How do I use rules in Outlook?

A rule is an action that Microsoft Outlook performs automatically upon incoming or outgoing messages, based on conditions that you have specified. You can create a rule from a template, from a message, or using your own conditions. You can choose many conditions and actions by using the Rules Wizard. Rules fall into one of two categories — organization and notification. Rules don’t operate on messages that have been read, only on those that are unread.
Rule templates in the Rules Wizard

The Rules Wizard includes templates for the most frequently used rules, which include the following:

  • Stay organized. These rules help you file and follow up on messages. For example, you can create a rule for messages from a specific sender, such as Bobby Moore, with the word "sales" in the Subject line, to be flagged for follow-up, categorized as Sales, and moved to a folder named Bobby's Sales.
  • Stay up to date. These rules notify you in some way when you receive a particular message. For example, you can create a rule that automatically sends an alert to your mobile device when you receive a message from a family member.
  • Start from a blank rule. These are rules that you create without the aid of a rule template and that you can completely customize.

Create a rule

Outlook includes rule templates for common scenarios. Use these rule templates, or create design your own custom rules.

Use Outlook rule templates

  1. Click the File tab and select Manage Rules & Alerts.
  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, on the E-mail Rules tab, click New Rule.
  3. Select a template:
    1. Select the template that you want from the Stay Organized or Stay Up to Date collection of templates.
    2. Edit the rule description, click an underlined value. For example, if you click the people or public group link, the Address Book opens, then click Next.
  4. Select condition(s):
    1. Select the conditions that you want the messages to meet for the rule to apply.
    2. Edit the rule description, click an underlined value for any condition that you added, specify the value, then click Next.
  5. Select action(s):
    1. Select the action that you want the rule to take when the specified conditions are met.
    2. Edit the rule description, click an underlined value for any action that you added, specify the value, and then click Next.
  6. Select exception(s):
    1. Select any exceptions to the rule, and then click Next.
    2. Edit the rule description, click an underlined value for any exception that you added, specify the value, and then click Next.
  7. Specify a name for this rule by entering a name.
  8. Setup rule options, select the check boxes for the options that you want, then select Finish.
    • If you want to run this rule on messages that already are in the Inbox, select the Run this rule now on messages already in “Inbox" check box.
    • By default, the new rule is turned on. To turn off the rule, clear the Turn on this rule check box.
    • To apply this rule to all email accounts set up in Outlook, select the Create this rule on all accounts check box.

Design a custom rule

  1. Click the File tab and select Manage Rules & Alerts.
  2. In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, on the E-mail Rules tab, and click New Rule.
  3. Under Start from a Blank Rule, click either Check messages when they arrive or Check messages after sending and click Next.
  4. Select condition(s):
    1. Select the conditions that you want the messages to meet for the rule to apply.
    2. Edit the rule description, click an underlined value for any condition that you added, specify the value, then click Next.
  5. Select action(s):
    1. Select the action that you want the rule to take when the specified conditions are met.
    2. Edit the rule description, click an underlined value for any action that you added, specify the value, then click Next.
  6. Select exception(s):
    1. Select any exceptions to the rule, and then click Next.
    2. Edit the rule description, click an underlined value for any exception that you added, specify the value, then click Next.
  7. Specify a name for this rule, enter a name.
  8. Setup rule options, select the check boxes for the options that you want, and then click Finish.
    • If you want to run this rule on messages that already are in the Inbox, select the Run this rule now on messages already in “Inbox" check box.
    • By default, the new rule is turned on. To turn off the rule, clear the Turn on this rule check box.
    • To apply this rule to all email accounts set up in Outlook, select the Create this rule on all accounts check box.

Create a rule based on senders or recipients of a message

A rule can be quickly created from any message. The advantage of creating a rule in this manner is that rules are suggested based on the message sender or recipients. For example, when you start with a message, one rule that is suggested moves all messages from that sender to a folder that you choose.

  1. Click the message for which you want to create a rule, and then on the Home tab, in the Move group, click Rules.

Suggested rules appear based on the message sender and recipients.

  1. Do one of the following:
  • Click one of the suggested rules, click a destination folder, and then click OK.
  • For more rules options that are based on the sender, recipients, or subject of the message, click Create Rule.

If you chose to Create Rule, the Create Rule dialog box appears. Continue with the following steps.

  1. Under When I get e-mail with all of the selected conditions, select the check boxes for the conditions that you want.
  2. Under Do the following, select the check boxes for the action that you want the rule to take when the specified conditions are met.
  3. Select the Move the item to folder check box.
  4. Click an existing folder or click New to create a folder to store the messages.

To add more conditions, actions, or exceptions to the rule, click Advanced Options, and then follow the rest of the instructions in the Rules Wizard. This is the same wizard that appears when you click Manage Rules & Alerts in the Backstage view (by clicking the File tab). 

Run rules manually

If you want to manually run one or more rules, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab and select Manage Rules & Alerts.
  2. Click Run Rules Now.
  3. In the Run Rules Now dialog box, under Select rules to run, select the check box next to each rule that you want to run.
  4. In the Run in Folder box, if you want to select a different folder, click Browse, click the folder, and then click OK.
    • Select the Include subfolders check box to include all folders under the folder that was specified above.
  5. In the Apply rules to list, the default is all messages. You can change this to read or unread messages, then click Run Now.

Server-based rules versus client-only rules

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

  • Server-based rules: If you are using a Microsoft Exchange Server account, some rules that you create are server-based rules. These rules run on your mailbox on the Exchange mail server, even when Outlook isn’t running on your computer. 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 becomes a client-only rule.
  • Client-only rules: Client-only rules are rules that run only on your computer. These are rules that can’t run until they are completed on the server, such as specifying to print certain messages. Client-only rules can only run when Outlook is running.

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

Applying rules to other Outlook items

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 are messages. For example, a rule that moves items with the word "meeting" in the subject to a specific folder, also moves all delivery receipts, voting responses, or an Automatic Reply that contains the word "meeting" in the subject.

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

Meeting requests, task requests, and documents

When applying rules, meeting requests, task requests, and documents are treated as messages. For example, when you create a rule that moves items with the word "meeting" in the Subject box to a specific folder, any task request or meeting request that meets that condition is moved also. However, be aware the following limitations when you create rules that affect these kinds of items:

  • An item moved to a folder other than a mail folder might not work as expected after it is 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 depending on how the rule is created.

  • Move messages sent to a Contact Group folder. This rule is available only if you are 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.

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Last updated: 

March 12, 2013

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