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That one time Outlook’s Conversation mode works

Last updated on maart 25, 2020

Time to read 2 minutes

When you first start to use Outlook (or, it will start in Conversation mode. Conversation mode bundlews all emails surrounding one topic, mostly based on the subject line. But I hate it. Why would you want to see conversations? However, there is one time this mode really works brilliantly.

The one time conversation mode works is when you return from holiday. I keep my inbox very tidy – when I’m doing my administration (just an hour a day) it’s empty when I finish. Obviously, when you haven’t looked at your emails for three weeks, things could be problematic when going through your mailbox. Especially when you’re used to going through your items one by one. Here’s what I do when I return from a holiday.

Screenshots come from

A conversation includes all messages in the same thread with the same subject line. 


Using Conversation Mode to sweep your inbox

1. The Setup

I switch on Conversation Mode from the View tab.
Enable Conversation ModeOutlook will ask you to apply this to either the folder you currently have in your screen or all folders. I typically choose ‘This Folder’ (meaning my Inbox). Your inbox transforms into this:
Emails in Conversation Mode
Emails are now grouped by subject line. If it is not a singular email, it will show a clickable arrow in front of the email.

Notice 2 things:

  • Conversation mode includes your own sent items or mails from other folders! It will show the folder where you’ve stored the email.
  • It will show the latest item on top.

2. Read everything first before setting up tasks

Whilst I usually make a point of quickly transforming emails into tasks, I make sure I read everything first. This is because Microsoft’s Conversation mode groups item by subject line. Handy of course. Until a colleague decides to continue the very same topic with a different subject line: a different conversation! So instead I take notes of possible actions or questions I may have regarding that topic.

3. Archive items while reading

When I have read an item, I ask myself: do I have questions? Should I develop a next step? Is the answer no, then I archive the item – even if it’s in a conversation – straight away. The item I’m archiving, has to come from my inbox though. Outlook helps you with that, by showing the folder your mail is in:

Mail Folders in Conversation Mode

You can however change this setting. You can not show items from other folders when you change the setting in the View tab:

Conversation Settings

4. Switching back

Do not forget to switch back after you’re done with sifting through your inbox.

So, that’s how I do it. How do you go about your emails when you return from a holiday?

Published inOrganizing Home & Work

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