Using Outlook Rules to control the Email deluge

The 80/20 rule is ruthless. It operates as much in our inbox as it does in every other aspect of life. Given that not all emails are created equal, lets delegate the grunt work of initial sorting of emails for us to Outlook itself. Here’s how:

Before we get to the mechanics of rule creation a question: Why not let me know your thoughts on this in the comments section below. What else do you do to manage your inbox as opposed to have it manage you?

I would strongly suggest that any emails you have subjected to Rules that you will need to see, you create a numbered subfolder for. This way they appear immediately under your Inbox in your Folder List. Obviously any non mission critical mails and distribution list driven ‘Info fodder’ you create a rule for will go to a ‘Snooze/ Snore’ type folder (I call mine ‘ZZZZZZ’ and only check it in low energy time)

My current ruled subfolders are:
01 – From specific key people (Very select! Some people find it useful for their Boss, for example)
02 – From Spinvox (the service I use to send myself action memos when away from my desk)
03 – CC mails (where I am CCd – and which I interrogate only twice a day max, once usually)
04 and beyond – Current Key Projects/initiatives – Where I am collaborating with others on specific projects. We all agree to use a specific code in the subject line and filter our mails accordingly.

For a little on philosophy and purpose check out:
How to regain control of your In-box

Now for the mechanics:
In your Inbox folder go to the top toolbar.
Hit ‘Tools’ and select ‘Rules and Alerts’
In the ‘Email Rules’ tab hit the ‘New Rule’ button
In the Rules Wizard select ‘Start from a Blank rule’
The objective now is to build the rule in the bottom box with options from the top box. Select the element in the top box by checking the appropriate line and then by giving appropriate values to any text that is blue and underlined in the bottom box. You move from condition to condition in building the rule by hitting the ‘Next’ button. Finally hit ‘Finish’.
The final step is to choose whether to just activate the rule on new stuff or run the rule on all existing emails in your inbox.

Of course, you can always contact us directly to tailor a support programme to your needs


  1. Richard Maybury June 23, 2009 at 6:41 am

    A couple of questions Billy:
    1 Is this the first rule that applies? You can create rules any time and they will be applied in the order they are created unless you move the rules up and down the list by highlighting the approproate rule line and hitting the blue up and down arrows.
    2 Is the sender a real person or is it an alias or a distribution list? If it is a Distribution list then any mail from people within that list might be caught by the Rule. The same can apply with an alias.

    Let me know how you get on with this

  2. Daniel June 23, 2009 at 2:50 am

    My boss told me I have too many emails and to use rules to filter. The first rule I set up was ’email from sender should go to the folder xyz’. I get a lot of automated email from xyz. Well, lo and behold, xyz’s emails go to the folder, but also all sorts of other regular people go there.

    It is the simplest rule in the world. But now it makes my life a nightmare as the rule sucks up emails from legit senders.

    Thanks Billy. Another well designed product.

  3. […] have a numbered subfolder in my inbox called ‘05 Faff!’ Where I put the mails I can not make an instant 4D decision on – sometimes […]

  4. Richard Maybury May 21, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I agree. It is interesting to see how the current tools available to many people in companies now is already curbing the use of email. We are still a long way from reducing corporate dependence on email but I see many areas where other collaboration and teaming tools are being used alongside email within and across teams.

  5. Pankaj May 21, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    part of the problem is using email for the wrong things – working together on documents, assigning tasks, having group discussions etc. in these group situations, a single mail evokes a torrent of responses. James Gaskin from is presenting a webinar on this subject on the 28th of may if you may be interested. you can register here –

  6. […] have, presumably, already created critical email Rules in Outlook to help you manage the deluge and operate from an empty inbox with our 4D […]

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