Categories and flags are not available in all of my folders in Microsoft Outlook. I can use categories and flags on mail in my POP3 account but categories are not available in my IMAP account and flags are limited to one flag, no reminder. Why?
The IMAP protocol doesn’t support the Category and Flag properties on messages and assigned categories and flags are not synced back to the IMAP server. If you need to use categories, you need to use a POP3 account instead or move the messages to a local pst file. In place of flags (and their reminders), drag the message to Tasks (or Calendar) and set the reminder.
If using IMAP is a requirement, you can either move the mail to separate folders to separate it or use Automatic Formatting (Conditional formatting in Outlook 2010) to highlight messages meeting specific conditions. If you need reminders, drag the message to the Tasks folder and create a task with a reminder.
Categories and Flags in Outlook 2013/2016
If having special “this computer only” folders with reduced capabilities in Outlook 2013 IMAP accounts isn’t bad enough, I’m left scratching my head when I look at the half-removed Flag and Category features users have come to expect in Outlook. There is no reason why full flags and categories shouldn’t work in an ost file, but users are stuck with the IMAP implementation, where flags are limited to on or off and the Categories button is non-existent.
Whether you can add a category an appointment or contact, or add a category or reminder to a task depends on what view you are using and whether you know all the right tricks.
The category picker is missing from appointments. But you can add categories if you assign keyboard shortcuts to at least one category and apply it. Once you add a category to an appointment, you can open the category MRU by right clicking on the category bar in the open appointment.
In Contacts, all of the flag options are available. The keyboard shortcuts work for categories and as with the other Outlook items, once a category is applied, you can right click on it and make changes. You can even add categories from the options dialog (File, Properties). Yes, in the wacky world of Outlook 2013 IMAP accounts, the category picker on the Options dialog is disabled on mail, appointments, and tasks but it works on Contacts.
A user discovered the trick to creating full reminders and color categories on tasks: select more than one. When you right click on one task, you’ll get the short IMAP version of the context menu, with options to Flag, Mark Complete, or Delete. The only option for Categories is Clear All Categories (when you click on the Category column). Select 2 or more tasks and viola! The full flag and category menus appears on the context menu. In an open Task, the Categorize button has one option: clear all but keyboard shortcuts will add categories… and yes, the full category menu is available on the right-click context menu.
The user went on to add “My solution right now is to just have a “dummy” task that I can select with the other tasks I want to change, but it’s a pain to work around a bug like this, especially since Microsoft is expecting me to pay monthly for the software.”
Flags with IMAP accounts
When an IMAP account is configured in Outlook, there is just one option for flags: either flagged or not flagged.
You may occasionally receive an error message when flagging items in IMAP accounts. This error is because Outlook is syncing with the server. Select a different message then switch back to the original message and you should be able to flag messages without error.
The operation cannot be performed because the message has been changed
If you need to set a reminder, drag the message to the Task folder to create a task.
Using Categories with IMAP Accounts Workaround
These instructions are for Outlook 2010 and below or Outlook 2013 when you have a separate pst file for calendar and contacts, in addition to the IMAP data file. Use the instructions in the next section when you use only the IMAP account and use the ‘this computer only’ folder for Calendar and Contacts.
While you can’t change how flags work (except by moving the mail to a local pst), it is possible to trick Outlook into letting you add categories to IMAP messages.
The easy way:
- While a viewing a folder in a data file that supports categories, expand the Categories button and choose All Categories to open the Color Category manager.
- Add keyboard shortcuts to your categories. Since you are limited to 10, start with the most frequently used categories.
- Select (or open) the message and press the shortcut. Yes, the shortcuts work on IMAP messages.
If you need to assign a category that does not have a keyboard shortcut assigned, add a category using a shortcut then open the message and right-click in the category area above the subject field.
Choose the category from the list before removing existing categories from the message.
In most cases, the category name will “stick” and sync to other computers running Outlook. However, colors are per message store so each computer will have it’s own list of colors. How to Upgrade to Color Categories has instructions on how to quickly add categories to your master category list.
Outlook 2013 with only the IMAP data file
The instructions above are for IMAP accounts in Outlook 2010 and below, or when you have a pst file in a profile with an IMAP account in Outlook 2013. When you don’t have a pst in your profile (and are using the ‘this computer only’ folder for Calendar and Contacts), you can set up category shortcuts using these steps:
- Open a Contact (new or existing) and click it’s File, Properties button.
- Click on Categories at the bottom then All Categories.
- Set up some categories and assign keyboard shortcuts.
- Close the dialog.
Use the shortcuts to assign categories to email, appointments, and contacts. After you add a category to an item, you can click on the Category InfoBar (see screenshot in previous section above) and select other categories.
Add Category Field to the View
You can customize the Message list view and add the Category field to the view. However, this only allows you to use the quick click category. You can open the message and right click on the category bar to select more categories.
Using Category Shortcuts Video Tutorial
Use VBA to Display Category Options
Paste this into the VB Editor and add it to the toolbar or ribbon. Click the toolbar button to open the Category dialog. Add it to the QAT, ribbon, or toolbar. This works with messages selected in the message list or open message.
Public Sub CategorizeIMAP() Dim sel As Outlook.Selection Set sel = Application.ActiveExplorer.Selection If sel Is Nothing Then Exit Sub End If Dim obj As Object Dim selCats As String Dim gotCats As Boolean For Each obj In sel If Not gotCats Then obj.ShowCategoriesDialog selCats = obj.Categories gotCats = True Else obj.Categories = selCats obj.Save End If Next obj End Sub
This simple code can be added to the QAT, toolbar, or ribbon of a message form. Add the following code to the VB Editor and then add a button to the QAT, Ribbon, or Toolbar of a message form. Click the button to open the Category dialog. This code does not work with messages in the message list.
Public Sub ShowCategoriesDialog() 'by Michael Bauer 'http://www.vboffice.net/en/developers/assign-email-categories-before-sending Dim Mail As Object Set Mail = Application.ActiveInspector.CurrentItem Mail.ShowCategoriesDialog End Sub
How to use macros
First: You will need macro security set to low during testing.
To check your macro security in Outlook 2010 or 2013, go to File, Options, Trust Center and open Trust Center Settings, and change the Macro Settings. In Outlook 2007 and older, it’s at Tools, Macro Security.
After you test the macro and see that it works, you can either leave macro security set to low or sign the macro.
Open the VBA Editor by pressing Alt+F11 on your keyboard.
To put the code in a module:
- Right click on Project1 and choose Insert > Module
- Copy and paste the macro into the new module.
More information as well as screenshots are at How to use the VBA Editor
Category Manager allows sharing of color categories; it adds a sidebar to the folder view as well as opened items, in which you can group your categories and assign them lightning fast; and it adds a reminder, which optionally prompts you if you forget to assign a category. Version 3
CategorieZ adds a sidebar to Outlook allowing instant access to your categories. Select a contact and instantly see the categories assigned, need to make changes, easy just use the checkboxes. Set filters to show only the items in specific categories.
Categorize Plus enables users to categorize and search Outlook items using a selectable menu hierarchy. Categorize Plus also allows user to automatically process emails by creating Category Actions. In addition, Categorize Plus will automatically assign categories to items as they arrive in your Inbox or any other folder that you choose. Categorize Plus also includes a dock-able Category Editor that is used to quickly edit item categories and commands to copy/paste categories and to undo/redo categorizations. Available in both Free and Paid versions and works with Outlook 2003/2007/2010.