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Control your Outlook Inbox with Rules

As promised from blog post (How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox) here is the post on Outlook Rules. Rules are a great way to organize your emails into bite size chunks. You can prioritize your email using Rules, this way the important “need to respond to” emails do not get “lost” in your Inbox. Rules can also apply a specific action on a given email. This will reduce your time trying to keep you Inbox organized by manually dealing with each email. Once you start using Rules you will wonder how you ever managed your email in the past without them.

Everyone will choose a different way to create Rules and organize their Inbox. My preference is to create Rules for “important” people, like my boss or specific clients and on the email subject line. I also use Rules to manage my subscribed email lists or LinkedIn group emails. My home email contains Rules based on family member. I have an extremely large extended family and I find it easier to group together specific family members i.e., my mom’s family, my husband’s moms family, my dad’s family. You get the idea.

I’ll use the example of an “Important” person for our example. In this case the important person is My Boss. When an email arrives from My Boss I want to be notified immediately.

Figure 1

As you can see from Figure 1 I need Outlook to notify me that there is an email from My Boss.

I find the best way to create Rules is to base the Rule on an existing email. The fastest and with the least amount of clicks is to right click on the email and select the Rules option. You will then be prompted with 3 additional choices:

  • Always move message from: My Boss (instead of My Boss, the name of the Sender it will be displayed)
  • Create Rule…
  • Manage Rules and Alerts…


A brief description of each option is listed below:

  • Always move message from: (senders name) – this option is great for moving the selected “senders” messages directly to a folder without any options. I use this option for subscribed email lists or LinkedIn group notices. I can then browse these folders at my leisure and avoid these distractions in my Inbox.
  • Create Rule… – this option will start the process of creating a new Rule based on the email you have just right clicked.
  • Manage Rules and Alerts… – use this option when Rules and Alerts already exist and you just need to manage and/or edit the Rules and Alerts.

For the My Boss example select the second option Create Rule…

The following dialog box will open:

Figure 2

You will now have three options in which to select the conditions of your Rule to best meet your needs. You can base your Rule on the “From” field. If I wanted to filter the email on the Subject “Meeting Today” then I would select option two. You can also create your Rule based on who the email was “Sent” to. These options can also be combined to create very specific Rules. In this case I care about all emails from My Boss regardless of the subject or who else the email was sent to; therefore I would only choose the first option as shown above.

I also want to be notified whenever an email from My Boss arrives. To do this I would select the first two options under the “Do the Following” section.

Display in the New Item Alert window (this would be a visual cue in case I have the sound on my computer was turned off) and Play a selected sound (this would be auditory cue in case I was not looking at my screen). You can choose the audio file you would like use for this alert. In the example above I left it as the default but normally I would change the sound to play a unique audio file (maybe the Star Wars Imperial March). The reason for this change is to be better alerted of the incoming email from My Boss. If I use a standard windows wav file, the sound may get lost in the rest of the Windows sounds that I hear during the day. By changing the wav file to a unique audio file it is more likely I will hear the alert when the email arrives.

The last option, Move the Item to the folder, would be selected if I wanted to move all email from My Boss to a specific folder in Outlook when the mail was received. In this case I do not want to have to go to open up another folder to see the email and would prefer to be able to quickly see the message in my Inbox view.

Once you are satisfied with your Rule click OK and you will receive a “Success” dialog window. You will notice within this window is the option to run the newly created Rule on the current folder. This is a great option if you are trying to clean up your Inbox (see article How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox).

That is the basics of Rules and for the most part this should be enough to help organize your Inbox and keep it organized in the future.

As with most Microsoft products they are more Advanced Options (including Marking as High Priority or Deleting) that I did not cover in this article. If you wish to learn about the Advanced Options please send me an email or post a comment.

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