file, or you can simply drag the item onto your desktop. It will be named Categories.msg by default.

You can restore from the backup easily by performing the following process:

  1. Open the Notes folder
  2. Drag and drop the Categories.msg file into the folder
  3. Go back to the Mail navigation window, right click the Mailbox folder and then choose Data File Properties.
  4. Select “Upgrade to Color Categories…” This will get Outlook to scan your entire mailbox for any item that contains categories, which are not found in the Master Category list, and it will add them.
  5. A window asking if you want to upgrade to Color Categories will pop up. Click Yes to confirm. It may take a little time but you’re able to continue using Outlook while it’s updating.

Automatically assigning Color Categories

You may also use the rules feature within Outlook to set these Color Categories automatically.  In a future blog post I will cover Exchange and Outlook rules and some best practices for managing these as well.


Brian ClaytonBrian Clayton
Operations Manager – Dev Ops

Published: May 9, 2018