How to Use Rules to Manage Your Outlook Inbox

Is your inbox full of emails that you still need to address?  When you are out of the office for a day or two, do you wind up deleting a lot of emails or moving them to a folder because they are just not that important?  Email is a very easy and quick way to communicate, but your inbox can become unmanageable at times.  Outlook has some great built-in tools to help you manage your email. This article will show you how to setup the Outlook Rules feature to better manage your overflowing inbox.

What are Outlook Rules?

Outlook Rules can automatically handle email messages that are sent to you.  A rule can be as simple as automatically putting an email into a specific folder based on the sender’s email address or it can be much more complex based on the settings you specify. We'll step through a few examples. 

Automatically Move Emails to a Specific Folder from a Specific Folder

The Rules tool is on the Home tab of Outlook.

When you click on “Rules”, you will see the start of a rule based on the email message you currently have selected.  

This rule will automatically move emails from this sender to a folder you specify.

Once you select the folder, the rule will be performed on all emails currently in your inbox and continue to be performed on all emails being sent to you.

Automatically Move Emails to a Specific Folder Based on Other Criteria

To create a rule that will move an email to a specific folder based on other criteria, click on “Rules” and then “Create Rule…”

In this window you can select several criteria that will determine how the email is handled. In the "Do the following" section you can decide what happens when you receive an email that meets those criteria. For example, you can move emails from a certain sender that contains specific content in the subject line to a specific folder.

Creating Advanced Rules

To create more complex rules, click on “Rules”, “Manage Rules & Alerts…”.

Then click “Advanced Options”.

The “Advanced Options” window provides many additional conditions that can be setup:

Let’s setup a rule that will automatically forward an email to your backup while on vacation and then place it in a folder called “Company News”. We'll also set additional conditions that dictates if you were “CC'd” on the message and if the word “Newsletter” was in the message header. Finally, we'll also set a condition that the words “newsletter.com” were part of the sender's email address.

1. To setup the condition, you would select:

  • Where my name is in the CC box
  • With specific words in the message header
  • With specific words in the sender’s address

2. Note in “Step 2”, the rules that need further details have a section of the rule underlined in blue. In this case, two of the conditions have specific words in blue.  Click on the blue link to provide the details for that specific condition.

3. For the rule “with specific words in the sender’s address”, click on specific words.  Type the words that must be in the sender’s address and the click “Add”.  When complete, click “OK”.

4. The same must be done for the rule “with specific words in the message header”.


5. You will see the actual values in the conditions window.

6. After setting up the conditions, click “Next” to specify what actions should be performed on the emails. In this example, we will forward the email to your backup and then move it to the "Newsletter" folder. 


7. Again, click on the blue underlined portion of the action to provide further details.  So for the forward action, click on people or public group and select the person(s) or group to send the email to.

8. Next, click on specific folder to identify the "Company News” folder.

9. Once again, all the details will be substituted in the “Rules” window.

10. Next, you will be able to specify any exceptions to the rule.

11. The last step in setting up a rule is to provide a name, turn the rule on, and optionally, have the rule run for all current emails in your inbox.

The Rule Manager

To see all the rules that have been created, click on “Rules” and then “Manage Rules & Alerts”

From this window, you can delete, copy or update existing rules, as well as create a new rules or run a rule manually.

As you can see, Rules is a great tool to help manage your Inbox automatically, so that you can just concentrate on those emails that require your immediate or personal attention.

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NH Learning SolutionsDebra Novara

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