Manage email messages by using rules

A rule is an action that Outlook 2013 or Outlook 2016 for Windows runs automatically on incoming or outgoing messages. You choose what triggers the rule as well as the actions the rule takes. For example, you can create a rule to move all messages from your manager to a folder or to delete all messages with "Buy now!" in the subject.

How rules help you manage email messages

By using rules, you can reduce manual and repetitive actions needed to manage your email messages. When you turn on rules, they run continuously and automatically.

Rules generally fall into one of two categories—organization or notification. You can use the Rules Wizard to help you design rules to manage your messages.

The Rules Wizard includes templates for the most frequently used rules.

Outlook Rules Wizard

  • Stay Organized   
    These rules help you not only to file messages, but also to follow-up with messages. You can create a rule for messages from a specific sender. So you could set a rule, for example, that messages received from Keri Mills with the word "sales" in the Subject box are to be flagged for follow-up, categorized as Sales, and moved to a folder named Keri’s Sales.

  • Stay Up to Date   
    These rules notify you—based on choices you make—when you receive a particular message. You can create a rule, for example, that automatically sends a message to a mobile device when you receive a message from a family member.

  • Start from a blank rule   
    These are rules that you can create and customize without a rule template.

Tip: For your convenience, each section is compressed under a header. To open the Create a rule section, for example, choose >.


Step 1: Choose an Outlook rules template

  1. Choose Rules > Manage Rules & Alerts from the ribbon or choose the File tab and then choose Manage Rules & Alerts.

  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, on the E-mail Rules tab, choose New Rule.

  3. In the Rules Wizard, under Step 1: Select a template, pick one of the default templates under Stay Organized, Stay Up to Date, or, Start from a blank rule.


Step 2: Edit the rule description

Each one of the rule templates that you chose in Step 1 has slightly different options for Step 2. When the options require you to make a choice, for example to specify a sender or choose a folder, the option will be underlined. For this example, we've picked one of the most common rules, to move messages from someone to a folder.

  1. Choose people or public group in the edit description box to display your address book. Either choose a name from your address book or type the person's address in the From box, then choose OK.

  2. Choose specified to display a list of your folders. You can choose an existing folder or choose New to create a new folder. When you've selected the appropriate folder, choose OK.

If you want to explore advanced options for the rule, choose Next and then skip to Advanced Rule Options, below. Otherwise, choose Finish. This returns you to the Rules and Alerts window. From here, you can create another rule or choose OK to save your changes.

 

• Move messages from someone to a folder

  1. Choose the people or public folder link.

  2. In the Rule Address dialog box, do one of the following:

    • In the Search box, type a name.

      or

    • In the Address Book list, choose a source.

  3. When your selection is displayed in the From box, choose OK.

  4. Choose the specified folder link, and in the Rules and Alerts dialog box, choose a folder, and then choose OK.

  5. Choose Next and go to Step 3: Set conditions for a rule.

 

• Move messages with specific words in the subject to a folder

  1. Choose the specific words the subject link.

  2. In the Search Text dialog box, in the Specify words or phrases to search for in the subject box, type a word or phrase to be searched for.

  3. Choose Add to add your entry to the Search list pane, and then choose OK.

  4. Choose the specified folder link, and in the Rules and Alerts dialog box, choose a folder, and then choose OK.

  5. Choose Next and go to Step 3: Set conditions for a rule.

 

• Move messages sent to a public group to a folder

  1. Choose the people or public folder link.

  2. In the Rule Address dialog box, do one of the following:

    • In the Search box, type a name.

      or

    • In the Address Book list, choose a source.

  3. When your selection is displayed in the To box, choose OK.

  4. Choose the specified folder link, and in the Rules and Alerts dialog box, choose a folder, and then choose OK.

  5. Choose Next and go to Step 3: Set conditions for a rule.

 

• Flag messages from someone for follow-up

  1. Choose the people or public folder link.

  2. In the Rule Address dialog box, do one of the following:

    • In the Search box, type a name.

      or

    • In the Address Book list, choose a source.

  3. When your selection is displayed in the From box, choose OK.

  4. In the Flag Message dialog box, in the Flag to box, accept the default setting of Follow up, or choose another item in the list.

  5. In the For box, accept the default setting of Today or choose another item in the list.

  6. Choose OK > Next, and then go to Step 3: Set conditions for a rule.

 

• Move RSS items from a specific RSS Feed to a folder

Note: To use this option, you must subscribe to an RSS feed. When you choose this option, there is a prompt to continue. If you choose No, you can't proceed, but if you choose Yes, you can.

