How to Add or Edit Categories in Outlook

Use color to organize your email messages, contacts, and appointments

Stack of papers with color-coded flags

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Use categories in Microsoft Outlook to organize all kinds of items including email messages, contacts, and appointments. When you assign the same color to a group of related items such as notes, contacts, and messages, you make these items easier to track. If any of the items are related to more than one category, assign more than one color to it. 

Instructions in this article apply to Outlook 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, and Outlook for Office 365.

Add a New Color Category in Outlook

Outlook comes with a set of default color categories, but it's easy to add your own categories or change the color and name of an existing label. You can even set keyboard shortcuts that apply categories to highlighted items.

Categories don't work for emails in an IMAP account.

  1. Go to the Home tab and, in the Tags group, select Categorize.

    Screenshot of Categorize drop-down
  2. Select All Categories.

  3. In the Color Categories dialog box, select New.

    Screenshot of Color Categories
  4. In the Add New Category dialog box, type a name for the new color category in the Name text box.

    Screenshot of Add New Category
  5. Select the Color dropdown arrow and choose a color for the category.

    Screenshot of colors in Color Categories
  6. If you want to assign a keyboard shortcut to the new category, select the Shortcut Key dropdown arrow and choose a keyboard shortcut.

  7. Select OK to save the new color category and close the Add New Category dialog box.

  8. Select OK to close the Color Categories dialog box.

Assign a Color Category to an Email

Assigning a color category to individual emails is useful for organizing your inbox. You may want to categorize by client or project.

To assign a color category to a message in your Outlook inbox:

  1. Right-click on the message in the email list.

    You can also assign color categories to appointments and tasks. Right-click an appointment in your Outlook Calendar or right-click a task in your Outlook To-Do List.

  2. Select Categorize.

    Screenshot of right-click menu showing Categorize

    If you'd rather use the menu, go to Home and, in the Tags group, select Categorize.

  3. Choose a color category to apply it to the email.

  4. You may be prompted to change the name of a category the first time you use it. If prompted, type a new name.

To sort email by categories, go to the View tab, select Arrange by, and choose Categories.

Edit Categories in Outlook

To edit the list of color categories:

  1. Go to the Home tab and, in the Tags group, select Categorize.

  2. Select All Categories.

  3. Select the category you want to change then take one of the following actions:

    • Change the category title: Select Rename, type a new name, and press Enter.
    • Choose a different color: Select the Color dropdown arrow and choose a color. Or, choose None to remove a color from a category.
    • Remove a category from the categories list: Select Delete. This does not remove the category from items it has been applied to previously.
  4. Select OK when you're finished.