Take Control of Your Inbox

Whether you’re a student or a member of staff, the chances are your email inbox is somewhat unruly; it resembles THAT drawer in your house that stuff goes in, doesn’t it?   Those of us who are used to using a different email system might be accustomed to less cluttered inboxes thanks to sophisticated, built-in filtering devices employed by the email server.  Fret not; this is manageable too in your desktop Outlook (PC or Mac) and the Outlook web app, but it just takes a little manual effort to set it up.

As a member of staff, no doubt your department or school has several different mailing lists, all of which you’ll be a recipient of, a hundred times a day.   You students will get emails from your department and from your school, you’ll get automated emails from Study Direct and you’ll get emails from every single society you over-enthusiastically signed up to in Fresher’s Week.  You might find that you’re slightly more interested in some of those societies, or that some are much more fastidious about sending out an email for every single tiny little occurrence; I once got an email when a head of music at a radio society had a nice sandwich for lunch.  Or did I send that?  Can’t be sure, it was a decade ago.

So with a process needing just five minutes’ attention now and very brief, sporadic intervention going forward, here’s how to restore electronic feng shui to your inbox.  And just to let you know, the web apps for Outlook for students and staff work slightly differently, however both have the same function available.  The step by step guide and the screenshots have been taken from the student version, but if you’re using a different version look for the “Create Rules” button and things will work pretty similarly.  If you get stuck, let us know at ITS and we’ll help.

Decide how you’d like to divide up your emails and create folders under your inbox accordingly.

You might want to split things up according to each mailing list upon which you’ve found yourself, or you might want to have a folder for important emails (from a tutor, or your line manager) that under no account do you want to miss. You could have a “Social” folder, and under that, subfolders for different societies or events lists.  You can also have a separate folder for those daily emails from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on.

2 creating new subfolders                                      1 creating new folders

One rule to bind them all …

This is actually much more like several rules to split them, but that doesn’t sound as good.  Under Settings (look for the cog icon in the top right of the inbox), choose Options and then under Mail, locate and click Inbox Rules.  
3 Options menu
To create a rule, click the + icon.  Here is where the magic happens – you can create a variety of different rules to treat emails differently when they come in.  Unfortunately there’s no “sweep it under the rug” option, but I guess Microsoft must still be working on that.  You need to give the rule a name, but this isn’t going to affect anything.  To move all emails from a society you’ve joined, let’s call it Rock Society.  Now it’s a case of completing the sentences.  Firstly, tell it how to identify an email that needs to go in this folder.  So look at the menu under When an email arrives and and choose it was sent or received.  Click on Received From and add the email address that the emails come from.  Alternatively, if a mailing list or a society always includes certain text in the subject of their email, you can choose it includes these words and then in the subject.  You can also use this as another way of adding an email address, by choosing it includes these words and in the sender’s address. Then we need to tell the inbox elves what to do with that email.  Assuming you’ve already created a Social folder, and maybe even a subfolder for each society, from the Do the following menu, click Move, copy or delete and then Move the message to folder … and then choose the folder you’d like it to land in.

1//    4 Inbox rules list

2//  5 inbox rule

3//   6 Rule - received from

4//   7 inbox rule - choose folder

Do this a few times for different email addresses and you’ll soon find your inbox is less of a headache.  But you don’t necessarily need to stop there – you can harness the power of the different options to do all sorts of things for you.  For example, you can add action to have the inbox elves help you out further.  If you’d like all your emails from your course tutor, for example, to go to a different email account such as one you check more regularly, identify the email address in the first step under When an email arrives and, and then tell it what to do.  For example, you can ask it to immediately move it to a separate folder, and then by adding two further actions, mark the email as important and have it forwarded to a different address.
8 rule - more adding
Now, let us know how you’ve got on in the comments below.  Happy new inbox!
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