Wouldn’t it be great if we could establish exact rules of behavior for common occurrences in our lives? For example, “Let the cat out every night at 10 P.M.,” or “Feed fish at noon and 6 P.M.” Unfortunately, we can’t program the real world to work that way. Outlook, however, offers us a taste of that carefree organization with its Rules feature.

Wouldn’t your students like to automatically flag messages from their boss for follow-up; redirect messages to a group of committee members; or move messages to a particular folder based on who sent them? Rules allow users to do these things as messages arrive in their mailboxes. A rule is a set of actions, conditions, and exceptions that process and organize messages.

Each rule consists of three elements:

  • �One or more conditions that specify the message that the rule is supposed to apply to.
  • One or more actions that specify what should be done with the qualifying messages.
  • One or more exceptions that specify which messages won’t be affected by the rule.

Chart 1 shows a list of ways to use Rules as suggested by Outlook’s help files. When you create Rules, you can specify that Outlook apply them either as messages arrive or when you send a message. You can also have Outlook apply Rules to messages already in your Inbox or other folder.

How to get started
Perhaps the easiest way to create a rule is to use a message as a sort of template. You can then create a rule based on the properties of that message by doing the following:

  • Click on a received message in your Inbox (do not open it).
  • Click the Organize button on the Advanced toolbar.
  • Select Using Folders.
  • Verify that the name of the sender’s address is correct in the Create A Rule To Move Messages From line.
  • Choose the folder into which you want to move messages from that recipient.
  • Click Create.

Create rules using the Rules Wizard
You also may create a rule based on a message by using the Rules Wizard. To access the Wizard, you may:

  • Open the message the rule will be based on.
  • Click the Actions menu and choose Create Rule.
  • Follow the instructions in the Rules Wizard, checking all boxes next to the parameters that apply to each question.

Be careful not to choose unnecessary or conflicting parameters, as that will cause the rule to fail. A message must meet all the criteria you set for it in order for the rule to work.

If you’d like to run the rule on the messages in your Inbox, select the “Run this rule now on the messages already in” check box in the last dialog box of the Rules Wizard.

Double jeopardy: What rules apply first?
If you’ve created several rules and a particular message meets the criteria for two or more rules, you may wonder which will be applied first. The answer is, “The one that comes first.” But which is that? To find out, first click on the Tools menu and choose Rules Wizard. You’ll see a list of all the rules you’ve created.

To change the order in which the rules are applied, move them up or down in the list by using the Move Up and Move Down buttons. Rules that are marked Client Only are applied after all other rules (no matter where they are in the list), and are only active when Outlook is running. An example of a Client Only rule is one that plays a particular sound when a message from your boss arrives.

Rules at your beck and call
From the Rules Wizard, you can also specify whether the rule runs automatically or manually. For the most part, you’ll want to run your rules automatically so you won’t even have to think about them. But the advantage of running rules manually is that you can apply them to messages already delivered to your Inbox or to another folder.

To run rules manually:

  • Click the Inbox icon in the folder list or the Outlook bar.
  • Click the Tools menu and choose Rules Wizard.
  • Click the Run Now button.
  • Select each rule you wish to run now by clicking the check box next to it.
  • Click the Browse button to change the folder you’re running the rules on.
  • Check the Include Subfolders box if you want to include folders within your selected folder.
  • Click the Apply Rules To list, and select All, Unread or Read to indicate the type of messages on which you want to run the rules.
  • Click the Run Now button.

No rule is just right: Modifying or deleting rules
It’s easy to change an existing rule. Simply access the Rules Wizard from the Tools menu or the Rules Wizard button on the Advanced toolbar, click on the rule you want to change, and click Modify. From that point, you can follow the Wizard as you did when you created the rule, changing any part you wish.

It’s equally easy to delete a rule. Simply reopen the Rules Wizard, select the rule you wish to delete, and click the Delete button.

If you don’t want to delete a rule, but you want to turn it off for a while, simply clear the check box next to the rule in the Rules Wizard dialog box. It will remain inactive until you replace the check mark.

Sharing rules with other Outlook users
It is possible to import or export rules just as you would with Outlook’s Contacts. This can be useful when helping a new employee or teaching fellow workers about Outlook’s features.

Ready for greater challenges?
If you’ve mastered the basics of the Rules Wizard, or you want to create a rule that it simply can’t support, read How to Create a Custom Rule Using Visual Basic for Applications from the Microsoft Web site. The article describes how to get started by setting up a simple rule.

If you’re using Outlook 98 or an even earlier version, you may also need to use Visual Basic for Applications to create rules whose actions are supported only in Outlook 2000. Those actions include:

  • Redirecting an e-mail message to a person or a distribution list.
  • Forwarding the message as an attachment in another message.
  • Asking the server to reply to a certain type of message by using a message you’ve created.
  • Printing a message.
  • Starting a program.
  • Deleting items permanently.