Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mailbox Management - Rules to help with Clutter

…and stop processing more rules.

You Keep Using That Action, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

How many Out of Office messages are in your In Box? Did you spend the last two weeks of the year learning that you are the only responsible person still working? Do you really need to see these out of office / vacation messages in your In Box? Are you on the cc list of every single message sent by every person in the company? Are you in a Distribution List that gets too many messages of low value (with one key message buried in the pile)?

Using Rules to Manage your Outlook email In Box will improve your productivity. Creation and management of rules, even the smallest set of rules, will improve your workflow. This blog with introduce some sample rules and provide a quick overview to demonstrate improvement to your email organization and productivity.  A few quick pointers assist with long term management of your rules. 

In general, these steps apply to Outlook 2013 to Outlook 2015 with cosmetic changes in some of the user interface and menu elements. The online version of Outlook, at Live.com, also uses Rules. The screens and menu options look very different, but the basic structure is the same.

While Outlook Live has a limit on the number of rules, The normal Outlook clients do not. However, you will find that keeping your list of rules short and well organized will help with long term management. Having a rule for every person in your address book is not the best way to organize your email. Think about your work, about your commitments, what do you need focus on to be successful? Use rules to separate based on your work priority.


For the rule above, I want Outlook to move all communications from our HR Team to a Miscellaneous Communications folder so that I can read them at a later time (I see these as lower priority during my work day).

Rules are based on a Condition
  • Apply this rule when a message arrives
    • From HR Communications
Click for larger image.

Which trigger an Action
  • Move it to the "Misc Comms" folder (the blue underlined word "specified" lets you choose the destination)
  • Stop Processing more rules
Click for larger image.

Simple Rules to get started:

  1. Basic Organization Communication - MOVE items from: HR, Training, Internal Updates, the basic communications that deserve a bit of time… later on. Create a separate folder.
  2. Messages from Leadership  - MOVE items from Leadership - they may send them under their own name or from a specific email account, you may want different rules for each.
  3. Project related messages - MOVE items from your project team, or those that contain keywords specific to a project. Multiple  projects -- Create multiple folders.
  4. Invitation Responses and Out of Office responses - Accepted, Tentative, Out of Office, look for the common words, create a rule and move all of these auto-replies to a folder.
  5. Personal Messages -
    1. MOVE non-work related items from friends or personal messages that you need to manage into a folder. - Put Praise and Feedback messages here!
    2. Consider an Action to FORWARD messages to your non-work account if needed.

Keep your Folder List Small:

Messages from HR Communications, IT Communications, Marketing Communications, Training, (etc.) can be moved to the same folder. You can still prioritize (highlight) those messages by:
  • Marking it with a Category
  • Leaving it Un-read (or marking it read)
  • Popping up a Desktop Alert (you can even add a specific message for the alert).
How to display a New Item Alert Window
Click for larger image.

The Fine Print

Generally, when an email arrives, it is evaluated against all Conditions, and all Actions. If your CIO send you a message about "Project Widget" and you have rules send CIO message to a folder and Project Widget messages to another folder, Outlook will process both Actions.

The Stop Processing instruction will stop running rules on a specific rule. If your CIO is first, Outlook will send the CIO message to the CIO folder and Stop. If the Project Widget rule is first, it will send the message to the Project Widget folder and Stop. The Stop Processing instruction avoids duplication of messages into multiple folders.

You can Run, Stop, and Change Rules when Needed

In fact, once you have a basic set of rules in place, you can turn off (deselect = stop) certain rules from processing. The Rules menu allows you to pick and choose which rules to run (manually).

This allows you to save your rules, turn them off, and run them as needed. I use this technique to clean up my In Box in a controlled - orderly fashion.

Bottom Line Tips:

Click for larger image
  • Start Small, get the noise out of your In Box
  • Make adjustments as you go
  • Fancy rules don’t make this process much better


"RTFM" - Using Outlook Help

Yes, I am recommending that you click the "?" Help button and search for "email rules". Outlook provides a good foundation, and the Help will be specific to your version of Outlook.

Here are two links for those using the Outlook.com - Windows Live versions:

Outlook.com - The Clutter Free In Box
How to Geek (Outlook.com / Live) Use Rules to Manage Email