Outlook and File Explorer – sorting on two or more columns

Filing cabinets - it is possible to sort Outlook and File Explorer data one more than one column

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.

What happens if you want to sort on several columns at once?

In both Outlook and Explorer, sorting on two or more columns is possible – but it is not obvious. 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 a new one arrives every day.

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 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). In fact, any combination, involving up to four sort levels, is possible in Outlook.

To sort the columns 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 folder will remember its sort settings such that each time you open it the contents will be sorted in the same way until you instruct otherwise.

Sorting files on more than one column level in File Explorer

This one’s easy – but not at all self-evident. We create the first sort level by just clicking on the column name. You will then see a “v” or inverted “v” above 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 still depressing the shift key) 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).

If the second column is in the reverse order to how you need it, then keep the shift key depressed and tap the column header again. This will reverse the order of the second column.

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

Click this link if you would like to change the columns visible in Explorer.

Click this link if you get confused between rows and columns.

Note that the procedures aboves do not apply to sorting data columns in spreadsheets (eg Excel). See this Microsoft link for some help with that.

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 (ie the webmail service called “Outlook.com” or the very old “Outlook Express”).

(Last updated 31/08/2023)