Hidden Gems #12: Mega Outlook Automation

Outlook is one of the most powerful and popular pieces of software in the Office suite.
As many professionals’ email software, it is also one you may well use every
day. However, perhaps because of the many functions and deeply personalised
ways of using it (after all, we all work with email differently), many of its
smartest functions can remain undiscovered. Well: no longer, because Outlook is
my latest case, and by solving it, I can save you extraordinary amounts of

Case Notes...

The Target: Outlook 2010, some features also apply with limited functionality to earlier editions of Outlook going back to 2001

Whereabouts: Included in Office 2010 “Home and Business” or “Professional” Editions, or available standalone from the Microsoft Store.

Modus Operandi: Manage calendars, tasks, contacts and priorities along with all your communications (emails and information feeds). Outlook is the one-stop-shop for day-to-day organisation.


Case History...

As a small business, you probably use email every day. Typically, you also use the same functions several times every day: for example, moving emails into folders which make most sense for the organisation of your business, or sharing specific emails with other people.

There are two smart tools built in to Outlook 2010 which will help make these regular actions much simpler:

1)     Rules: Rules have been around for many years; and they completely automate a number of popular tasks so that they happen entirely in the background – you won’t need to click a single key for Rules to get to work. Since there are no keystrokes, Rules are triggered by specific events, for example an email from a specific address coming in.

2)     Quick Steps: New in Outlook 2010, Quick Steps string together multiple keystrokes, thus simplifying a broad range of tasks, but requiring you to initiate the process.

So: Rules automate stuff so that it happens in the background; Quick Steps shorten repeated processes which you kick off.


Rules are applied when emails are either received or sent. When a rule is activated, it can

  • move or delete the email
  • send it on elsewhere
  • change the email’s attributes
    (priorities, categories, flags)
  • run a program
  • or simply alert you that the
    email has come in

So, for example, you can:

  • Move mail from a specific address (or company) to a predefined folder when it arrives. This might be ideal for managing leads by sending anything from sales@mycompany.com to an “Incoming leads” folder.
  • Forward mail with key words in the subject line to a specific person when it arrives. You could therefore divert all emails with product names in the subject line to the person responsible for managing those products.
  • Flag messages with specific words in the subject line for follow-up. This could allow you to ensure that anything with the word “complaint” or “problem” in the subject line gets flagged for urgent attention. You can additionally set a rule to sound an alert when these high-priority emails pop in.
  • Run a program to help you deal with an email on the basis of the sender or subject line. You could therefore take email enquiries from your website and then automatically open your CRM system in order to enter them as potential new clients.

To set up a rule, hit File > Manage Rules and Alerts > Email Rules > New Rule

You can either create one from scratch, or use one of several predefined templates for common tasks, like some of those described above.

Whichever you choose, and however you customise them, the structure of rules is always the same:

  • One or more conditions (for example, “the email comes from Bob Smith” or “the email is set to high-priority”)
  • And one or more actions to initiate if the condition is fulfilled (for example, “forward the email” or “move it to a folder”.

Quick Steps

Quick Steps are rather like Rules which are triggered by you. As we said above, they are shortcuts which generate multiple actions with one keystroke instead of several; which rapidly simplifies repetitive tasks. You can have lots of Quick Steps for different purposes in your Quick Steps Gallery, and you can give them names which are meaningful to you and your business.

A typical Quick Step might, for example, forward an email to the same three individuals, then mark it as ‘Read’ in your own Inbox, and give it the custom Category “Service Calls”. This would be a typical repeat process for dealing with customer service enquiries which might otherwise require you to perform the same ten or so keystrokes again and again.


To create a Quick Step, find the Quick Steps Group under Mail on the Home tab. Hit Create New Quick Step and either select a pre-defined action, or hit Custom.

Give your Quick Step a name and an icon. If you wish, you can even give it a Keyboard Shortcut by entering the shortcut of your choice in the Shortcut key box
– but remember not to overwrite an existing shortcut or you might end up with less functionality and speed than you started with!

Under Actions, select an action for the Quick Step to perform; and use the Add Action button to add more actions to be performed in sequence.

Under the magnifying glass...

You may also like to discover the following further functions of Rules and Quick Steps:

  • You can optionally add Exceptions to Rules – additional conditions under which the rule you have defined will in fact no longer be applied.
  • When your new Rule is created, you can set it to run from now on, switch it off until you’re ready, or apply it once universally to your entire Inbox to catch up with existing emails.
  • One of the predefined Quick Steps which is ideal for keeping your mailboxes clean and clear is “Reply and Delete” – it will reply to a message and then delete the original.
  • We’ve concentrated on email here, but there are plenty of Quick Steps and Rules options which can be applied to Meetings, Categories, Flags (priorities) and Contacts too.

The target exposed

Find out more:

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Easy guide to Rules

Easy guide to Quick Steps

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