Use Rules to Automatically Organize Email

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With a few, layered choices, Outlook's mail rules automatically sort my incoming messages into a series of folders. Messages from a certain editor about a certain topic go to one folder. Mail that contains likely-to-be-unwanted attachments goes to a junk folder. High-priority messages from people who respect that tag go into a third folder. These are just a few ways to sort mail to keep business moving.

Let's look for messages from a specific person about a certain topic. Before creating the rule, add a new folder if needed. Choose File, New, Folder, type a name, and click OK. If you're using an IMAP server and want folders synced across different devices, first highlight that mail account in the lower area.

Within Outlook's main window, choose Tools, Rules and Alerts. Click New Rule. You'll likely want to pick one of the Stay Organized choices; my rules mostly rely on the first option, Move message from someone to a folder. Click Next.

Click the first checkbox, from people or distribution list. Mark the checkbox that says with specific words in the subject or body. In the lower part of the window, click the blue people or distribution list, select a contact, and click OK. Click specific words, add a frequently used word or term, such as "weekly report," and click Add and OK. Click specified, pick a folder, and click OK. Click Next twice.

The exceptions window lets you add the old "and not"-style search, vetoing the prior rules if one of these is triggered. I don't need those rules for this simple list, but I will for another sorting system later. Click Next. Enter a name for the rule, and click Finish.

I like adding a few more conditions for other rules, such as sorting to my High Priority flagged folder. Too many people use the High Priority mail tag on a whim. To make a rule that sorts those messages into a certain folder, check the box marked as importance, and set that to High. Choose sender is in specified Address Book, and chose your Outlook contacts so that spam or unsolicited mail doesn't trigger the rule. In the exceptions screen, use the except if from people or distribution list option to take trigger-happy contacts out of the rule.

Experiment with ways to layer these rules to help clear inbox clutter and work efficiently. Every time a message arrives, you'll be paid back for time spent creating rules.

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