Microsoft Outlook and Windows File Explorer can sort data on more than one column

Filing CabinetsIn Outlook, you can sort the display of emails on any column simply by clicking on the column name – eg clicking on “Subject” above the column of the email subject headings will sort on that column. Clicking on it again will sort in the opposite direction (eg going from A-Z and vice versa). You can click on the name of any column that is visible and Outlook will sort on that column.

But what happens if you want to sort on two – or more – columns?

For instance, I have many different backup routines, each of which sends me an email when it completes. I have a “rule” in Outlook that automatically puts all these emails in a single folder. Now, it would be just too tedious to bother actually reading all these emails every day and checking that one is received every day that one should be received, so I want a simple way of sorting the emails so that all emails with the same name (ie the same backup routine) come together in the listing and that they are further sorted so that newer emails are listed above older ones. It is then simple to cast an eye down the list of emails from time to time to see when backups did (or didn’t) happen (see illustration below).

Outlook - email sorted on two levels

Outlook – an example of an email listing sorted on two levels


There must be many instances where a sorting of one column within another such as this would be useful. In the above example, the emails are sorted on Received (descending) within Subject (ascending), but any combination, involving up to four sort levels, is possible in Outlook.

To sort the contents of an email folder on more than one level in Outlook:

  • Click on the View tab
  • Click on View Settings
  • Click on Sort
  • Click the first listed field under “Sort items by” and select the field for the first sort level
  • Click the radio button next to Ascending or Descending as appropriate
  • Click the second box and select the second sort field and the sort order
  • Continue as above for any further sort levels
  • Click on OK and then on OK again to close the dialogue boxes
Outlook - sorting emails

In Outlook, you can sort emails on up to four levels

The sort settings for the folder will be remembered such that each time this email folder is opened the contents will be sorted in the same way until you instruct otherwise.

Sorting files on more than one level in File Explorer

This one’s easy – but not at all self-evident. The first sort level is achieved by just clicking on the column name. You will then see a “v” or inverted “v” next to the heading on which the sort applies. If you want to reverse the sort order, just click on the column name again. To create a second sort level, depress the shift key and (while the shift key is still depressed) click on the second column heading. There is no visible indicator on the column headings to show that you are sorting on more than one column but it does work (see the illustration below).

File Explorer listing example

A File Explorer listing sorted on two levels (Date modified within Type)

PS: When I use the word “Outlook”, I mean the email program that is part of the Microsoft Office suite of programs – not any other email facility of Microsoft to which they have confusingly applied this name.

How much space do your Windows folders occupy?

My earliest days of earning a crust in the world of computers were spent designing database systems (using a clever but tricky program called “Everyman” – I bet not many people remember that one). One of the first tasks in any design was to calculate the probable size of the data files. This was crucial as we only had two floppy drives to contain everything. Typically, one drive held the operating system (DOS) and the Everyman program files, and the other drive held the data. Floppy discs of that era had a capacity of about 1/3mb. If the data didn’t fit on a disc then the project may not be feasible. It wasn’t a case of every megabyte being important: every kilobyte was important.

Things have moved on a lot. A modern hard drive will usually hold at least 500gb. That is about 1.5 million times the size of a 5.25 inch floppy drive of the early 1980’s. If I were still designing database systems, I can’t imagine ever worrying about the size of the data files.

Despite this humungous increase in the amount of storage capacity we now have on our computers, there are still many reasons why we might want to assess the amount of space that some things use. For instance:

  • Can I get all I want onto a USB thumb drive?
  • Can I back up all my important data to my cloud account?
  • What size of drive would I need to back up all of my photos, music, or video collection?
  • Would last year’s holiday photos fit onto a single DVD? A single CD?

File Explorer

File Explorer in Windows displays the size of files, but not folders (rightmost column)

If you’ve only ever used a Mac you’ll probably be wondering what I’m on about as Mac’s behave as you’d expect (in this respect, at least!). When you open a Finder window on a Mac, the size of the folders is displayed next to the folder name in the same way that file sizes are displayed next to their name. Not so in Windows: folder sizes are not displayed. You can find the size of any individual folder by right-clicking on it and then left-clicking on “properties”, but this can get tedious and doesn’t give you a good overall picture of the situation.

Mac Finder Window

..whereas Finder on a Mac does display folder size

A way to get a better idea of the size of folders in Windows is to install a free utility called Treesize Free.

Once installed, you will now find that, if you right-click on a drive or a folder in File Explorer, there is now a new option on the “context menu” called TreeSize Free. Left-click on this option to open the utility.

TreeSize Fee - Access Denied Window

Figure 1. Just click on “Yes” to re-open as an administrator

When you open TreeSize, you may see a window pop up like the one in figure 1. This just indicates that there are system items in the folder (or drive) that you wish to examine and you won’t see these unless you open TreeSize as an administrator. Just click on the “Yes” button and the program will re-start, showing you all items.

TreeSize Free then lists each folder at the first level within the folder (or drive) that you right-clicked on. It lists them in order of size with the largest at the top. You can now get a very good idea of what’s been eating up your space and how viable it would be to move or copy folders. If there is a triangle next to a folder name then there are sub-folders within that folder. Click on the triangle to open the folder and see the sizes of its constituent folders and files.

TreeSize Free Folder Sizes

TreeSize Free shows the size of all folders in a folder or drive (in this case, my D: drive)

Many of the normal File Explorer options are available while you are looking at a TreeSize breakdown. So, for instance, you can cut, copy, and paste items to or from the TreeSize window.

Some of the other things you can do in TreeSize include:

  • Changing the area of your system that you are scanning by clicking the “scan” option on the menu at the top of the screen.
  • Measuring the percentage of the total area examined that is occupied by each folder.
  • Switching between measuring in gb, mb or even kb.
  • Switching between measuring the size of folders and the number of files within them.

I don’t know why Microsoft have never built something like TreeSize directly into Windows. As far as I’m concerned, it certainly counts as one of the top ten “utilities” available for Windows. If you right-click on any folder and find that TreeSize is already present on the context menu, then it probably means that I, or another computer support consultant, has already installed this really useful utility.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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