Teach Your Users to Manage Their Inbox with Rules

When I first read Sven Mogelgaard’s column titled Manage email spam, since you’ll never be rid of it I though that it would make an excellent segue into a post about fighting spam. Mostly, because I agree with the headline; spam will never go away and spammers will always seek new ways to bypass anti-spam filters so proper management has to be included in any anti-spam strategy.

However, as I read the column past the headline I realized that it spoke more about managing all emails, not just spam. He addresses spam by offering the old standby tip of setting up a separate email account for junk mail, but that is as far as it goes in addressing spam. The rest of the column offers some great tips on keeping your inbox from becoming rapidly cluttered with messages you are going to “read later.” Namely, creating folders and then setting up rules to automatically route emails to these folders so you can read them later without having them clutter up your inbox and distracting you from the more important messages you may need to read.

Rules in Outlook

This is a great piece of advice, and one I use regularly. However I do remember telling my co-workers to do the same and having them look at me like I asked them to perform a triple-bypass, blindfolded.

To help you help your users create folders and lists, here is a step-by-step guide you can point them to.

In this brief tutorial we are going to deal with the onslaught of newsletters that fill your inbox. Now of course we are talking about the legitimate ones you signed up for with the intention of actually reading at one point. Not the ones that you receive because you signed up for some get rich quick advertisement or a quick weight loss program.

Creating folders

Step 1 – Switch to the Folder tab and click on the New Folder icon. This brings up the Create New Folder dialog box.

Step 2 – The name, Generic Mail Folder will be the default. This won’t work so you need to rename it. If you are going to put all newsletters in this folder, name it Newsletters. If it is going to be a specific type of newsletter, lets say for investment information call it Investment Newsletters. Click OK when you are done.

Easy enough, right? Now you can go back and file all of your unread email messages under that new folder.

While you are doing that, make note of subject lines, sender addresses or anything else that might identify the emails you want to store in this folder. You will need them for the next set of steps.

Creating a rule

Rules allow you to tell your email client how to handle mail with certain criteria. In this example, we are going to send newsletters from a specific email address to the Newsletters folder we created earlier. Rules can be set for just about any email client, for this example though we are going to be using Outlook 2010.

Step 1 – On the Home tab, click on the Rules icon. From here, click on Create Rule…

Step 2 – Give the rule a name, for this one Newsletters will work just fine.

Step 3 – Now you need to set the conditions that the email needs to meet and tell your email client what to do with those emails. Under the section that reads When a new message arrives that meets these conditions make sure that you set the first condition to From à Is and then enter the email address of the sender. (If there are any other conditions you can delete them.)

Step 4 – In the section that reads Do the following select Move to folder à Newsletters. Now click on OK.

That’s it, the rule is set and your email inbox will be much more manageable. Go ahead and set up more rules for other items that clutter up your inbox but aren’t considered junk mail.

As an email admin, teaching your users to better manage their email will help you better fight spam. If there legitimate subscriptions and alerts are sent to folders for review, they know that anything else that looks out of place may be spam and can handle these messages according to your organization’s policies.

Written by Jeff


  1. Rob Ken · December 11, 2012

    Rules tend to get very complicated over time. Sometimes it is best to send all somewhat useful email to one folder than to set separate folders for each of the recipients you occasionally get emails from.

  2. Abe Cornish · December 16, 2012

    I agree with you, Ken. This usually happens when your contacts are already expanding or you start subscribing to so many things. Further, a lot of rules can also take a lot of your time. That’s why I always go for simplification. One, don’t subscribe into anything you 50 percent want. Second, create different e-mails for personal and business and/or work. Usually the most important personal messages are delivered through mobile devices like cell phones. Third, don’t sweat the small stuff. Unless it’s truly important, you can just delete those things that have not been filtered by the rules.

  3. Ike Taylor · December 19, 2012

    Rules, rules, rules. I used to do this until I realized I can no longer keep up with the mails. Every time I go back to work after a weekend, there would be more than 200 desiring my attention. I opted to make things very simple then. I make rules only on those mails I wish to receive. I also unsubscribed to a lot of blogs and e-zines. Pinterest has been a very helpful tool since I only have to add the link or the image on the board so I can get back at them when I find the time.

  4. Magic Morgan · December 27, 2012

    When it comes to filtering e-mails, nothing ever guarantees, not even the strictest rule settings. I should know since some e-mails get leaked to the inbox than on their respective folders. Perhaps it’s because even the settings themselves can be pretty limited. For example, a slight change in the Sender’s name can already prevent the system from filing it in the correct folder. The same thing can be said about spam mails, which change fields very often. If one really wants to get rid of spam, he can just invest in a good technology or tool.

  5. Bob Shutter · December 31, 2012

    I don’t know with you, guys, but I still have a lot of faith when it comes to inbox rules. Maybe because it works for me. I know it’s a whole lot of work, and sometimes it doesn’t act the way it’s supposed to, as some spam still ends up in the mailbox rather than being blocked or sent into the Junk Mail folder. However, it doesn’t happen too often, and I enjoy the organization that I can see in my own inbox. It also helps if you don’t subscribe to all the websites you love. Instead, just bookmark them.

  6. Sheila Darren · January 2, 2013

    The article’s title is actually right. I don’t think avoiding the rules and inbox organization is going to make things easier. You can’t just let the continuous outpouring of spam mail ruin your strategy in managing all types of e-mails. But it’s also important we go beyond organization. We should learn how to carefully choose the newsletters we are going to subscribe on, run good filters, and check our Junk Mail once in a while since some good e-mails may end up in there. For those who are in the corporate industry, they can coordinate with their IT department on how to manage inboxes.

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