Email filtering can significantly increase your productivity by letting your computer do a lot of the work you usually do in sorting email. It can also help alert you to important messages and filter out the email you don’t want to read. Best of all, email filtering is really easy to set up.
What Is Email Filtering?
Almost all email programs let users write “rules” that select particular emails when they arrive in your inbox and then perform a specific action on them. Most rules simply select emails based on their From or Subject fields and filter them into a particular folder. For example, you can filter comment replies from Tips4PC into a folder named Tips4PC or Comment Replies.
Beyond basic email filtering, you can tell your email program to reply to particular emails to acknowledge receiving them, file multiple copies for backup purposes, forward emails to another account to alert you of important messages, flag emails as important so you see them as soon as you return to your computer, or automatically delete emails from people you don’t like.
How To Get Started With Email Filtering
The first step for email filtering is to determine what email you want to filter. There are several popular criteria you can choose from:
- From address For example, email@example.com.
- To address This is great for people who receive email from multiple addresses to the same inbox. It can also be used for email newsletters which are often sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Subject Mostly used for mailing lists, newsletters, and other emails that all include the same words in the Subject line of every email.
- Attachments You might want to create special email filtering rules for attachments if you have limited space in your email account or if you want to avoid forwarding big attachments to other accounts.
- Message Body This is the actual text of the message. If you receive a lot of email and want to separate out emails containing specific keywords, you can create a Message Body email filtering rule.
- Date and Time (Only available in some email programs.) This is great for forwarding important emails to a different account after regular business hours or when you’re on vacation.
After you determine what you want to filter, you need to determine what you want to do with it. You also have a choice between several popular options:
- Send it to a Folder. By far the most popular option, creating folders can make you much more productive by laying out your work for you automatically. It can also keep unimportant emails from flooding your inbox and distracting you while you work.
- Forward it to another email address. The address doesn’t have to be on the same server as you—it can be any email address. I use email filtering to send very important messages from my clients to my cell phone so I’m notified about developments no matter where I am.
- Delete it. Most early spam filters used basic email filtering to delete unwanted email, although advances in spammer technology makes that no longer feasible. However, if you receive email from a mailing list you can’t unsubscribe from, this is the option to use. I’ve also seen it used to automatically delete email from an annoying ex-boyfriend.
- Copy It. This is a great way to automatically archive email. I use email filtering to make a copy of every non-spam email I receive so that I can delete emails from my inbox but still find them later if I need them. Of course, this takes up extra disk space, but I never have to spend time wondering whether I should delete or file an email.
- Flag it as important (or unimportant). This is a great way to deal with the flood of email Monday morning. Set up email filtering rules to prioritize email from your bosses so that you can get started on the most important work right away.
Email Filtering In Outlook
Note, if you use a different program than Outlook, email filtering should work almost exactly the same.
Start email filtering by clicking Tools and then Rules Wizard. You almost always want to choose the option Check Messages When They Arrive. Then use the Rules Wizard to enter your criteria. For example, to filter based on the From address, you can choose the option named “emails with specified words in sender’s address,” then, in the next field, enter the From address you want to filter.
After you finish choosing your criteria, click the Next button to choose what action to take in your email filter. For example, to move the selected email to a folder, choose the option named “Move it to a specified folder.” Then click on the Choose Folder… button to choose the folder. (You can create a new folder in the menu that appears if necessary.) You can create multiple actions.
When you’re done defining your email filter, click Next to go to the final screen. There you should name your rule so it’s easy to find later. You can also choose the option to Run This Rule Now, which will retroactively apply to email already in your inbox. This is a great way to test that the rule works. Whether or not you run it now, you want to click the Turn On This Rule checkbox and click Finish
You need to repeat all of the steps above for every email filter you create.