Unified Inbox in Outlook: The Complete Guide

Unified Inbox for Outlook

While popular email clients like Mailbird include the ability to add individual account inboxes to a “unified” inbox – many, like Microsoft Outlook, do not make this easy.

If you manage multiple email accounts, then you know how tedious it can be to be forced to switch from inbox to inbox in order to check each one.

To help out, we’ve gathered a couple of the best ways MS Outlook users can set up a unified inbox – or as close to one as Outlook will allow.

 

Outlook Unified Inbox Method 1: Search Folders

Skill Level – Beginner

 

The simplest method for getting a unified inbox in your Microsoft Outlook client is by using it’s search. Although this method is easy, there is unfortunately no way to save your search – requiring you to perform a search every time you need it. If you check your recent searches from the “Search” menu, you may be able to select it. However, if you are searching alot you may not be able to find it every time.

  1. Type the following in the search box: folder: (Inbox) received: (this week)
  2. Press Ctr+Alt+A to or click All Mailboxes button (Outlook 2013) or All Mail Folders (Outlook 2010).
  3. Hit enter and you should see your Unified inbox for all mails received this week.

You may notice a “Search Folder” option in the “Folder” pane. However, this only lets you create search folders using data from individual accounts – Not something we can use to make a full Outlook unified inbox with.

 

Email client worth downloading -end of blogpost

 

Outlook Unified Inbox Method 2: Rules

Skill Level – Intermediate

 

First, we will create a folder for your Unified Inbox (don’t worry where, or in which account you create it).

Creating a new folder for a Unified Inbox
image source: scrubly

Right-click on the account you will use and select New Folder.

Next, name the folder “Unified Inbox.” Next, we create the rules for the folder.

THE RULES

  • On the Home tab of the Outlook Ribbon, click the Rules drop down and select Manage Rules and Alerts.
Creating a rule for a Unified Inbox
image source: scrubly
  • This will bring up the Rules and Alerts menu. Click the New Rule button to begin creating a rule on your first account.
selecting a new rule for a Unified Inbox
image source: scrubly

 

The next few steps get a little complicated.

Outlook has alot of options for creating rules and things can get confusing if you are new to them.

  • In the first step of the Microsoft Outlook Rules Wizard, select Apply rule on messages I receive from the Start a blank rule section.
  • Click Next to continue.
step one for creating a rule for a Unified Inbox
image source: scrubly
  • The next screen has a bunch of options, but don’t worry. All we need to do here is indicate you want this rule to trigger for any message through the account.
  • In the Step 1 box, check ONLY the box next to through the specified account.
third step for a Unified Inbox
image source: scrubly
  • In the Step 2 box, click the blue underlined specified item.
selecting an account for a Unified Inbox
image source: scrubly
  • You will be presented with a drop down. These are your email accounts. To make things as clear as possible, select the one you created the Unified Inbox folder in. It’s possible this will select the account you created the Unified Inbox folder in by default. That’s fine.
  • Click OK after highlighting the account, and then click Next.
clicking an account for a Unified Inbox in Outlook
image source: scrubly
  • On the next page, you will indicate what to do with any (all) messages that match the criteria you set in step 1. 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 your newly-created Unified Inbox folder.
  • Once you’ve selected the Unified Inbox folder, click OK
choosing destination for a Unified Inbox in Outlook
image source: scrubly
  • Next, 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 Microsoft Outlook so you can easily tell them apart in your Unified Inbox.
  • Once you’ve selected a category (or created a new one), click OK.
  • Then, click Finish
category for a Unified Inbox in Outlook
image source: scrubly
  • After clicking Finish, a warning should appear letting you know that this rule will only run when Outlook 2013 is running. Click OK.
Unified Inbox in Outlook Warning
image source: scrubly

Repeat steps 3-11 for each account you want included in your Unified Inbox in Outlook.

The reason being is you need to create a new rule for each account to send it’s messages (with it’s account category applied) to your new Unified Inbox folder.

 

ADD INBOX TO FAVORITES

To add the Unified Inbox folder to the Favorites section of Outlook, click and drag the folder from the account you created it in into the Favorites section above the accounts pane.

adding a Unified Inbox in Outlook to favorites
image source: scrubly

 

A Quick Note on Rules

You may have to adjust any existing rules or copy them to your new folder. If you want a rule to run before the message is sent to your unified inbox folder:

  • Click File
  • Select the account who’s rules you want to manage from the dropdown
  • Click Rules and Alerts
  • Highlight the rule/s you want to run before sending messages to the Unified Inbox
  • Use the arrow keys from the menu ribbon to move the rule/s above the one moving messages to the Unified Inbox
  • Repeat for any other account that has rules you wish to change.

 

Email client worth downloading -end of blogpost

 

Outlook Unified Inbox Method 3: Visual Basic Macro

Skill Level – Advanced

 

If you are a bit more advanced, you can Microsoft’s Visual Basic scripting language within Outlook to create something similar to a Unified Inbox.

In fact, all this macro does is run the search from Method 1 outlined above – in one click.

The downside is that it still needs to be run every time you open the client.