Stay Up to Date template

 

• Display mail from someone in the New Item Alert Window

  1. Choose the people or public folder link.

  2. In the Rule Address dialog box, do one of the following:

    • In the Search box, type a name.

      or

    • In the Address Book list, choose a source.

  3. When your selection is displayed in the From box, choose OK.

  4. Choose the specific message in the New Item Alert window link.

  5. In the Alert Message dialog box, in the Specify an alert message box, type a message, and then choose OK.

  6. Choose Next, and then go to Step 3: Set conditions for a rule.

 

• Play a sound when I get messages from someone

  1. Choose the people or public folder link.

  2. In the Rule Address dialog box, do one of the following:

    • In the Search box, type a name.

      or

    • In the Address Book list, choose a source.

  3. When your selection is displayed in the From box, choose OK.

  4. Choose the play a sound link, and in the Select a Sound to Play window, choose a file (for example, a .wav file), and then choose Open.

  5. Choose Next, and then go to Step 3: Set conditions for a rule.

 

• Send an alert to my mobile device when I get messages from someone

  1. Choose the people or public folder link.

  2. In the Rule Address dialog box, do one of the following:

    • In the Search box, type a name.

      or

    • In the Address Book list, choose a source.

  3. When your selection is displayed in the From box, choose OK.

  4. Choose the forward it to people or public group link.

  5. In the Rules Address dialog box, do one of the following:

    • In the Search box, type a name.

      or

    • In the Address Book list, choose a source.

  6. When your selection is displayed in the To box, choose OK.

  7. Choose Next, and then go to Step 3: Set conditions for a rule.

Start from a blank rule template

  1. Choose one of the following.

    • Apply rule on messages I receive

      or

    • Apply rule on messages I send

  2. Choose Next, and then go to Step 3: Set conditions for a rule.


Step 3: Set conditions for a rule

You now have the opportunity to add conditions to the options you chose in Step 2: Choose a template option. Based on the conditions you select, the options available to edit the rule description will vary.

Set the conditions for when to apply the rules for the option chosen in the Stay Organized template or the Stay Up to Date template when you started the Rules Wizard

  1. Under Step 1: Select condition(s), select the check box for the condition you want to add.

    Note: You can select multiple check boxes.

  2. Under Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value), choose a link, complete the required actions, and when done, choose OK.

  3. Choose the next link, complete the required actions, and when done, choose OK.

  4. If another link is available, choose it, complete the required actions, and when done, choose OK.

  5. Choose Finish when done.

  1. On the File tab, choose Manage Rules & Alerts.

  2. In the Rules and Alerts box, on the E-mail Rules tab, choose New Rule.

  3. Under Start from a blank rule, choose either Apply rule on message I receive or Apply rule on message I send,

  4. Choose Next, and then do the following:

    • Under Step 1: Select condition(s), select which conditions (criteria) that you want the messages to meet (match) for the rule to apply.

      and

    • Under Step 2: Edit the rule description, choose an underlined value for any condition that you added, and then specify the value.

  5. Choose Next, and then do the following:

    • Under Step 1: Select action(s), select the action that you want the rule to take when the specified conditions are met.

      and

    • Under Step 2: Edit the rule description, click an underlined value for any action that you added, and then specify the value.

  6. Choose Next, and then do the following:

    • Under Step 1: Select exception(s), select any exceptions to the rule, and then choose Next.

      and

    • Under Step 2: Edit the rule description, choose an underlined value for any exception that you added, and then specify the value.

  7. Choose Next, and do the following:

    • Under Step 1: Specify a name for this rule, type a name.

      and

    • Under Step 2: Setup rule options, select the check boxes for the options that you want.

      Tips: 

      • To run the rule on messages that already are in the Inbox, select the Run this rule now on messages already in “Inbox" check box.

      • To turn off the rule that is automatically turned on, clear the Turn on this rule check box.

      • To apply the rule to all email accounts set up in Outlook, select the Create this rule on all accounts check box.

  8. Choose Finish.

You can create a rule from any message. The advantage of this method is that rules are suggested based on the message sender or recipient. For example, when you start with a message, one rule that is suggested moves all messages from the sender to a folder that you choose.

  1. In your Inbox, choose the message you want to create a rule for, and then on the Home tab, in the Move group, choose Rules.

