Cleaning Up Outlook’s Flagged-Mail Tasks

Dec 30, 2010

If you have hundreds of tasks in your task list, and you don’t know why, here’s an explanation—and a new way to fix it.

Adding a flag to a mail item in Outlook 2007/10 or 2011 creates a task-like entry called a flagged-mail task in your task list. A somewhat unfortunate side effect of this is that if you have used flags on mail in the past, and then more recently decided to start using the task system, your task system will appear overloaded with these. These accumulate even if the mail is stored away in older folders, even from years ago.

Clearly this is not something you want, given how old these items are, and if you have a lot of them it can make the task list almost unusable. So you will want to clean this up by clearing those flags.

You can clear these one at a time just by clicking each flag. Or you can SHIFT-select a number of the messages in the task list at once, right-click the flag, and choose Clear Flag (in Windows if you select more than one, the right-click choice will be Clear Flag/Delete Task—it leads to the same outcome). This operation preserves the original mail and removes the item from the task list, so it is just what you want. If the old mail still has meaning to you, consider applying a color category to that mail as a way to mark it for later search.

If you have hundreds of these scattered among hundreds of real tasks, then scrolling and selecting these can be hard to do. So better is to group all the flagged-mail tasks together and clear the flag on all of them at once, in bulk. In the 2nd. Edition of my Outlook book, I showed one way to clean those up. Here is another way that is a bit easier and more universally applicable. It also works with Outlook Mac 2011. This will appear in the book’s 3rd. edition, due out in early 2011.

How to Do a Bulk Flagged-Mail Task Cleanup:

  1. Go to your Tasks folder. Once there, Windows users be sure the To-Do List folder is selected in the upper left of the Navigation Pane.
  2. At the top of the list view, click the header of the Item Type Icon column; it’s usually the column at the far left. On Windows its symbol looks like a dog-eared document; on the Mac it looks like a tiny i inside a circle. Again, click that symbol in the header at the top of the column—this sorts all items on that column.
  3. Scroll the task list to find the top of the icons that look like an envelope and then use the SHIFT key to select all these (select the top item, scroll to the bottom item, press and hold the SHIFT key, then click the bottom item). You’ve just selected all your flagged-mail tasks. If you were flagging e-mail recently to indicate tasks, then leave unselected any new flagged tasks you may have created on purpose.
  4. Then, Windows users, right-click the flag column on any one of them, and choose Clear Flag/Delete Task from the shortcut menu. Mac users, find the Follow Up flag button in the Home tab of the Ribbon menu, click the small down arrow at its right, and choose Clear Flag from the shortcut menu.

Those steps will clear out your old unwanted flagged-mail tasks from you task lists, but will retain the original e-mail. It will also remove the flags from all those mail items in whatever mail folder they are stored in.

Windows users who upgraded from Outlook 2003 will most-likely find that all that mail has a corresponding color category still assigned. Decide if you want to remove that as well.

And speaking of categories, if you are afraid of not having your previously flagged mail marked in any way, in step 4 above while you have all that mail selected, consider assigning an Outlook category (like Red) to all that mail so you can still find it easily.

Some cautions: do not simply delete these items using the DELETE key, since that will delete the corresponding e-mails. And do not select any of the true tasks during step 3, as those really will be deleted. And finally, remember, if you have been purposely creating flagged-mail tasks for a while before doing this, do not clear those out.

One other tip. If you would rather not remove all the flags, but just want to filter them out of the To-Do Bar task list, see this post.

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23 Responses to Cleaning Up Outlook’s Flagged-Mail Tasks

  1. Soo-Ik Chang says:

    I am using Outlook 2010 now, and I am starting MYN recently. I cleaned the flagged mail task as you suggested. It works wonderfully. But I realized that I have overloded real tasks with flag. I do not know how I got the flagged real tasks. Please let me know how can I remove flagged real tasks? I really want to start my MYM with a blank task system.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Soo: All real tasks have a flag at the right edge, there is no way to get rid of those flags and they mean nothing. I use them to mark the task complete, that’s all. See page 44 in the Outlook book (3rd ed) for more discussion.

  2. Soo-Ik says:

    Dear Michael, thanks for your kind reply to my comment. I am really enjoying to do MYN now. Soo-Ik

  3. Tilman Grünewald says:

    Dear Michael,

    Here is a question related to how flagged mail shows up in the To-Do Bar of Outlook 2010 (configured for MYN). Since uploading my local pst-file to an external server earlier this week, the behaviour of flagged mail on the To-Do Bar has changed. While flagging mail resulted in a corresponding task appearing in the normal priority section of the To-Do Bar, it will now appear in a fourth, ‘no priority’ section at the very bottom of the To-Do Bar. Is there a way of changing that?
    I realise this has only to do with the topic of your post on a most general level, but if you care to give an answer that would be greatly appreciated.

