Use Smart Folder to view Unread only

If you are having trouble seeing the difference between read and unread messages in Outlook you aren’t alone. This was one of the hot topics on the forums this week.

You could assign a category using a rule to all incoming messages to color unread messages, but you would have to manually remove the category. Not a good option for busy users. I suggest using 1) a Smart Folder for Unread only (Entourage called these custom views) or 2) use the Filter in the Ribbon to show Unread.

How to create a Smart Folder for Unread only.

  1. In the upper-right corner of the Outlook window, click in the search box

    The Search tab appears.
  2. Define the scope of the search by clicking on Folder on the Search tab.
  3. On the Search tab, click Advanced, then select Read Status – Is – Unread. On the Search tab. click Save. Name the folder Unread only.
  4. The Smart Folder appears in the navigation pane.

Are you missing the Favorites Bar from Entourage about now so you can have easy access to this folder? I am too!

Another option if you are using Reading Pane on Right is to select Arrange by Status. The drawback to this option is if you try to customize the view, unread only is not an option in the Sort tabs. You can set to show Collapsed or Expanded.

If you use Reading Pane Below, you can select the status icon to sort.

If this is a feature that you  would like to see improved, be sure to let Microsoft know by sending them feedback in Outlook’s Help menu. Be sure to add you would like to see the Favorites bar back too!

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12 comments to Use Smart Folder to view Unread only

  • Dennis

    Hi Diane,

    I’m sorry to report that I followed your example to the letter, but Smart Folders do not work at all. I’ve just started using Outlook 2011 with a supported Exchange server, but Smart Folders just don’t show anything. The default ones don’t, the one from your example above don’t and several ones I tried myself, don’t work either… By following your example, I know I’m not doing anything wrong (I have a tech background). Are there any prerequisites for this to work (I should certainly hope not)?

    Thanks in advance,


    • We’ve seen some strange issues where tasks, events and contacts weren’t showing up. It’s tied to Spotlight. Some users were able to reset Spotlight and other restarted several times and the problem just went away. I suspect something is not getting flushed out and Spotlight isn’t updating the file.

      Open System Preferences and click the Spotlight button. Select the Privacy tab and add your hard drive to the list of drives to exclude from Spotlight searches. Wait about five minutes and then remove your hard drive from the list. Spotlight will then re-index the drive. Let us know if this works.

      • Bud

        Diane – Thank you so much for this answer. I recently restored my boot drive from backup and Outlook smart searches would no longer show any results. I had no idea tha Outlook searches were driven by Spotlight so I would never have thought to examine Spotlight to solve this problem. It turned out that my boot drive’s name was in the Spotlight exclude list and so no mail was found in any search. As soon as I removed it and let Spotlight re-index, all was well.

  • David

    There are of number of flaws with the unread mail smart folder. For one, you have to exclude the Junk E-mail (both on the Exchange server and the local folder) as well as Deleted Items from the search. Furthermore, when you start a new email, this smart folder picks it up from the Drafts folder. We need to Unread mail search folder from Outlook 2010 for Windows.

  • K

    I’m happy to finally have Outlook, but I’m very disappointed with the smart folders and folders in Outlook:

    1. I created an “unread” smart folder, but it only picks up items in the Inbox and not subfolders within the inbox.
    2. Other smart folders do not work. I created one to collect all e-mail containing a word, and it did not work. Outlook for windows will pick up a word wherever it is: sender’s address, body, subject, etc.
    3. I cannot add proper multiple criteria to a smart folder. They seem to be “AND” and not “OR” which means that I can’t search for “cat” OR “dog” but only “cat” AND “dog.” If I want to separate them I need a separate smart folder each for “cat” and then “dog.”
    4. My Smartfolder doesn’t even collect items from a specific account. It’s easy to select that as a criteria, but then it doesn’t collect them. They simply aren’t there.

    I’m not sure what is the point of smartfolders when they don’t work! I bet that is why the are located at the bottom. If they worked, they’d be at the top and convenient. They are probably hidden because they are lousy.

  • Francisco


    I also very dissapointed with this version of Office. We can read in many tutorials that the smart folders are awsome but they don’t work at all. I am trying to use the ones that filter the flagged mail (they were already created) and they don’t work at all.

    Can anyone help me with this please?

    Thank you

    • We are seeing features not work when there is database corruption. Try exporting your messages as .olm and import the file into a new Identity. No need to setup accounts to test. Does smart folder for flagged work? If yes, try rebuilding your database. If rebuilding does not fix, then you’ll need to export the remainder of your items as .olm and move to the new Identity.

      If it doesn’t work, testing in a new User would be the next step.

      Go to System Preferences –> Create a New User in Accounts. Switch to the New User by logging out/in or use Fast User Switching. Test Office there.

  • Francisco


    The smart folder for flagged doesn’t work. I will try to export/import the messages and see if it works.

    Thank you

  • Barbara

    I just installed 2011 and also found the colors in Outlook to be a great annoyance in determining Read/Unread mail. Prior to converting, I already had a variety of Rules designed in Entourage. I was finally able to solve this problem by changing all of my “Categories” to black. This was the fastest/easiest fix that I could determine and it’s working great. My unread email now shows as black/bold and read email as black.

  • chris

    The new colors to note unread and read mail is terrible. As a colorblind user, it’s even more difficult!