Maybe you impulsively sent a mean email to someone. Or maybe you sent a work email and just forgot to attach a document that your co-workers need.
If you want a way to take it back, you’re in luck — if you’re using Outlook, that is. That’s because the email client has a built-in solution for situations like this: The option to recall emails. An email recall can stop a recipient from seeing an incomplete, angry, or otherwise bad email you sent. Follow the instructions below if you want to recall an email in Outlook. If you also want to know how to delay your emails in Outlook (to prevent accidentally sending out such emails in the future), scroll past the recall instructions to view a guide on how to do just that.
Note: These instructions won’t work with the web-based version of Outlook — they only apply to the desktop client. Also, they only work if you and the recipient use a Microsoft Exchange account within the same organization or you both have Microsoft 365.
How to recall Outlook emails
Step 1: Open your Sent Items folder and look for the email you want to recall — it should be at the top of the list. You have to double-click on this email to fully open it before moving to the next step.
Step 2: Click the Message tab on the toolbar to make it active. Next, navigate to the Move section and click the More Move Actions button designated with a letter and an envelope, as shown below.
Step 3: Click the Recall This Message option on the drop-down list.
Step 4: A pop-up window appears on your screen. Here, you have two options: Delete Unread Copies of This Message or Delete Unread Copies and Replace With a New Message. You’ll also see an option to have Outlook notify you if the process succeeds or fails.
Select your option(s) and click the OK button to continue.
If you deleted the message, congratulations! If you want to replace it, continue on to step 5.
Step 5: If you choose to create a replacement, Outlook opens a second screen so you can revise the message. As you compose your new email, Outlook recalls your old message and displays a notification (if you selected that option). Just click the Send button when you’re done with the revised message.
Note: If you send a recall message, it doesn’t exactly make your old email disappear. In order to have the original message disappear, the recipient may need to open the recall message first. This is why you should type “URGENT” or something similar in the recall message’s title so that it’s opened before the first offensive email. Continue on for a lengthier explanation. Microsoft also states that, in some cases, the recipient may be notified when recalled messages are deleted from their inbox. So, bear in mind that even when recalling an email, the recipient may still know that a botched or offensive message had been sent to them even if they can’t view it.
Why email recall doesn’t always work
Starting the recall process doesn’t mean that it will work the way you intended. With today’s internet speeds (unless you live in a dead zone), that mistaken email is probably already waiting in someone’s inbox, which creates a number of issues. Here are the factors that can nullify your recall — or at least make the process more complicated.
- Opened messages: If a recipient opens your email, you can’t recall it. The recipient can still get and read the second recall message, but the original stays in their Outlook inbox. That’s one reason why you should act quickly.
- Redirects to other folders: If your first message activated a filter and Outlook rerouted it to a specific folder, then your recall will fail. The recall option only affects emails that remain in the inbox. If the first message waits elsewhere, it won’t go away.
- Public folders: If anyone reads your first email lurking in a public folder, the recall fails. It doesn’t matter which recipient or login account tags the email as read — it’s still too late.
- Other email clients: The recall function works with Outlook. If you send an email to someone who uses Gmail, for example, the recall won’t work.
- Mobile apps: If you are using Exchange ActiveSync settings for Outlook on mobile devices, then the recall option may not work. This happens because the system juggles different Outlook versions as it syncs, and it can’t complete the process, especially if your mobile device is offline.
There are a lot of pitfalls to this handy little feature, sure. If your recalls just aren’t working, here are two ideas for you to improve the scenario:
Solution 1: Write an apology. Other than making sure to double-check your emails before they’re sent, this is the simplest solution to the problem. If you mistakenly sent an email to the wrong person/people and it wasn’t too egregious, save your time and tack on a quick apology note. This works for most people, and you can stop worrying.
Solution 2: Delay your emails. If you have a case of email butterfingers or are always busy replying and forwarding sensitive information, you may want to consider delaying your emails. You can do this for all Outlook emails by following these steps:
Step 1: Click File in the top-left corner.
Step 2: Scroll down and select Manage Rules and Alerts.
Step 3: The Rules and Alerts pop-up window appears on your screen. Click the New Rule option.
Step 4: In a second pop-up window, select Apply Rule on Messages I Send listed under Start From a Blank Rule. Click the Next button to continue.
Step 5: Ignore everything on the conditions list and click the Next button. Next, click the Yes button in a small confirmation pop-up.
Step 6: Select the Defer Delivery By a Number of Minutes option. Click the A Number Of link, and a pop-up appears prompting you for a duration. Enter the number — 120 minutes is the maximum — and click the OK button. Click the Next button to continue.
Step 7: Select exceptions if needed and click the Next button to continue.
Step 8: Name your rule, and if there is a Turn On This Rule checkbox, select it. Click the Finish button.
If this whole process has soured you on the Outlook email client, you could always use a disposable address.
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