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Outlook tip: Getting just the messages received in the last 2 days

Posted by Terry Moore
Terry Moore
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 03 July 2013
in Useful Tips

In this post, I describe how to use Microsoft Outlook search folders to show you all and only the messages received in the last two days.

MCCI runs by email.  Even for our web apps like Jira and Crucible, most of us get our information via email. It's simple, it's efficient, and there's only one place to look.

This is great in theory, and works well with mailers like Eudora, but it's not a workflow that Outlook accommodates directly. With Eudora, you could bring everything into your inbox, read the message, then apply filters to move the message to the right folder. That's not convenient with Outlook. Instead, you set up filters so that incoming mail gets delivered to the right folder immediately upon arriving at your system.

Outlook's pre-filtering works pretty well, unless you have a lot of folders. Then it becomes difficult to keep track of the "recent" mail. You can do a quick search for unread messages, but then as soon as you open a message, it drops off the list. That irks me when I'm reading messages to get a picture of what's going on (what my friends with military experience call "building situational awareness"). I like to scan messages quickly, going to the next message unless something demands immediate attention. Sometimes, it's not until after I've moved on that I realize that I need to act on a message two or three back in the list.  Unfortunately, with an "unread message" quick search, you can't back up -- you've read  the older message, so it's no longer in the unread-message search list. Since mail is pre-filtered and dropped into folders, I'm often not sure where to look. After a few painful searches trying to find a message that was filed in a different place than I expected, I stopped using this technique.

The simple approach, and the one I used until I found this approach, is to simply scan over your folders in the pane on the left (the Navigation pane). The ones with unread messages will be in bold. However this is tedious and error prone if you have a lot of folders; and if the folder contains subfolders, the parent folder doesn't get bolded, only the subfolder with the unread message. If the parent folder is closed, you don't see that there's a message waiting at all.

The right approach is to have all the messages for the last day or two show up in a search folder. At midnight every day, the messages from the day before yesterday fall out of the folder. Even with lots of mail and lots of folders, I've found I can cut my mail scan time substantially.

Setting up a "Recent Mail" search folder takes multiple steps, but it's well worth the effort. I showed this to one of my colleagues, who showed it to another; it seems to be useful no matter your work style. It's useful enough (and popular enough within MCCI) that I thought I'd share instructions on how to set it up. Keep reading to get the gory details.

(If you're looking for equivalent instructions for Thunderbird, check this post: Seeing recent mail in Thunderbird.)

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