Outlook installs with a Master Category List that contains 20 items. You can customize these items by adding or deleting categories. You can also reset the Master Category List to its default list of categories. After you customize the Master Category List, all categories are stored in the Windows Registry. The exact location for Category information in the Registry is HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Outlook\Categories.
When assigning a category to an Outlook item, you can choose from any of the 20 default categories or type in your own custom category name in the Categories dialog box (see Figure 7.3).
Figure 7.3. This dialog enables you to assign categories to an item and view your Master Category List.
You can customize the Master Category List to add or remove items to best suit your needs.
Customizing Your Master Category List
Although Outlook comes with 20 default categories, you'll likely want to add some of your own categories and remove some of Outlook's default categories. For example, if you're in sales, one of the things you might want to do for your clients is send holiday cards. But, there are many types of holiday cards. Some of your clients might be Jewish. Sending those clients a Christmas card probably isn't going to win you any new business. So, using the default category of Holiday Cards won't be very helpful. If this is the case, delete the Holiday Cards category and create new categories. You might want a category for Christmas cards, one for Hanukkah cards, and one for Kwanzaa cards. This way, you can be sure to send the appropriate cards to your clients.
Before you start modifying your Master Category List, take some time to sketch out the different categories you need. You might want to create a category for each major project you're working on. You might want a category for each department at work or a category for friends and family. You can customize the Master Category List to best suit your needs by adding or removing categories. To access the Master Category List, click Edit, Categories to display the figure previously shown in Figure 7.3.
From this window, click the Master Categories List button to display Figure 7.4. Type your new category in the New Category field and click the Add button. Your new category will appear in the list in alphabetical order.
Figure 7.4. You can add and remove categories using the Master Category List.
To remove a category, select the category from the Master Category List and click the Delete button. Outlook won't ask you to confirm the deletion, so be sure to use the delete button only when you're sure that you want to delete a category. Removing a category from the Master Category List won't affect any Outlook items currently assigned to that category; those items will still have that category assigned to them. However, you won't be able to assign new items to a deleted category using the Master Category List.
Editing Existing Categories
After you've added a category to the Master Category List, you cannot edit that category. If you misspell a category name, there's no way to correct that misspelling. You have to delete the erroneous category and add a new one. This has several ramifications. If you've already assigned items to the misspelled category, those items will remain assigned to the misspelled category. You'll need to edit those items directly to change their category after you've deleted the wrong category and added the correct one.
If you encounter this problem, a good way to figure out which items have the misspelled category is to use Outlook's Advanced Find tool to search your entire mailbox for items with the misspelled category.
Organizing Your Master Category List
Your Master Category List is displayed in alphabetical order. This is helpful when you want to find categories, but not particularly helpful if you want to prioritize categories. For instance, you might want to create a category for all correspondence from your family, another for friends, and still another for general work items. You might also have a category for each of four major projects: Adirondack Restoration, Financial Planning, Molten Steel Processing, and Southern Air Quality Improvement. If you organized your inbox by category, you would end up with the following alphabetized list:
But, that might not be the order in which you want your items to appear. One trick to organizing your Master Category List is to alter the names of your categories in order to arrange them in the right order. You could name your categories in the following way:
You can use any naming convention you would like for your categories. Because you can't change the name of the category after you create it, you might not want to number all of your categories. You might, instead, want to only number one or two of the categories and leave the rest in alphabetical order. For example, keep 1_Family and 2_Friends, but then leave the rest of the categories without numbers. This enables you to add other categories later without having to edit all the items with 3_Southern Air Quality Management category when the project comes to a close.
This method of naming categories enables you to prioritize your categories, regardless of their names. If numbers don't work for you, use letters. You can easily start your category names with A, B, and C, instead of 1, 2, and 3. Figure 7.5 shows a typical Inbox view with the preceding category assignments.
Figure 7.5. An Inbox view sorted by Category.
Resetting the Master Category List
It's possible to get a little carried away customizing your Master Category List. If your Master Category List has grown out of control, you can reset the Master Category List back to factory settings. You'll lose all your custom categories in the Master Category List; however, the items that are assigned those custom categories will retain them.
To reset the Master Category List, click Edit, Categories. Click the Master Category List button and then click the Reset button. Outlook will ask you to confirm that you want to reset the Master Category List.
When you customize your Master Category List, Outlook stores that information in the Windows Registry. Customizations to the Master Category List are user-specific, so each user has her own entry in the Registry for her customized Master Category List.
Sharing the Master Category List
There is no built-in, easy way to share your Master Category List, but there are steps you can take to export your Category List and import it on another computer. There are several reasons for doing this. If you have multiple computers, you might want the same categories on all machines. If you have a lot of custom categories, typing them over again can be time-consuming. It's also possible to type the same category in two different ways. You can end up with a category on one machine named Contractors Plumbing and another category on a second machine named Contractors:Plumbing. This could cause problems when viewing items by category.
To copy a Master Category List from one computer to another, use the following steps:
Transfer the file to another computer and double-click the file to import the key into the Registry. The existing Master Category List will be deleted on that machine and replaced by the imported key.
It's possible to assign categories to an item that aren't listed in the Master Category List. Those categories won't be exported in the Registry key. Categories are stored in the Registry only if they're in the Master Category List.
Sharing the Master Category List in the manner described previously does work well and is fairly simple. However, there is one major drawback to this method. All items in the destination machine's Master Category List will be deleted. If you have a highly customized Master Category List and you want to import your company's business categories without losing your customizations, use the following steps:
This method enables you to add custom categories to your Master Category List without losing any of your previous customizations.