How to keep your inbox clean using rules

Rules & Alerts are very powerful for productivity and a brilliant way of clearing the clutter from your inbox.

If you use email on a daily basis, then there’s a good chance that you’re using Microsoft Outlook, but did you know that you can make Outlook work for you using rules to manage your incoming emails?

Whilst this blog is focussed on Outlook, there will be similar options in your email client of choice.

Target email

The first step is to define the conditions that the target email meets. The easiest way to do this is to right-click on an example of the email you want to create a rule for and choose > rules > create rule. This populates the options you may wish to choose, but if you want to get a bit more control, then click on the ‘Advanced Options’ button.

Keeping your Microsoft Outlook inbox clean using rules

Advanced options

There are multiple options here, but the ones most commonly used are:

•  Specific words in the subject, good for filtering out eNewsletters that use common phrases.
•  Specific words in the body of the email – which again is good for filtering out bulk or automated emails that you may receive.
•  From a specific sender who may be an important contact or an email you know will be low priority.

You can also choose more than one option, so you could select from a specific email address and have a specific subject which means you can be a lot more focussed on the actual emails you wish to target.

The action

Once you’ve set the rule for which emails you want to be moved or changed in some way, you then have to define the action part of the rule. Again, you can choose multiple options as long as they don’t conflict with one another and importantly, tell it to stop processing further rules which may also match another condition of the email.
The most common actions are:

•  Move it to a folder, for instance, you could send all newsletters to a ‘read later’ folder.
•  Forward the email to someone else, you may receive invoices to your mailbox that have to be forwarded to accounts every time. Set up a rule and never forget to forward it again.
•  Mark it as important or play a sound for those emails from your boss that have to be actioned right away.
•  There is also the delete option, to be used carefully for only the most unwanted emails.

The exception to the rule

They say that every rule has an exception, and this is where you have a rule set up to action but there might be a condition where you don’t want it to be moved, deleted, or whatever, other than the action you’ve selected. You may have an exception on all rules to not do anything with the email if it has ‘lunch order’ in the subject.

Finishing off

You can choose to ‘run this rule now’ on all of your mailbox content, this is very helpful for clearing out months or even years of long forgotten emails. Remember to ‘turn on this rule’ if you want it to action emails on arrival, or you could leave this unchecked if you’re using the rule as a weekly clean-up.

Rule management

You might want to ‘tweak’ some rules at times and to do this, instead of clicking ‘create rule’ in the steps above, just choose ‘manage rules & alerts’.

What to do now

Decide how you will manage your inbox and plan your rules. Will you separate everything into folders and allow for only the most important correspondence? Or perhaps you’ll use flags to highlight the most important emails to make them stand out? Whatever you decide, there will be a way of creating rules to ensure Outlook is working for you in the way that you want.


This has just been just a quick overview, but Rules & Alerts are very powerful for productivity and a brilliant way of clearing the clutter from your inbox. Dip your toe in first and build up your rules carefully, you’ll end up wondering how you managed without them.

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