Them’s The (Email) Rules!

A couple of weeks ago our offices installed a brand-spanking new VoIP phone system.  I’ve been geeking out for the last little while, figuring out all the cool things we can do with the new system that we couldn’t do with the old one.  I love that I can log out of the phone at our desk, drive over to our other city office and log into a phone over there. Everything travels along to the new location with me – my extension, my voice mail, my direct line, phone customizations – all of it.  It’s as if I am sitting at my own desk and not half-way across the city!

We can now also receive our voice mail messages as a .wav (sound) attachment to an email.  I always have my email available to me – either directly in Outlook, or by way of Outlook Web Access, or on my mobile devices.  Each one easily plays the message for me, without having to dial into my voice mail.  And icing on the cake: the recordings can be saved permanently to a matter file.

And that’s what this column is really about – not a cool new phone system, but all the additional email now landing in my mailbox.  The first day the new system was operational, I watched those incoming voice mail messages and watched everyone else doing the same – and then I watched as some manually dragged each message into a folder they created in Outlook, so the messages wouldn’t ‘mix’ with the other email in their Inbox.

Painful.  Very painful.  I’m thinking repetitive stress injury territory, given how many voice mail emails arrive at the office….  Why do Outlook’s work for it, when you can lay down the law and make it do what you want it to do – make Outlook follow your Rules.

Now please don’t let your eyes glaze – Rules are less difficult to create and more useful to invoke than you might think.  First, understand that all an Outlook Rule is, is this: a set of instructions you provide Outlook to tell it to **do** something (take an action on) to email that falls within the Rule – Rules are nothing more than that, at their simplest.  And Outlook Rules are set up to help guide you through their creation – it’s a ‘set it once’ (the Rule) and let it work its magic forever more.

Using my lovely new voice mail emails as an example:

Every voice mail email contains certain identical characteristics – after examining a few I could identify the common characteristics and use those to craft my Rule:

  • The email is always From the same email address
  • The email always has some identical words in the Subject line
  • The email is always only Sent to me

When an email with those characteristics lands in my inbox it’s always a voice mail email and I don’t want to see it there OR manually drag it into my Voice Mail Message folder – I want Outlook to do that work for me.  I’ll go head off to the folder to listen to my messages when I’m good and ready, without being interrupted by them in the meantime.

How to do?

When you recognize that you are receiving emails with common characteristics and that you are moving those emails manually (e-newsletters are a great example), determine the commonalities and craft your Outlook Rule based on them.  The example below walks you through these steps:

Create a Simple Outlook Rule

Start from an existing message that fits the characteristics of the Rule you want to create:

  • Right-click on the email
  • From the fly-out menu, click ‘Rules’
  • From the Fly-out menu, click ‘Create Rule’


In the Create Rule dialog box, ensure the following are set:

  • If the email is always ‘From’ the same sender, ensure that this option is checked – the name of the Sender will already be in the dialog box, as Outlook guesses that you want this basic characteristic to form part of the Rule.  If you don’t want to create the Rule based on the Sender, then just uncheck the box
  • If the Subject of the email you want to trigger the Rule always contains certain words, ensure this Subject Contains box is checked and leave **only those words** in the box (remove any text in that is unique to that particular email – say, a date)
  • If the email you want to trigger the rule is only sent to *you*, and not others also, ensure this box is checked, otherwise, leave it unchecked.
  • Click on ‘Select Folder’ to browse to and select the folder that you created to hold these emails.
  • Click ‘OK’ to complete


You’ll see the ‘Success’ box.

  • Optional: Click to select ‘Run this rule now…’ to immediately invoke the Rule on any existing messages. If you have a large inbox, this may take some time to complete
  • Click ‘OK’ when complete


Now that this Rule is in place, Outlook will automatically apply the new Rule to any message that fall into its parameters, leaving you with more time to do more important things!

Optional: For easy access to the emails caught by this Rule (assuming high visibly of these emails is important to you), you can ‘Favorite’ the folder to display it near the top of Outlooks Navigation Pane (assuming you are working in Mail View with Favorites visible):

  • Right click on the folder
  • Click ‘Show in Favourites’ from the fly-out menu


And a simple Rule is as simple as that.  Rules can get much more involved than a simple move Rule and it’s possible for one Rule to conflict with another (once you get into more complicated Rules), so if you decide to get adventurous with Rule creation, you should do a little reading on the possible complexities – just search on ‘Rules’ in Outlook Help and you’ll find more detail and instruction.

If you change your mind and decide you no longer want the Rule, or if it’s not working the way you thought it would – it’s easy to disable, edit, or delete a Rule.  Just:

  • Right-click on any email
  • Click ‘Rules’
  • Click ‘Manage Rules and Alerts’


Then, in the Rules and Alerts box, in the E-mail Rules tab, locate the Rule and click once to select it, then either uncheck the box (disables the Rule, but leaves it available to later re-enable), delete the Rule (removes the effect of the Rule on all future emails forever, but leaves everything as it currently is), or Change the Rule – using the same approach as creation, above.


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