    With best regards and many thanks,

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      I’ve never heard of that behavior–I’ve never seen a “no priority” value or group. So just to be clear, after moving the pst to a server, a fourth priority group is showing up in your Priority-grouped To-Do Bar task list, and that group is called “no priority”? And that’s where all of your flagged mail tasks are going? Can I assume it is only for flagged mail stored on that cloud-based pst? Or even mail on local pst files? Ost? Anyway, clearly a bug since there is no such thing as no priority on mail or tasks. Maybe try removing and re-adding the pst using the data tab on the accounts screen, just to see what happens. But I am stumped here. I’ve put PSTs on servers before with no issues. Maybe try a different server? Really no idea! Sorry, Michael

      • Tilman Grünewald says:

        Hello Michael,

        Yes, a fourth priority group is showing up in my Priority-grouped To-Do Bar task list, and that group is called “Priority: none” (or rather: “Prioriteit: (geen)”, in Dutch). This happens to flagged mail since I migrated from local pst to Exchange Server.
        For the moment it is not a bug that truly bothers me, as flagged mail is clearly visible in my otherwise empty inbox anyway 🙂 .
        Thank you for responding so quickly!

        With best regards,

  4. david morrison says:

    HI Michael. I started using the flag to follow up on emails that require a response by flagging them. Once flagged, on the start date they show up in my to-do bar, but they show up in the normal priority. Is there a way to have them default to the high priority class? Thanks.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      David, the priority of the flagged mail task maps to the *importance* of the e-mail you flag. So only high importance e-mails go into high priority section when flagged. So no, no way to automatically (default) map normal e-mails into high priority flagged mail tasks. You can of course change the priority of the flagged mail task, after it appears in your task list. Michael

  5. George says:

    How can you clear follow-up flags or mark all mail items as complete in a pst. (outlook 2013)
    My problem is I have several archives that need to be consolidated while retaining the original file structure. some of these PST files have dozens of folders with multiple sub-folders. I need to be able to run a an archive process to a master PST moving ALL e-mails regardless of how they are marked.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      George, to clear flags in a .pst then in Step 1 just select the Tasks folder that corresponds with that pst (instead of selecting To-Do List) and then proceed with the rest of the steps. The way to find the Tasks folder corresponding to the .pst is to examine the My Panes list–it shows the name of the pst to the right of each Tasks folder. Then follow the rest of the steps. Not sure how subfolders will affect this. Let me know hos it goes. Michael

      • Michael Linenberger says:

        George, I just thought about this more, and the original instructions might work better. I think the To-Do List folder collects all tasks across all .pst folders. So follow the original steps first (selecting the To-Do List folder in step 1) and if that does not work for all archives you might have to do these steps for each archive pst separately. Michael

  6. John says:

    I noticed that if I click a flag on an email the email will appear in the task list, but if I right click and remove the flag, the email will continue to appear in the task list (but with a “blank” flag) under “No Date”. So, if I flag an email, then remove/delete the flag, it will list it as no flagged in the task list anyway. This happens with all versions of Outlook that I’ve used. It’s annoying if you don’t want erroneous completed flags on your email lists and if you removed more than one flag in the same conversation email, it’ll show up twice.

    I think for every flag you add to an email, Outlook creates a “task” which is linked to the email, so if you delete the flag in the email, Outlook fails to delete the task. But whatever, MS has refused to improve their products from user feedback for years (evidence being in the forums for major issues raised in the 2007 release are still not fixed in the 2016 releases), but we all give them our money anyway, so whatever.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      John. I don’t have that experience. If I right click and use the Clear Flag command on a flagged mail, it is completely removed from all my task lists. Are you using the Clear Flag command? I am on an Exchange system, are you? I wonder if the server makes a difference.

  7. Sachi says:

    Hi, is there any way NOT to have any flags on my email?

    All these emails that have flags turn red, and they are very hard to read, so it becomes very tiring to search the flagged emails, and I often miss the important emails because of the red color being hard to read… I just don’t want this option, I want my emails to just show ‘read’ or ‘unread’…

  8. Niklas says:

    Thank you for this post. I have 4440 flasg atm. I do remove flags daily but it keep growing. So I hope for a fresh start soon.

  9. Peter says:


    When I drag emails in to the task section for follow ups, how do I get them to stay there when I move the email to a sub folder. The task disappears when I move the email that I moved to the follow up / flag bar.


  10. anthony clarke says:

    I have been using flag emails to organize my tasks in outlook 2011 on my mac for years now as it helps me organize my to do – it has always worked great and as soon as i complete the action i need to do with a flagged email i clear the flag and it disappears from my task list.

    Recently when i have cleared the flag the email will disappear from my task list but reappear a few minutes later with the check mark but will not get off my task list. they disappear on my phone when i look at flagged emails but not on my outlook – now the ones i have un flagged keep piling up in my task list and i cant get rid of them

    i have rebuilt my identity have tried marking complete have double checked that the view tasks does not have completed checked

    has anyone else had this issue and able to solve

  11. rachel says:

    In removing a task one assumes you lose all associated flags to it. Is there a way to associate a new task prior to deletion of the old task to uptake the same flags?

  12. Michael Linenberger says:

    Rachel, can you explain that a bit more, I am not understanding the question. Thanks, Michael

  13. William Cullen says:

    Brilliant – thanks – just what I needed….Bill

  14. Brad says:

    Hi Michael,

    I selected a bunch of flagged emails on my task list, then right clicked for all of them and “Clear Flag/Delete Task” so it took the flags off of all of them. I just realized some of the flags I cleared out had not been followed up on yet so I would like to get all of those back if possible… Is there a way to UNDO this??

    Thank you!!!

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