Managing Email with Rules and Quick Steps in Outlook 2013

Although email is supposed to make communication quicker and easier, it can often complicate things instead. Most lawyers have email clutter. Many have inboxes with thousands of messages in them. Email has become a major clutter and productivity obstacle. Two ways to help manage that avalanche of email if you use Outlook are using Rules and Quick Steps.

Using Outlook Rules

Outlook uses “rules” to automate common tasks. They’re easy to create and can be used to streamline common e-mail-related tasks. Here’s how to create a rule from a template or from scratch:

  • In the Navigation pane (the column on the left side of the Outlook window that includes buttons for the Mail, Calendar, and Tasks views and folders), click Mail.
  • On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.
  • If you have more than one e-mail account, in the “Apply changes to this folder” list, click the inbox you want.
  • Click New Rule or Create Rule.
  • Do one of the following:
    • Use a template with pre-specified actions and conditions and select the template you want
    • Create the rule by specifying your own conditions, actions, and exceptions

To have this rule apply to all your e-mail accounts and inboxes, select the “Create this rule on all accounts” check box on the last page of the Rules wizard.

Create a Rule Based on a Message

You can also create a Rule directly from a particular message. This is helpful when you’re reading a message and you realize that you would like to create a rule that applies specifically to all messages with a particular subject line, or to all messages from a particular sender. For example, you may want to create a folder for all messages that come from your bar association list-serve or from a particular client, and to have all of those messages automatically sort into those folders when they arrive in your inbox. To do so, simply right-click the message you want to base the rule upon, and click Create Rule.

In the dialog box, select the conditions and actions you want to apply. To add more conditions, actions, or exceptions to the rule, click the Advanced Options button, and then follow the rest of the instructions in the Rules wizard.

Creating and Using Outlook Quick Steps

Some email management tasks are performed repetitively in Outlook, but are not appropriate for Rules, because they cannot be automated; they require you to make a decision about what to do with the email. Quick Steps can be used to perform repetitive tasks easily in Outlook when those tasks are not ones that can be made into Rules. For example, when doing an initial sort of my email inbox, I use a Quick Step to sort emails that require some action or follow-up on my part into a folder I’ve created called “Action.” In one click, I can move the message to the Action folder so I don’t have to go searching through my Inbox later for all of the messages that require my attention.

Quick Steps are located under the Home tab in Outlook, toward the middle of the toolbar. Click the arrow in the lower right corner of the Quick Steps box to bring up the Manage Quick Steps dialog box.


To change an existing Quick Step, click on it and then click Edit.

Under Actions, change or add the actions you want this Quick Step to perform. These might include moving or copying a message to a particular folder, permanently deleting a message, assigning a category and more. You can also assign a keyboard shortcut to the Quick Step using the Shortcut key box, which is found at the bottom of the Quick Step Edit dialog box.

To change the icon for a Quick Step, click an icon next to the Name box at the top of the Quick Step Edit dialog box, click an icon to select it, and then click OK.

To create a new Quick Step, under the Outlook Home tab, in the Quick Steps group, click Create New. In the Name box, type the name for your new Quick Step. Click an action type from the list. If you would like to add additional actions (perhaps you want to move messages to a specific folder and label them with a specific category), click Add Action. You can also assign a keyboard shortcut to the Quick Step using the Shortcut key box. When you are finished creating your Quick Step, click Save.

When you create new Quick Steps, they appear under the Outlook Home tab at the top of the gallery in the Quick Steps group. You can rearrange your Quick Steps using the Manage Quick Steps dialog box.

Once your Quick Step is created, it will be much easier to take action on your email messages. For example, if I want to copy an email message from my Inbox to my Action folder, rather than clicking on Move, then Copy to Folder and then choosing my Action folder, I can simply click on my Action Quick Step.

While Rules and Quick Steps can help you organize and manage your email inbox, you’ll still need an efficient way to deal with those messages and take action in a timely manner. Don’t forget to schedule time to take action on those email messages!

This post was adapted from the upcoming Law Practice Division book, “How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line,” by Allison C. Shields and Daniel J. Siegel. Look for it soon.

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