    Note: In the Rules list, suggested rules appear based on the message sender and recipients.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Choose a suggested rule, choose a destination folder, and then choose OK to complete the assignment of a rule.

      or

    • Choose Create Rule and go to the next step.

  3. In the Create Rule dialog box, under When I get e-mail with all of the selected conditions, select none or one or more of the available check boxes.

  4. Under Do the following, select the check boxes for the action you want the rule to take when the specified conditions (criteria) are met.

  5. Select the Move the item folder check box.

  6. Do one of the following:

    • Choose Select Folder and pick an existing folder.

      or

    • Choose New to create a folder.

    Notes: 

    • To add more conditions, actions, or exceptions to the rule, choose Advanced Options, and then follow the rest of the instructions in the Rules Wizard.

    • See Design a custom rule for more information.

  7. Choose OK.

  8. In the notification box, do one of the following:

    • Choose OK.

      or

    • Select the Run this rule now on messages already in the current folder check box, and then choose OK.

See Import or export a set of rules to learn how to import or export rules so that others can use them.

You can delete a rule when it's no longer necessary.

  1. On the File tab, choose Manage Rules & Alerts.

  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, on the E-mail Rules tab, choose the rule you want to delete.

  3. Choose Delete Delete icon > OK.

You can manually run one or more rules.

  1. On the File tab, choose Manage Rules & Alerts, and on the E-mail Rules tab, choose Run Rules Now.

  2. In the Run Rules Now box, under Select rules to run, select the check box for each rule that you want to run.

  3. In the Run in Folder box, to select a different folder, choose Browse, choose the folder, and then choose OK.

    Select the Include subfolders check box to include all folders under the folder you chose in step 3.

  4. In the Apply rules to list, accept the default setting of all messages, or change to read or unread messages.

  5. Choose Run Now.

There are two types of rules in Outlook—server-based and client-only.

  • Server-based rules    
    When you're using a Microsoft Exchange Server account, some rules are server-based. These rules run on your mailbox on the Exchange mail server even when Outlook isn’t running.

    Server-based rules must apply to messages when they are first delivered to your Inbox, and the rules must be able to run until they are completed on the server. For example, a rule that specifies that a message be printed can’t run until it is completed on the server. If a rule can’t be applied on the server, it is applied when you start Outlook and then becomes a client-only rule.

  • Client-only rules   
    Client-only rules are rules that run only on your computer. These are rules that run in Outlook instead of on the Exchange server. Client-only rules can only run when Outlook is running.

Tip: If your list of rules contains both kinds of rules, the server-based rules are applied first, followed by the client-only rules.

Delivery receipts, voting responses, and Automatic Replies

When rules are applied, delivery receipts, read receipts, voting responses, and Automatic Replies (Out of Office notifications) are processed as if they're messages. A rule that moves messages with the word "meeting" in the Subject box to a specific folder, for example, also moves all delivery receipts, voting responses, or an Automatic Replies to that same folder.

Note: When a rule moves voting responses from the Inbox to another folder, vote tracking is affected. When a sent message that included a voting button is opened, the tracking information won’t include a tally for responses that a rule moved. Manually moving or deleting a response doesn’t affect tracking.

Meeting requests, task requests, and documents

Meeting requests, task requests, and documents are considered messages. If you create a rule that moves an item to a specific folder based on certain conditions (criteria) being met (matched), then any meeting and task request matching those conditions also is moved. Be aware, however, of the following limitations when you create rules that affect these kinds of items:

  • If an item is moved to a folder other than a mail folder, the item might not work as expected after it's moved. For example, if a message is moved to the Calendar folder, a new appointment isn’t created.

  • If a meeting or task response is moved to the Deleted Items folder by using a rule, the response isn’t tracked by the original item.

  • If a meeting request is automatically moved to the Deleted Items folder, the meeting isn’t added to the Calendar.

  • Rules that affect messages that you send aren’t applied to task requests and meeting requests.

Contact Groups

A rule that includes a Contact Group can behave differently than other rules depending on how the rule is created.

  • Move messages sent to a public group to a folder   
    This rule is available only if you're using an Exchange Server account. Only messages that are sent to the Contact Group are moved to the specified folder. Messages from people who are members of the Contact Group aren’t moved to the specified folder.

Exchange Server accounts (starting with Exchange Server 2010) can use rules to forward messages to email addresses outside your organization. An Exchange administrator, however, can prevent automatic forwarding of messages to recipients in specific domains.

For more information, see Determine the version of Microsoft Exchange Server my account connects to.

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