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How to Filter Emails in Outlook to Specific Folders (With Rules)

This post is part of a series called How to Use Microsoft Outlook (Essential Tutorial Guide).
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You can create a rule in Outlook that'll help you filter emails to specific Outlook folders. In fact, setting up rules in Outlook the right way can help you organize your inbox, deal with unwanted emails, manage your email subscriptions, and more.

Rules are a key tool that can help you use Microsoft Outlook more effectively. If you've been following along in this tutorial series, you already know how to create rules in Outlook. If not, you can learn all about how to create a rule in Outlook in from this tutorial on how to create rules.

One of the most powerful aspects of MS Outlook rules is the ability to set up email filters. In this tutorial you'll learn all about how to handle unwanted messages using autofilters. First, we'll discuss why you get unwanted messages and also examine the common problem of cyberbullying. Next, you'll learn some best practices for using email filters. Finally, you learn about setting up rules in Outlook to move email to folders.

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Before going further in learning how to create Microsoft Outlook autofilter rules, be sure to grab our Free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery. It's packed with inbox organization strategies and killer tips for managing all your incoming email more efficiently. 

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Now let's dig into the material on how to filter emails with Outlook. 

Why You Get Unwanted Messages

If you receive email, you're probably also getting unwanted email messages. Unfortunately, in today's online environment it's all too common for spammers to get access to your business or personal email. Even if you think you're being cautious with your email address, hackers and others have ways to figure out or purchase your email information. Most email systems, such as MS Outlook, have systems in place to help you manage spam. In outlook, for example, you can report junk email—but a few spam messages may still slip through and make it to your inbox.

Spam is just one type of unwanted email message you may receive. Other types of unwanted messages may include:

  • Email subscriptions. It's important to note that email subscriptions aren't spam. You chose to receive these messages at one point. You may even still want to receive the subscription (you'll read it someday), you just don't want it your inbox. 
  • Emails from former employees or colleagues. Former employees have your email address, of course, because they once worked with you. If they left the company or field in less than stellar circumstances, you may not want to receive their emails in your inbox. 
  • Personal emails you don't want in your inbox. Just as you don't want to receive emails from some former colleagues, you may also have former friends whose emails you don't want to go to your inbox. Or, you just may want to keep your personal email separate from your business email.
  • Sales emails. If you've ever attended a trade show or even done business with a company, you probably receive sales emails. If you're not currently in the market for the product, you may want to keep these email messages out of your inbox.  

These are just some examples of the types of messages you want to get some control over. I'm sure that you can think of more. In some cases, you may not want the messages at all. In other cases, you don't want them cluttering in your inbox but you do want them. In either case, setting up rules in Outlook can help you block or filter unwanted emails.

What About Bullying?

Cyberbullying is a special type of unwanted email that needs to be dealt with differently. Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a serious problem that's becoming increasingly common. It's so serious, that we need to touch on it here.

You may think of cyberbullying as something that happens to kids, but it can affect adults too. StopBullying.gov defines cyberbullying as:

"Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation."

If cyberbullying happens to you, take the following steps:

  1. Save the evidence. You'll need this if you need to take actions with legal authorities or with your company's HR department.
  2. Report the message. If the bullying is from someone in your company, you can report the message to your HR department. If the message is from outside your company, report it to your online service provider and to Outlook. Also, if you feel threatened report the message to legal authorities.
  3. Block the sender. You can block messages from a specific sender in Outlook. See the instructions below in this tutorial.

You can find out more about cyberbullying from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services site, StopBullying.gov

How to Block & Unblock Messages from a Specific Sender

You can use Outlook tools to block all messages from a specific sender and automatically send them to your Junk Email folder. 

1. Block Email Messages

Here's how to do it: 

Step 1. Select the Message To Be Blocked

From the Outlook inbox, select a message from the sender you want to block. In this example, we'll use a fictitious former employee, Timothy Tester:

Person to be blocked
You can block email messages from a specific sender in Outlook. 

Right-click on the message. A pop-up menu appears:

Pop-up menu
To block a message in Outlook, classify one of the messages as Junk and then block the sender.

Step 2. Choose the Block Sender Option

Select the Junk option from the menu. Another pop-up menu displays:

Block an email address
Blocked messages will go directly to your Junk Email folder.

Choose the first option, Block Sender. A prompt displays indicating that the sender of the selected email will be put on your Blocked Senders list. Click the OK button to confirm this action.

Note: There's a limit on the number of email addresses you can block in MS Outlook. That limit is 500.

Once the message is blocked, it disappears from your inbox. Futures messages from that email address go to your Junk Email folder.

2. Unblock Email Messages

After you’ve blocked a sender, you may change your mind. Fortunately, you can unblock a blocked sender. To unblock a sender:

Step 1. Choose the Junk Option

Click on any message. Right click to bring up the pop-up menu and click the Junk option. Another menu appears:

Select Junk E-mail options
The Junk E-mail Options selection opens the Junk Email options dialog box.

This time, choose the Junk Email options from the drop-down. The Junk Email options dialog box displays:

Junk email options dialog box
Select the Blocked Senders tab from the Junk Email Options dialog box.

Step 2. Unblock the Sender

Click the Blocked Senders tab to view a list of blocked email addresses:

List of blocked email addresses
Click on the email address you want to remove from the list.

Click the Remove button on the right of dialog box. The address is removed from the Blocked Senders list. Click OK at the bottom of the dialog box to save your changes. Future messages from this sender won't be sent to the Junk Email folder.

