Getting a headache from all that Inbox overload? Chances are, almost half of those incoming emails can be handled automatically.
Think I’m joking? Take a look at what’s come in today, and I’ll show you what I mean. Out of the messages you’ve already received today, there are probably several that meet these criteria:
- Newsletters you’ve signed up for (but perhaps don’t have time to read right now)
- Electronic filing notices from the court(s) you have cases in
- Alerts from professional organizations you’re a member of
- Anything you get regularly from a given source
Once you filter those out, how many emails are left? Perhaps not that many.
If you could automate that filtering process – if Outlook could “set aside” these items for you automatically (without risking you losing track of something important), would you feel better about the state of your Inbox?
I thought so.
The answer lies in Outlook’s Rules (a.k.a. Rules & Alerts) feature.
One example: E-filing alerts from a court
Here’s an example: Let’s say you get half a dozen (or more) automated emails from the federal court ECF filing system. Obviously, you need to deal with those – review them, save and print the associated documents, etc. But maybe not right this minute.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Outlook would catch those emails, sort them into their appropriate case folders, and flag them for you to review at a moment when you’re not running out the door for a hearing?
Or say you subscribe to a handful of newsletters in your field. Wouldn’t it be easier to deal with your Inbox if Outlook could sort those out, leaving only the emails that need immediate attention?
Regardless of what version of Outlook you’re using, from 2010 on (i.e., any of the versions that have the Ribbon), the process of setting up a rule is pretty much the same. Here’s how you start the process:
- Go to the Home tab
- Click the Rules dropdown
- Click Create New Rule
Okay, now that you’ve gotten that far, let’s look at how you can set up your own Rules to deal with mail:
As you can see from the above video, there are lots of situations Rules can help with. My own “best practices” includes a rule that flags all incoming email with “uscourts.gov” in the sender’s address (which will capture all ECF filings) for follow-up within one day:
USCourts.gov Rule – Capturing all messages from uscourts.gov email domain
USCourts.gov Rule – Step 2: Flagging all captured email for follow-up within 1 day
One caveat: Some versions of Outlook automatically check the stop processing more rules checkbox when you get to the What do you want to do with the message? step. (That action is shown at the bottom of the Step 1 window in the illustration on the right above.) Be sure to uncheck that box. Unless you’ve got a specific purpose for this, it can cause the subsequent Rules to not do their thing.
This is because Rules do operate in a particular order, and every new Rule you make automatically jumps to the head of the line (unless you re-order your Rules, which is possible within the Rules dialog box and which I do every single time). So if one Rule removes an email from your inbox before another Rule has a chance to act on it, you might think your Rules aren’t doing what you told them to do.
Not just incoming mail – outgoing mail, too!
Keep in mind, too, that you can not only use Rules to process incoming mail, but also outgoing mail.
For example, I set up an outgoing email rule for a co-worker that flags for follow-up within 1 day any email she sends to a particular federal agency (she files applications for documentation, which generally include a credit card authorization for charges to the firm credit card).
Any time she sends an email to that agency’s email domain (the condition is with specific words in the recipient’s address, the variable being that agency’s email domain [replace specific words with whatever.gov]), Outlook adds a flag to the email and, within 1 day, pops up a reminder. This way, no matter how busy and distracted she gets, she receives a timely prompt from Outlook that reminds her to forward the credit card charges to Accounting to ensure they’re billed to the client.
How many different ways can you think of to use Outlook’s Rules feature to make managing your Inbox easier?