Many email clients have a handy feature called rules that has your system automatically perform a set of actions when certain conditions are met — essentially helping you automate some of your email management. This article  provides an overview of Outlook rules and tells you how to set them up in Outlook 2010.

Rule Use Cases

What can you do with rules? Here are some ideas:

  • When an email comes to you from your favorite client, your computer plays a specific chime sound, marks the email as important, and adds it to your “Nice Client” category.
  • When an emailed meeting invitation comes in, but you were only copied, then the email is forwarded to your admin, unless the message has your favorite client’s email address in the From or CC fields.
  • Each issue of your favorite daily eNewsletter on desktop publishing is moved directly to your Desktop Publishing folder for you to read later.

This is just the tip of a very big iceberg, but you get the idea. Any time you find yourself routinely doing specific actions with certain types of emails (or if you should!), setting up a rule can save you time and help you keep your Outlook emails organized. (Read more on keeping your Outlook emails organized.)


Setting up the Rules

Outlook’s Rule Wizard makes it very easy to set up rules. In Outlook 2010, you access the Rules Wizard on the Home tab in the Move section.

When you go to create a new rule, it will bring up a window with common settings based on the email that you currently have selected.

The best thing is to bypass all that and click on the Advanced Options button to get to the Wizard, which will walk you through 4 steps to create your rule.

Step 1 – Set conditions:

First you choose one or more conditions must be met to activate the rule, for example receiving an email from a specific email address, one that is marked as urgent, or one that has a specific key word on the subject line. Following are the conditions you can choose from. (What you see in the first few conditions will depend on the email that is selected when you start the process.)

Click in the checkboxes to select the conditions to include. As you select conditions, they will be added to the box below the list. Anywhere you see the linked text you will have the opportunity to specify the values. For example, you can see below that I selected “with specific words in the body” as the condition. Then I clicked on the linked word in the box below and specified the words “chinchilla” and “riboflavin.”

When you’ve finished setting the conditions, click the Next button to go to the next step.

Step 2 – Set actions:

Next you indicate one or more actions which should be done to the email messages that meet the conditions, for example to delete them, assign them to a category, play a sound, forward them to another email address, or move them to an Outlook folder. Following are the actions you can choose from:

Step 3 – Set optional exceptions:

Next indicate any exceptions to the rule, for example if a specific email address was copied on the email message, if it was marked as urgent, or of it was from an RSS Feed. This step is optional. Following are the exceptions you can choose from:

Finally you assign a name to the rule, and you’re done! Be sure to give it a name that will give you a good idea of what the rule does.

Outlook Quick Steps

Once you get some practice with rules, take a look at Quick Steps. Outlook provides you with one-click access to your rules with Quick Steps. Located in the Home tab in the Quick Steps section of the ribbon, set up quick actions for common tasks like assigning categories, moving emails to folders, and forwarding emails to others.

Sadly, you cannot use a Quick Step button to activate one of your rules, but it allows you to set up some simple actions based on the same rules-logic. Check it out!

Moral of the story

Whether you use it as a simple email client or as your business command center, those of us who conduct business over email spend much of our time and have much of our information in Outlook. The more you can do to manage the massive amount of information and keep it organized, the better. Rules, along with managing PST files, tagged searching, and consolidating your inbox will help you accomplish this.

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