Baby steps: Microsoft’s New Focused/Other feature in Outlook

If you use Outlook (the Microsoft email application), and you have updated to the latest version, you will see something new: Focused and Other. This replaces Clutter, which you may have noticed in the past. The Clutter folder, and now the Other folder are what I like to call Junk Mail ‘light’. The artificial intelligence (AI) built into the Outlook engine will try to classify incoming email as something you are likely to read immediately (or quickly) vs. something that you will let sit unread. It will then direct the email that meets the ‘languish’ category to your Other folder. You need to be aware of this because if you are expecting an email, and you don’t see it in your Focused folder, you should check your Other folder. I have included a screenshot of the ‘new look’.


You can turn this feature off by following the instructions here (if you control the settings for Outlook).

Instructions for turning off Focused/Other feature

I find it interesting that in the comments for the instructions for turning this feature off, there is quite a vociferous, negative response. And my own instinct is to agree with this (and in fact I  turned this feature off in my Office 365 mail, when I was first exposed to it). But now I am re-thinking my knee-jerk reactions.

This is the but one place where we can start to see the impact of artificial intelligence in our lives. And there will be more where this came from. Instead of just turning off the feature, I am going to try working with it; in essence, training it. I will move email to the Other folder that is lower priority for me. And I will move email that is important to me out of the Other folder into my Focused inbox.  We are all going to be dealing with the impact of AI within the next 10 years. Here’s a chance to take some baby steps.