Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Organizational Tip #13 - Creating Outlook Rules to Organize Email

Last week's post, Organizational Tip #12 - Using Outlook Folders to Organize Emails, showed the steps for creating folders under your Inbox to help organize large amounts of email.  Creating folders to group emails into is helpful if you want to create email rules which will automatically move emails into specified folders.  Both tips can increase your efficiency when reading and organizing emails so you spend less time searching for and moving emails.  Once you have created a set of folders to organize your emails into, creating rules can automatically move emails into folders for you and keep your Inbox from getting cluttered.  

Below are the steps for creating a single email rule using Outlook 2013.  Keep in mind there are many other types of rules you can create following the same process yet selecting different criteria.  As always, the more thought you put into what kind of rules you want to create the more likely you will create rules that work well for you.

To watch a video of the same rule being created, watch our video on our YouTube channel.

Moving messages with certain words in the subject line to a folder

  1. Open Outlook and click on File in the upper left corner.  In the ribbon pop out, click on the "Rules and Alerts Button".  Note:  The Rules and Alerts button will only be listed if you have at least one email account currently connected to Outlook.

  2. Selecting rules and alerts

  3. The Rules and Alerts pop up box will allow you to create, modify, and delete email rules.  To create a new rule, click the "New Rule" button.


  4. The New Rule wizard gives you many options for creating rules.  At the top of the wizard, under Step 1: Select a Template, select to highlight the "Move messages with specific words in the subject line to a folder" option.


  5. Once you have selected a template from one of the three template sections, go to Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value) at the bottom.  Click on the underlined word "specific words".


  6. This will bring up another pop up prompting you to type in the specific words or phrases to use that will operate as filters against incoming emails.  Be sure to type in words that are unique for the rule you are creating.  Click the "Add" button after each word or phrase to add them to the list.  Note:  If you add words or phrases that also appear in emails you do not want filtered by this rule, you can add exceptions later to prevent the rule from applying to those emails.


  7. Click OK once all words and phrases have been added.


  8. Back at the Rules Wizard, all words and phrases added are listed in Step 2.


  9. Still in Step 2, click on the underlined word "specified" to choose which folder to automatically move the emails to when they fit all criteria of the rule.


  10. In the pop up, choose which folder emails fitting the criteria will move to from the folder list.  


  11. Select the folder to highlight it and click the "OK" button.


  12. In Step 2, the phrases entered and the folder selected are listed.  Click "Next".


  13. In the Conditions list, check the box next to any additional conditions to apply and click "Next".  Note:  The higher the number of Conditions, Actions, and Exceptions (listed below) that are set, the more precise your filter will be.  Use these options to be as general or as specific as necessary. 


  14. In the Actions menu, check the box next to all actions you want taken when all criteria of the rule are met.  In this case, "Moving the message to a specified folder" is already checked based on the template chosen in Step 1.  Click "Next".


  15. In the Exceptions menu, check the box next to any exceptions for the rule.  Exceptions are used to allow only certain emails to bypass the email rule even if all other criteria of the rule are met.  Click "Next".


  16. On the Finish Rule Setup section, replace the pre-filled name for the rule so it will be easy to find later if necessary.  
  17. To bulk move emails that fit the rule criteria, you can check the box next to "Run this rule now on all messages in 'Inbox'".  This will apply the rule to all existing emails in addition to incoming emails.  Click "Finish" to create and apply the rule.  Note:  Checking the box "Run this rule now on all messages in Inbox" can be a huge time saver.  However, it is important to be sure the settings for the rule work as intended when selecting this option.




Following this same set of steps you can create additional rules to handle almost any type of situation.  A few examples include:

  • Moving emails from specific senders to a specified folder when sent to a group, and including FWD: in the subject line
  • Automatically deleting emails with specific words in the subject line from certain senders, only when emailed to a group, and you are emailed as a CC recipient
  • Copying emails to specified folders when from a specific sender, marked as important, and sent only to you
As you can see the list of examples could go on and on.  There are nearly endless ways to mix and match email filter templates with actions, conditions, and exceptions, from different senders and to different email folders.  Having all of these options available when creating rules ensures users are able to create the rules that work for them.  Remember, the more thoughtful your Inbox sub-folders and email rules are, the more organized your email will stay.  Organizing your emails will help you stay focused, find specific emails more quickly, and prevent your Inbox from feeling overwhelming.



Lastly, it is important to note that creating Outlook email rules can be a bit of a time investment.  However, once you have created the rules, they will continuously work in the background which will save you time for as long as the rule remains in effect.  In the long run, creating email rules is worth the effort and carefully created rules can be huge time savers.

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