Understanding and Creating Outlook Rules

Learning to use rules in Outlook is one of the best productivity and efficiency boosts you can receive. This post goes over the basics of rules and how to implement them.

Rules are an essential part of Outlook organization. No need to manually sort your emails in to their set folder when rules can do it for you. For example, are you like me and have to open every unread email? Instead, you can make certain emails marked as read and filed in their own folder as soon as they come in. There are so many ways to use rules to automate much of your manual organization processes.

How to create a rule

Creating a rule can be super easy or a little more complex depending on how particular you want the rule to be.

When in your Outlook inbox, it’s easiest to have an email that you know will be affected by your rule selected first. Then click rules located in the top options ribbon. (You can also right click the email itself and then click rules from the drop down options list).

Outlook will offer a suggestion for a condition in that email that can trigger the rule. Click “create rule” for more suggestions of common conditions and actions or to create your own rule from scratch. When the rule creation box opens, you can easily check off one or more of the suggested rule conditions and actions. Then click finish and your quick rule is created.

Don’t see what you need in the suggested rule? If you click on advanced options, you can make a new rule from all the possible options.

Most advanced rules come in 3 parts as opposed to the 2 parts of the quick rules. These parts are conditions that trigger the rule, what happens when those conditions are met, and any exceptions to the rule. Let’s dive deeper into these three parts and how to add selections for each part.

Conditions to trigger a rule

Conditions that trigger a rule can be a lot of things taken from many parts of the email. Some of the most common are when the message is from a certain email address or has a specific keyword in the subject line. Some other common ones are messages to a specified email (such as a distribution list you are a part of) or if you are the only person in the to line. 

When you check a box at the top, the condition goes into the rule conditions at the bottom.

When you create a rule using advanced options, the first list will be all the possible conditions. Just check off any conditions that you want an email to have for this rule to take effect. Any rules that include an underlined word can be edited to meet your needs, such as subject contains “Valiant Technology”. You can change that out to just be “Valiant” or more specific like “Note added to T20191108.0186 for Valiant Technology”.

If you check more than one box, the additiona conditions will be added with the word “and.”

If you select more than one, all the conditions selected will have to be met for the rule to take place. To make the rule to happen even if only one condition is met, you should make the rule for one condition first and then make a copy of the rule when complete (see editing rules below).

Click next when your selections have been made and you are ready to move onto action selection.

Action a rule takes

All rules are a basic “if… then” functions. If the condition stated above is met, then an action follows. Outlook rules are no different.

Once more, checking at the top will also add to the description at the bottom.

The next list in creating a rule contains potential actions to be taken. Some of the most frequently used actions are to move an email to a specific folder, mark as read, or flag as important. Check off any and all actions you want performed by this rule. As before, if you check multiple actions, all the actions will be performed when the rule is triggered. Some actions require additional input from the user, such as making a custom response to an email or selecting a sound to go off when the conditions are met. These will be underlined to indicate that you shoud add the information needed.

Clicking the underlined options will open another window in your rules wizard.

Once you select what your rule will do, you can either stop here and save this rule by clicking “Finish” or you can make exceptions by clicking “next”. 

Exceptions to the rule

Broad rules may result with too many false positives to be useful. For example, you may want any email sent to a distribution list you are a part of to filter to a specific folder, unless it regards a certain client, who we’ll call ClientX. Making exceptions to rules is easy.

Add any applicable suggestions, and dont forget to scroll down for all the options.

The exceptions list has a number of ways to make the rule not trigger. You can select as many exceptions as you like by clicking the check box. Unlike the previous sections, if you select more than one of these, the rule will not be enacted if any one of the exceptions are met.

Click next to get to the finalization page for the rule.

Finalizing the rule

The finish page will show you all conditions, actions, and exceptions to the rule for you to review before finalizing.

Review the description, select options, and then finish your rule.

When you get to the finish page, you should name your rule to easily identify it and make changes in the future. You will also have the option to apply this rule to any previous emails that meet these conditions. This is great for cleaning up clutter in your inbox.  Your new rule will always apply to new emails that you receive that meet the specified conditions.

Click “Finish” to finalize the rule.

Changing or deleting an existing rule

You may find a rule is no longer relevant or you have to tweak the criteria to enact a rule or the actions it takes. You can find your active rules in Outlook under the same rules button at the top.

From the same menu as creating a rule, you can add or delete rules.

Click on “Manage rules and alerts”.

Browse through current rules to review what you have active. Check the box next to the rule name to quickly view the rule settings. At the top you have the options to change the rule settings, copy the rule, or delete it.

Changing, copying, and deleting rules is easy using the circled buttons.

I find for more complex rules it may be easier to delete and recreate, than to change several aspects, but that is a personal preference.

Organize your inbox now and forever

Naturally, you know your workflow better than a Knowledgebase article. Set up your own rules to clean up your current inbox and keep clutter from filling it back up. Some organizational rules will require you create folders and subfolders before beginning, so you may want to start there.

Lastly, if you find that your inbox is cluttered from too many duplicate or junk emails, instead of enacting rules to delete them, check out our article on Outlook clean up tools

Valiant Technology is the award-winning managed service provider to innovative industries in New York.

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