How to Save Your Sanity with a Unified Inbox for Outlook 2013

Many of us today have multiple email accounts, in fact, I’d be willing to bet that if you are reading this now, you have at least two that you use on a regular basis. Personally, I have at least six I keep track of daily.

Outlook 2013 is great at managing multiple email accounts, and adding them is a breeze as well, but once you add a few inboxes, seeing what is in all of them at once is basically impossible. You must click on each individual inbox to see what is going on in each. This can be a real pain and limit the productivity of someone like me that gets daily email in all of my inboxes.

Hope is not lost, however. With the robust Rules feature in Outlook 2013, you can create a unified inbox that not only shows all of your messages in one clean and tidy place, but also organizes them so you know what email came from where just by glancing at it. This setup helped me re-gain some sanity and organization and it can do the same for you.

The Unified Inbox Folder

The first step is to create the folder you will use for your unified inbox. In Outlook 2013, folders can only live inside of email accounts, so we must create the folder in one of your existing accounts. Don’t worry about where it lives, we will create a shortcut for easy access when we are all done. Just right-click on the account you will use and select New Folder.
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Next, name the folder something unique. For mine, I chose “Unified Inbox.” After the folder is created move on to setting up the rules.

The Rules

    • On the Home tab of the Outlook 2013 Ribbon, click the Rules drop down and select Manage Rules and Alerts.

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    • This will bring up the Rules and Alerts menu. Click the New Rule button to get started with our first account.

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The next few steps are important, and there are a lot of similar options available. Make sure you take the time to verify you’re choosing the correct ones. Outlook 2013 uses a very simple to understand wizard to walk you through these steps, so pay attention and it should be smooth sailing.

    • In the first step of the Outlook 2013 Rules Wizard, select Apply rule on messages I receive from the Start a blank rule section. Click Next to continue.

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    • The next screen shows a LOT of choices. You want the option shown in the screen shot below. In the Step 1 box, check ONLY the box next to through the specified account. (On this computer only will be selected by default, this is OK.)

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    • Once you check this, you need to give the wizard a little more information in the Step 2 box. Click the blue underlined specified item to fill in the necessary information.

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    • Clicking the link lets you choose the account to tie this rule to. Just select the first account out of the list that appears, since you need to do this for every account being unified.

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    • If you’re good to go with this step, click Next to continue. On the next page of the wizard choose what you will do to the emails from this account. Only check the move it to the specified folder item.
    • Clicking this box will give you another specified item to fill in. Click the link and select the folder you will be using for your Unified Inbox.

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    • Click the OK button to select the folder. From here, select the assign it to the category item. Go down to Step 2 and click the category link. We will be assigning a different category to each email account in Outlook 2013 so you can easily tell them apart in your inbox.

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    • When you are all done here, click OK then Finish to end the wizard. A warning should appear letting you know that this rule will only run when Outlook 2013 is running. This is OK, so click to continue.

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  • Click the OK button in the Rules and Alerts window, and your rule should be all set up. Your rule is now up and running. All emails that come to the account you chose will go directly into the new folder you created.

Repeat steps 3-11 for each account you have running through Outlook 2013. This needs done for each account you wish to deliver mail into the Unified Inbox.

When you’re all done adding accounts to the unified inbox, you should have as many rules as you do accounts. Now, here comes the organizational part. Since you added a category for each account in the Outlook 2013 rules wizard, your email will now automatically display that color when they show up in your new Unified inbox. When you reply to each email from your new Unified Inbox, your reply From address will automatically be selected for the correct email account.

Add Inbox to Favorites

The last step here is to add the Unified Inbox folder to the Favorites section of Outlook 2013. This gives you one-click access to your new inbox. Click and drag the folder from the account you created it in into the Favorites section above the accounts pane.

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Once the Unified Inbox folder is in the Outlook 2013 favorites section, you’re all set! Thanks to the Rules Wizard, setting this up in Outlook 2013 is far easier than in past versions.

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