Updated February 17, 2013
Working with the Unread Mail Folder
The Unread Mail Search folder (usually just referred to as Unread Mail or the Unread Mail folder) is one of the cooler features Microsoft added to Outlook when they released Outlook 2003. It has persisted in basically the same form right up to Outlook 2010.
When you click the Unread Mail folder icon, Outlook 2010 conducts a search of all the mail folders in your Inbox, looking for any messages that are marked as “Unread.” It displays all of these messages, regardless of which folder they are in, as if the messages were in the Unread Mail folder.
How the Unread Mail Folder Helps You
This is a very good thing, and here’s why. Outlook allows you to create rules that move messages into folders other than the Inbox. This happens as soon as the messages arrive, and before you read them. That’s great because it lets you organize your mail into different folders until you are ready to deal with it.
Think about it. If you are working on Project XYZ right now, do you really want to have to read a message about Project ABC just to get it out of the way? Rules allow you to have Outlook put all of Project XYZ’s mail in one folder and Project ABC’s in another, so you can concentrate on one thing at a time.
I like to use rules to separate business and personal messages. The work-related ones stay in the Inbox, while messages from friends and relatives all get moved to their own folders when they arrive. This way I can see the work-related messages (which are typically more urgent) right away, with all the personal stuff safely stashed out of sight until I have time for it.
This brings us back to search folders. Sometimes you will just want to see the messages you haven’t read yet, regardless of which project they are related to. But if Outlook is putting everything into folders for you automatically, you don’t have an easy way to find all the unread messages. You would have to create a search that goes through all the folders looking for unread messages.
Or you could use the Unread Mail folder. This search is exactly what the Unread Mail folder does for you. But instead of you having to create the search each time you need it, you can click the Unread Mail folder icon to do that search instantly.
To give you even quicker access, you can drag the Unread Mail folder from the “Search Folders” folder (yes, the terminology for this is clumsy) into the Favorites section of the Navigation Pane. Now finding all the unread messages is just a quick, one-click process.
Wait! Where did my Unread Mail folder go?
So the Unread Mail folder helps you find the messages you need to deal with quickly and easily. This is a very useful, time-saving feature. Except, of course, if you can’t find your Unread Mail folder! Now I know the idea that you can’t find the folder that helps you find all the stuff in other folders that you haven’t read yet seems crazy.
But sometimes this important folder just goes missing. No one seems to know why, and I believe that there are a few different things that cause this. Regardless of why it happens, I’m constantly getting messages from my site visitors or students saying that they do not have an Unread Mail folder. It isn’t in their “Search Folders” folder. And it isn’t in the “Favorites” section of the Navigation Pane. It is just missing.
By the time they get around to writing to me about it, people are usually pretty upset that they can’t find the darn folder. But fortunately for everyone involved, there’s an easy solution to the problem. I show them how to make a new Unread Mail folder. Would you like to learn how too?
One more thing before we do this. Do you have multiple email account all coming into Outlook 2010? Do any of them have their own set of folders (their own Inbox etc. that is separate from the main Outlook Inbox)? Then you will want to create an Unread Mail folder for each of those sets of folders.
For example, I have my main email account coming into the main Outlook Inbox. I also have a Gmail account that has its own set of folders and an GMX Mail account with it’s own set of folders. The default search folders only look at the default mail folders, so I don’t see mail from the Gmail and GMX mail accounts in the default Unread Mail folder.
The solution is to create one Unread folder for each account. When we get to the proper point in the following procedure, I will tell you how to customize a search folder to handle each of your email accounts.