Note: Older messages from the formerly blocked sender will still be in your Junk Email folder. If you want them in another folder, you’ll have to manually move them.

Three Common Reasons to Set Up an Outlook AutoFilter (Best Practices)

Often, the "unwanted" email messages you receive in Outlook aren't spam and they don’t need to be blocked. Instead, they may be messages you want to deal with at the same time or messages you want to look at later. For these messages, it's a good idea to set up an email autofilter in Outlook. This Outlook filter, created using Rules in Outlook, automatically sends specific messages to Outlook folders.

Here are some common reasons to use an Outlook autofilter:

  1. To keep related emails together. Suppose you're working on a project with coworkers. As part of the project communication, you receive a lot of emails. You want to keep all the project-related emails in a particular folder so that you can find them quickly.
  2. To keep subscription emails together. You've got several email subscriptions related to your business. You don't always have time to read them right away, but you want to keep them to read later. Use an Outlook filter to sort them to a subscription folder.
  3. To keep emails from the same sender in the same place. Let's say you're mentoring an employee. They send you lots of emails with questions and you want to keep track of what you've gone over with them. An email filter can help.

As you can see, it's a good practice to keep related emails together. Of course, there are many other reasons to have Outlook filter emails for you and you can probably think of your own examples where creating an autofilter rule in Outlook would be helpful.

How to Set Up an Outlook AutoFilter Rule (Video)

Learn how to create an Outlook filter to autofilter email messages in this short video:

Or, you can review the written tutorial steps below.

How to Filter Emails in Outlook Using Rules

You can use the Outlook Rules feature to set up a rule that puts all emails from a specific sender (or a group of senders) to a specified folder. This will help you to organize your inbox and also help you to find important emails quickly. For more details how to use rules, study our tutorial on creating MS Outlook rules:

In the steps below, I’ll show you how to set up an autofilter so that subscription emails from a specific sender automatically go to an Outlook email folder labeled Subscriptions. I'm using an email subscription as an example here, but the steps could be applied to any sender whose emails you want to filter automatically.

Note: Prior to creating the Autofilter rule for this example, I created an MS Outlook folder called Subscriptions. For more information on how to create a folder in Outlook for specific emails, study this tutorial:

How to Autofilter Messages from a Single Sender or Multiple Senders

You can use the Microsoft Outlook Rules tool to filter your email messages.

Step 1. Open the Rules Wizard

Make sure that you’ve got a folder to filter messages to. In this case, we’ll use the new folder I created labeled Subscriptions:

Subscriptions folder
Make sure you've got a folder to filter your messages into.

Click the File tab in the upper left corner of the screen to access the Account Information window. Then click the Manage Rules & Alerts box to open the Rules and Alerts dialog box:

Rules and Alerts dialog box
You can access the Rules Wizard from the Rules and Alerts dialog box.

Step 2. Select the Move Messages From Someone to a Folder Template

There’s a template set up for automatically filtering messages to a folder, so select that option. (It’s the first option under the Stay Organized heading.) Click Next at the bottom of the Rules Wizard

Rules Wizard first screen
The easiest way to set up an autofilter rule in Outlook is to use a template.

The next screen of the wizard appears:

Rules Wizard second screen
Use the next screen of the Rules Wizard to define the conditions for your new autofilter rule.

Step 3. Choose the Email Address or Addresses To Be Filtered

On the next screen of the Rules Wizard, click the check box next to the first option and click the People or Public Group hyperlink under Step 2 on the wizard (towards the bottom of the dialog box). A Rule Address dialog opens showing some of your contacts.

Rules Address dialog
Select the email address(es) you want to apply the autofilter rule to.

At the top you’ll see the contact information for an email subscription called Daily. Select both contact entries for Daily and then click the From button at the bottom of the page. You’ll that outlook automatically fills the field next to From with the email addresses of the selected contacts.

Click OK. The Rule Address dialog closes. Click Next at the bottom of the Rules Wizard. The next screen asks you to select actions for Outlook to take with the messages that meet this condition:

Rules Wizard third screen
In this Rules Wizard screen tell outlook what actions to take. 

Step 4. Select the Folder for the Autofilter

Select the move it to the specified folder option. Then click on the specified hyperlink in the Step 2 section of the wizard:

List of Email folder
Select the folder you want to autofilter your messages to.

Select the folder where you want the autofiltered messages to be sent (in this example, the Subscriptions folder). Next, click OK. Then, click the Next button at the bottom of the Rules Wizard.

The Rules Wizard asks whether there are any exceptions to the autofilter rule you just set up. If there are, you can enter them now. If not, select the Next button at the bottom of the wizard.

Step 5. Apply the Autofilter Rule

To finish up the rules setup process, you’re prompted to name the rule you just created and turn it on:

Rules Wizard finish screen
Turn on the Autofilter rule you just set up and finish.

You can also choose to run the rule on messages already in your inbox by clicking the checkbox next to that option. When you’re done, click the Finish button. Next, click Apply and then OK on the Rules and Alerts dialog box to save your changes.

You’ve just created an Autofilter rule to sort email messages from specific senders to a folder in MS Outlook. When new messages come in from theses senders, they’ll go directly to the folder you chose rather than your inbox. You can review them at your convenience.

More Helpful Email Tips and Strategies

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Start Autofiltering Emails Today

You've just learned about setting up rules in Outlook to autofilter your Outlook email messages. You've also learned a few principles about cyberbullying and dealing with spam messages. Now that you better understand how to create autofilter rules in Outlook, you're ready to start managing your email messages more effectively.

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