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Hotmail Instant Actions: quickly sort Outlook.com messages

Outlook.com instant actions with custom buttons! Outlook.com lets you create up to five custom buttons to quickly file messages, mostly designed for your inbox, although they work in any email folder. By default, three built-in instant actions are enabled: mark message as Read/Unread, delete message, and flag message (see screenshot). But you can remove these and replace them with up five actions of your own! At the bottom of the screenshot, our own setup with three custom "move to folder" buttons and automatically mark the message as read. You can also completely turn off instant actions if you don't want them in your account. But, used along with your spam settings, blocked senders, and email rules (aka mail filters), they allow you to very efficiently manage the never-ending flow of new messages!

Tip - a powerful feature you should learn to master is "email categories", which automatically filter certain types of messages: shipping updates with tracking numbers, social media updates (Facebook, Twitter...), newsletters, etc. And you can even create your own categories!

Quick Steps to setup instant actions in Outlook.com:

  1. 1 From your inbox, click on the gear icon (top right) and choose "Options"
  2. 2 Click Instant actions and the next page (last link).
  3. 3 Select an action type from the Add actions dropdown.
  4. 4 Customize its setting, icon color, or destination folder.
  5. 5 Repeat as needed, and click Save.

Manage your instant actions

Configure Hotmail / Outlook.com account settings Once you've signed into your account, click on the Settings button (gear icon in top right corner), and choose "Options". On the next page, click "Instant actions": it's the last link under the last section on the right.

Disable instant actions

The first setting is enabled (checked) by default, and lets you choose whether you want to use instant actions or not. If you uncheck the "Show instant actions" checkbox, no action buttons will be visible any longer. Here's what your email folders' message listing looks like with instant actions disabled: Instant actions disabled in your Hotmail account

Customize your actions

The instant action listing is a bit confusing at first, so here's the breakdown: under the "Show always" header are actions that will be not only enabled, but visible at all times. The buttons of actions listed under "Show on mouse over" will be hidden until you move your cursor above a message in the folder listing. Here's an example of the default setting - notice how the Mark as read/unread and Delete buttons only show up in the row when the mouse hovers above the email this screenshot: Default action buttons in your Outlook.com account

Note: the green shield is not an action button. It denotes official messages sent from Microsoft / the Outlook.com Team and other verified entities (like PayPal, eBay, financial institutions, etc.) This helps you distinguish genuine emails from phishing attempts (spammers using a spoofed email impersonating a reputable company to steal your password and other account information.)

Show or hide action buttons To make an action visible only when the mouse hovers above the message, click on the action in the listing, and use the "Move up" link to place it under the "Show on mouse over" header. Conversely, click the "Move down" link to place an action under the "Show always" header. The top-to-bottom order in the action listing controls the left-to-right display order in your inbox. (First one is leftmost.)

To delete an action, click on the action to select it, then click on the "Remove from list" link: note that none of the core actions are really "deleted" - you can always re-add them later by clicking on the "Add actions" dropdown, and selecting them from that menu.

Create a custom instant action

Click on the "Add actions" dropdown - aside from the 3 default actions (mark as read/unread, delete [message], and flag/unflag), there are five different types of actions you can create:

Caveat: instant actions are displayed in the message listing, where space is limited. You can only have a maximum of five actions at a time. (You'll get the "Oh, there's not enough room for another instant action. So to add a new instant action, please remove one first" error message otherwise.) Remember that you don't have to keep the default actions if you don't use them.
Tip: as you add or remove actions, the mock preview at the bottom is updated in real time. Moving actions up or down is also reflected as you do it. Notice that the first sample email shows your action buttons as they appear when the mouse hovers above that message.

When you are done, click on the Save button at the bottom of the page. Click on the Outlook.com logo in the top left corner to return to your inbox: your new action buttons are now visible in the listing!

What's the best fit for instant actions?

Custom instant actions for my Hotmail account Because you are limited to at most five instant actions, below are a few points that may help you choose how to leverage that feature: think of what you do most often - in my case, I regularly flag messages, delete them, and move them to mostly three folders. These are the instant actions I've setup (rightmost folders = most commonly used).

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