If you need to manage a large volume of emails, then Outlook Desktop is the best tool for the job. It has so many tools and shortcuts to help you process the same types of emails over and over much more efficiently.
One of the most powerful and underutilized features is rules. Rules allow you to tell Outlook how to handle certain emails automatically. They’re also easy to set up.
Spend literally 5 minutes each week adding a filter or two and before you know it, you’ll have so many rules that your inbox will manage itself. Doesn’t that sound amazing?
In this article, I’m going to teach you different ways to create rules in Outlook so you can automate the process of filing, replying to, and automatically deleting emails so your inbox can keep itself clean.
Method 1: Use a Rule Template
Sending an email to a certain folder and automatically flagging a message are two of the most popular rules that users set. These rules have templates that are already built into Outlook.
To access these templates, go to File > Manage Rules and Alerts then click on New Rule.
A dialog box will open with 10 different templates for you to start with. For this example, we’re going to choose move messages from someone to a folder and then hit the next button.
Click on the people or public group link to set whose emails you want to target. You can set additional conditions to narrow your focus. Once you target the emails you want to select, hit next.
Next, you’ll tell Outlook what to do with the messages that meet the criteria when they arrive in your inbox. The options are plentiful, which is what gives rules their power.
Here’s an selection of some of the choices:
- Move the message to a specified folder
- Forward it to people or a group
- Mark it as read
- Reply using a specific template
- Flag for follow up
- Apply a category
- Play a sound
- Print it
And of course, you can apply multiple actions to the same message so you can automatically reply, mark as read and then file it, without having to do any of those steps manually.
For this example, we’re going to stick with move it to the specified folder. Click on the specified link to choose one of the folders from your Outlook account. Then push ok when you’ve made your selection. Then push the next button.
The next step is optional, but helpful if you want to exclude certain messages from the rule. For instance, if you want to send all the emails from your boss to a folder, except for any emails that he sends that are flagged as important, you would check off except if it is marked as importance and then set the importance level.
You’ll finish the process by naming your rule. You can also check off run this rule now on messages already in “inbox” to apply the rule to messages that have already arrived. If you have an inbox that is cluttered with unimportant messages, one of the best ways to clean it up and keep it neater going forward is to create rules for the clutter and then apply the rules to messages already in the inbox. This is faster than sorting those emails manually.
Method 2: Base the Rule on an Email Message
For the second method, you’ll start by selecting a message that you want to process with rules. Then in the home tab, select rules, and then create rule from the dropdown.
Outlook will present a dialog box with simplified rule settings that are already prefilled.
For when I get an email with all of the selected conditions, you can choose from the following 3 prefilled options:
- From <sender>
- Subject contains
- Sent to
Then you have the following three options for do the following with that message:
- Display the new item alert window
- Play a selected sound
- Move the item to folder
If you select move item to folder, a dialog box will open where you can select the folder.
Then you can hit ok to finish creating the rule. This is the most simple way to create a rule so it is the ideal method if you’re getting started with rules.
Method 3: Create from Scratch
To create a rule from scratch, select a message, then, in the home tab, select rules, and then create rule from the dropdown.
In the dialog box, select advanced options.
From here you’ll proceed in manner than is similar to method 1. First, you’ll target the messages you want to do something with. Then, you’ll tell Outlook what to do with those messages and add any exceptions to the rule.
For this example, let’s say you want to move all the messages you’re cc’d on to a separate folder (unless that message is marked as high importance) and then set a task to remind yourself to check them the next day so you can read them all at once.
For step one, set conditions, you’ll select where my name is in the cc box. Then push next.
For the select actions step, select move to the specified folder and flag message for follow up at this time. Click on specified to open a dialog box to choose the folder and follow up at this time to select tomorrow from the dropdown. Then push next.
For the exceptions step, you’ll choose except if it is marked as importance, then click on importance to set the importance level to high in the dialog box. You’ll finish the process by naming the rule and then pushing the finish button.
Organize Your Email Inbox with Outlook Rules
Now that you know how to set up rules in Outlook, spend a few minutes creating rules for some of your most volume-heavy unimportant emails. If you can remove these from your inbox, you’ll be able to focus on your most important emails.
For more Outlook tips, visit my guide on How to Use Outlook
If you need help setting up Outlook rules or would like to train your staff on email management techniques, I work with people and businesses directly. Visit the work with me page to improve your productivity after just one session.
For more ideas on how to organize your email inbox, enter your email below to get my free ebook: Channeling the Flow, the Secret to Getting Your Email Inbox Under Control.