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A question I have been asked numerous times is how to add personal notes, annotations, additional information or comments to an email that you have sent or received. There are numerous imperfect ways to add notes to email messages received or sent but no perfect method. For now, we can only pick one or two imperfect workarounds and hope that Microsoft will some day add this as a feature. There are third party plugins that facilitate adding notes to mail messages, but for this article I will limit the scope to Microsoft Office products.
Below are a few options you can try. I have used all of these at one time or another and I have eventually eliminated all but the last. The Outlook versions I use are Office 2016 and Office 2010, but all options below should work with Outlook 2013 as well.
Use the custom flag box as a note field
I have used this workaround for a while but abandoned it because the note is limited to 255 characters, is not formattable, and is difficult to spot since it is wedged between the subject and the start/completion date and reply date. In addition, the notes entered in the “Flag to” box are not searchable.
Forward the email to yourself
Forward the email to yourself and you can add lengthy notes and even attachments and links. This works well if the email thread is not too long. If the thread is long, your notes will be scattered over multiple forwarded emails. Using the subject line to help organize the “note messages” helps somewhat, but if the thread involves multiple recipients and lasts for more than a few weeks, it can get messy quickly, especially if you get lots of emails on a daily basis. So this is a feasible option but high-maintenance nonetheless.
Use the subject line
You can change or add to the subject line. Again, this will only work for short notes as you are limited to 255 characters, including spaces and punctuation.
Create a custom column
Again, this only works for short notes, even shorter than using the subject line or a custom flag. And being mildly anal retentive, I do not like the note column messing up the list column, even less than not eating my Smarties in colour order.
Use Outlook Notes
It baffles me to no end why Microsoft would create a Notes feature in Outlook and yet stop short of providing a way to bind a note to a message in the Inbox or Sent box. That said, Outlook Notes is a handy utility to keep your personal notes on various matters and can certainly be used to keep simple notes on emails as long as you enter enough information in the note so you can locate the emails if you need to re-read, reply or forward the messages. Notes are searchable, sortable, and colour-coded, but the contents are not formattable since it is a plain old text file.
Save to OneNote
I save the best for last. Using OneNote is by far my favourite way to add notes to email. This works especially well for lengthy threads in which you need to add personal notes at different stages. Since the notes are kept in OneNote, you have great flexibility in organization using OneNote’s architecture: Notebook, Section, and Page. You can add links, attachments, insert screen captures, hand-drawn pictures, embed video and audio clips, and create checklists. You can also share your notes (or not) with other OneNote users, invite collaboration, or export the notes to PDF or Microsoft Word and share by email if needed.
OneNote is a powerful note-keeping application in the Microsoft Office family. It can do a lot more than keeping notes for email. But that is for another blog post.
These are just a few different methods I have tried. I am sure there are other workarounds—such as using a simple Word document. It is just a matter of finding one that work best for your own workflow and habits.