The upside is that it offers unique customization options including the ability to choose exactly what you want included in the Unified Inbox view by adjusting and adding more queries.

Before setting the macro up:

  1. Select “File” > “Options“.
  2. Select “Trust Center” on the left pane, then select the “Trust Center Settings…” button.
  3. Select “Macro Settings” on the left pane, then the desired setting. …
  4. Click “OK“, then close and re-open Outlook for the setting to take effect.

Once your Outlook has restarted, continue setting up your new Macro:

  1. Press Alt+F11 to open the VBA editor
  2. Expand Project1
  3. Expand Microsoft Outlook Objects
  4. Doubleclick “ThisOutlookSession”
  5. Paste the following code into the window:

The code for a UNIFIED INBOX:

Sub UnifiedInbox()
Dim myOlApp As New Outlook.Application
txtSearch = "folder:Inbox received: (this week)"
myOlApp.ActiveExplorer.Search txtSearch, olSearchScopeAllFolders
Set myOlApp = Nothing
End Sub

The code for a UNIFIED SENT BOX:

Sub UnifiedSentbox()
Dim myOlApp As New Outlook.Application
txtSearch = "folder: (Sent Mail) sent: (this week)"
myOlApp.ActiveExplorer.Search txtSearch, olSearchScopeAllFolders
Set myOlApp = Nothing
End Sub

 

You can also change the scope of the Macro by using these search scopes:

Scope Description
olSearchScopeCurrentFolder Limit the search to the currently selected folder.
olSearchScopeSubfolders Limit the search to the currently selected folder and its subfolders. To search all folders in one data file, select the top level of the pst.
olSearchScopeAllFolders Search all folders (of the current folder type). This search includes all data stores that are enabled for search.
olSearchScopeAllOutlookItems Search all Outlook items in all folders in stores that are enabled for search.

Note: In Outlook 2007, you are limited to olSearchScopeAllFolders andolSearchScopeCurrentFolder

Tagged as , ,

  • Jonn Ross

    I followed your steps exactly for Method 2 and it is not working. It did not alert me that Outlook is running when I clicked Finish. I’m assuming this works for Outlook 2016 since everything was exactly the same as you presented it here.

  • But this will move all incoming mail to one account not just display it in a common folder. Strange thing is that the Outlook version for Android does a perfect common inbox folder without even being asked.

  • chase

    I setup method #2 and everything works great! Is there a way to update the status (read/unread) of an email in the original inbox folders? If I read the email in Unified Folder it would help for it to be marked as read in the original Inbox too. This would help greatly with IMAP accounts that are being accessed on other devices (iPhone) to keep everything synced. If not, is there a way to sync my email on my iPhone to the Unified folder?

    • Todd

      Why not just create rule to move e-mail address #2 into e-mail address 1’s inbox? So simple.

  • Further to my comment below I have now changed all my Android and iPad devices to use the Microsoft Outlook App and I am finding that I cannot fault it at all. Especially the common inbox which works with my collection of accounts. (Outlook.com, gmail x 3 and one yahoo.co.uk).
    My only complaint is that the Windows version of Outlook does not give the same facility.
    Is there a better windows mail client?

  • alxdean

    Love the ideas on this page. I figured out a one click solution using search based on the tips in this article.
    execute your search for folder:Inbox received: (this week)
    then open the Search Tools Tab in the ribbon
    click onto recent searches
    right click onto one of the drop down items and chose “Add Gallery to Quick Access Toolbar”
    That will pop up an instant icon right up top in the blue bar next to the sync button.
    next time, just execute your favourite search from that icon after you start up. quick and no need to move emails around

    • Roger Ross

      Your approach sounds very efficient so I tried it. I go through the steps in method one and then try to re-execute the search using the Recent Search option. It preserves the Inbox and recevied this week designations but I have not found a way to have it preserve the All mailboxes and Unread aspects of the search. Is there a step I am missing?

      • alxdean

        I also found that it ignores the unread filter 🙁 but it did search all mailboxes for me

  • Tobias Carlén

    In Outlook 2011 for Mac the unified Inbox works as expected – I have not been able to create a unified view in Oútlook 2016, just found many ways to copy mail to a new folder – this is not the same thing: Sometimes you need to work in the separate mailboxes, sometimes you want the unified view. If you read an email, it should be marked as read everywhere etc. I don’t want a copy, I want a real view.

    I have found only one solution: downgrading outlook, so I did. I sometimes use Outlook 2016, bu this is such a serious flaw that it’s never going to be my main email client.

  • Aaron Wallentine

    Offered in the spirit of feedback trying to helpful: seems like your content editor is confusing “it’s” (“it is”) with “its” (possessive of ‘it’).

    Example (of correct use): “The reason being is you need to create a new rule for each account to
    send _its_ messages (with _its_ account category applied) to your new
    Unified Inbox folder.”

    I’ve found this on many pages on your site.

    I know, it’s counterintuitive, because otherwise, possessives are a correct use of apostrophes … but in the case of “it’s”, it always means “it is”, so the possessive doesn’t have an apostrophe … an exception to that rule.