Beyond a Single Folder – Automatic Rules

After I have published the “How Many Folders? Only One” post, a friend of mine has raised the question whether and how I use automatic rules. At the end of that post I have mentioned that I use more than a single physical folder, but only for specific cases. In this post I’ll describe those cases.


The rule of thumb is that emails being generated by automatic tools deserve a separated physical folder. Examples of such automatic tools are: defect-tracking system that generate report on every update of a defect, organizational Wiki that sends notifications on page updates, etc.

There are 2 main reasons why we should move such automatic generated emails to a separated physical folder. Let’s review them.

Time Fragmentation

Automatic tools usually generate high volume of emails (as compared to a real person). Exploding the Inbox with such emails shifts our focus to those emails, which is usually not a best practice approach. It is better to look on those emails a few times a day/week, where we can review bunch of emails, of the same type, at the same time. By that, we avoid time fragmentation, which is the #1 killer of our work efficiency.

Coloring Abuse

In one of the mentoring sessions I did with my group, people have raised a concern about emails that are coming from automatic tools and which are directed to us explicitly. As we are alone on the To list, those emails are colored as our first priority emails (see “Coloring“).

Having those emails in our Inbox, damages the coloring system badly. Moving those emails automatically to a side folder protects our coloring system.

Automatic Rule

I’ll go through chapter by example. In my organization, I am registered for notifications on defect-tracking system, called JIRA. Every time a defect in my project is being created or updated, I am receiving an email with the details about the defect.

The auto generated emails have title in the format of “[JIRA] yada yada yada”. I have created a physical folder (under Inbox) called “JIRA” for containing those emails.

Create a Rule

  1. Go to Home
  2. In the Move section, select Rules
  3. Select Manage Rules & Alerts
  4. Select New Rule
  5. Define as below

At this point, all the defect-tracking emails are being directed to the JIRA physical folder. However, there were still cases where I wanted to see specific emails in my Inbox – emails of the “first priority” type:

  1. Someone (a person) mentioned my name in the defect record, and is pending on my response.
  2. Someone (a person) replied on an automatic email. In this case I no longer consider this email under the automatic category and want to treat it as a regular email.

What we actually want is having an exception for those emails. Luckily us, Outlook rule system has exactly what we need – exception category within a specific rule.
We would take the rule that we have made above, edit it, and add to it the below exceptions.


Now we are all set and ready. The automatic emails won’t disturb our main work – we now have control over our time. We decide when to look at those emails.


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Erez Morabia

I’m an engineer and a leader in the computer software industry which is passionate about leading teams, embracing new technologies and improving soft skills for work efficiency.

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