As I’ve said before, and probably will say again, understanding how your email
client processes message rules and then using that feature is perhaps the
single most effective thing you can do to help get your email under control.
Rules really are that powerful.
So today I’m going to look at creating just one rule, the one rule I
consider to be the most important rule you can have. So important that I’ll
call it The Golden Rule.
The popular Golden Rule goes something like this: “Do unto others as you
would have them do unto you.” Our golden rule isn’t really all that different,
at least in intent. It’s more along the lines of “Prioritize the people you
If I could have only one message rule, this would be it.
My general approach to email is to move things that I can identify out of my
inbox until what’s left is either spam, or email from people I’ve never heard
from before. I’ve had mornings where a quick scan of what’s left in my inbox
has resulted in a “select all”, followed by “delete”. Very satisfying.
Email that I recognize, or rather that my rules recognize, is moved into
other folders. My “Golden Rule” is simply this: if the “From:” address is in my
contacts or address book, then move the message to my “From Contacts” folder. I
then look at that folder before dealing with any other email – people that I
know should get priority over people that I don’t know, and certainly they
deserve my attention before the spammers. It’s that simple.
Defining The Golden Rule
Here’s the definition of my actual rule in Outlook 2003:
“PST Contacts” is the name I’ve given to the Contacts that are stored in my
primary PST, or Outlook Personal STore file. “09 Address Book” is the folder
into which I place email from my contacts. As I described in an earlier essay,
Rules to Live By, I actually have many
rules, and many “sub” inboxes … senders in my Address Book are actually 9th
in my priority list behind additional rules that identify some higher priority
senders – like my wife.
The neat thing about using your address book as an email filter is that it’s
so easy to add people to it. If you discover that someone’s not on your list,
most email clients provide a shortcut to quickly add them. In Outlook 2003,
just right click on the sender’s email address and you’ll get a pop up menu
with “Add to Contacts”:
Once you’ve done so, their mail gets prioritized and moved properly.
In Thunderbird you can set up a similar rule (called a “Filter” in
Exactly the same idea: if the sender is in your personal address book, then
move the mail to a folder specifically for those senders.
Sadly Outlook Express does not have the ability to create a rule based on
your address book. I do, now, recommend Thunderbird over Outlook Express for
many reasons, this being just one of them.
Other email programs may, or may not, support this type of message rule,
though most do.
Living by The Golden Rule
Remember, though, that using this rule effectively also requires
some behavior modification on your part. Sometimes the hardest thing in the
world is to not look at your inbox first. With a rule such as this in
place, to properly acknowledge the higher priority of your contacts, you need
to act on the folder that they were placed in before you deal with the
contents of your other lower priority email. That, in fact, is exactly the
point – this rule enables you to give your contacts higher priority by
separating their email out automatically.