When an Outlook user accidentally deletes everything in his Inbox…

It is not our mistakes that define who we are; it is how we recover our deleted items. -Bo Bennett, paraphrased

If you’ve been supporting Outlook users for long, then you’ve encountered this situation at least once. Mr. Smith calls and says everything just vanished from his inbox. No, he didn’t delete it. No, he didn’t drag and drop it somewhere. It just vanished.

Of course, it did.

The first place you should check is still the Deleted Items folder, no matter what Mr. Smith says. But he’s a popular guy and gets hundreds of emails every day. If he accidentally deleted everything (or dragged everything into the Deleted Items folder, which is probably more likely) how can you tell which emails were meant to be in the Deleted Items and which are there inadvertently? Here’s a neat trick. You probably know that you can add fields to any Outlook view by right-clicking on the column headers and selecting Field Chooser.

Outlook column headers

Outlook column headers

Open the Field Chooser and find the “Modified” field. You might have to change to “All Mail fields” to find it. Drag it from the Field Chooser to the column header bar in Outlook to add it as a new column. Then sort by the Modified field by clicking on it. Once you’ve done that, you can find the 10,000 mail items that were all modified (read “deleted”) at the same time and drag them back to the Inbox. You might want to remove the Modified field, but it won’t hurt to leave it.

Tell Mr. Smith, “I don’t know what happened. It’s the strangest thing!” That way he doesn’t feel stupid, and you’re a hero.

(If you don’t find them in the Deleted Items, they are almost certainly in the Recoverable Items.)

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