Create rules to automatically categorise incoming emails in Outlook

Tips for Outlook email - process messages using rules

Is your email inbox full of messages demanding your attention? How can you tell which ones to focus on? Outlook can automatically categorise incoming emails so you can see what is important.

A recent article showed how to create categories in Outlook.com email and how to assign categories to messages in the inbox. This enables you to more easily see which emails are important and what they are about without having to read them. Categories are great for searching and filtering messages too. That article showed how to manually assign categories, let’s see how to automate the process.

By creating rules for dealing with incoming email, we can easily assign categories to emails automatically based on the content of messages, the sender, or any one of several other parameters. Auto-categorising emails means less work for you, but a more organised inbox and easy search facilities.

1 Create an email rule

Create an email rule at the outlook.com website

Go to the Outlook.com website in a browser and click the gear icon in the top right corner to show the menu. Go down to the bottom and click View all Outlook settings.

Select Email in the first column, Rules in the second and then click Add new rule in the third column.

2 What will trigger the rule?

Create an email rule at the outlook.com website to process emails

Enter the name of the rule in the first box at the top. It can be anything, but something descriptive will help. This rule will add a Work category to emails, so it is called Work Category.

Click in the box under Add a condition and a menu appears on the right. The condition is something in an email that will trigger the rule. In this case, From is selected and this means that any email from a certain sender will trigger the rule.

3 Set the email rule condition

Set the condition that triggers an outlook.com email rule

Some conditions require more information. For example, we want this rule to be applied to emails from a certain sender, so a box appears on the right that enables you to enter an email address. Start typing and then click a suggestion if you see the one you want.

4 Add more email rule conditions

Set the condition for email rules at the outlook.com website

There can be one condition or several, just use as many as you need. Click Add another condition, select the type of condition and enter any extra information required. For example, Message body includes and then a word or phrase.

This rule has two conditions and both have to be met if the rule is to be applied. In this example, an email must come from a particular sender and the message body must contain a keyword. Any email that does not match both conditions is ignored.

5 Choose an action for the email rule

Choose the action for an email rule at the outlook.com website

After setting the conditions to trigger the rule, now we turn our attention to the action. What will happen when an email matches the rule conditions?

Click under Add an action and many different actions are listed. For this rule we want to assign a category to the email, so select Categorise in the first box. Click in the second box and select the category from the list.

6 Add more actions

Select an action for an email rule at the outlook.com website

Some rules only need one action, but some might require more. Click Add another action to add a second action. Click in the first box and select Move to, then click in the second box and select a folder, like Archive (use New folder at the bottom of the menu to create a folder if you want).

Save the rule if you are finished adding conditions and actions.

7 View the email rule

View email rules at the outlook.com website

The rule is listed on the Rules screen and it is described in plain language. This is a clever feature that makes it easy to see what rules do.

On the right of rules are four icons. If you have more than one rule, the up and down arrows move the rule up or down the list. The order in which rules are applied are sometimes important.

The pencil icon is for editing the rule and changing the conditions or actions. The trash can is to delete the rule. However, the on/off switch on the left of the name can be used to disable it if you don’t need it.

Summing up

We created just one rule to automatically apply one category to emails, but you could have several categories and more rules might be needed. Create them in the same way.

Categorising emails is useful, but adding actions that move them is even more useful and you can clear your inbox of incoming mail with rules.


What's next?