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You Can Manage Your Own Prioity Inbox in Outlook

Google's Gmail service continues to innovate and demonstrate the substantial advantages of 'cloud' distribution. Namely that major software updates can be rolled out 'live' rather than waiting for the next full product release.

The Priority Inbox is a much vaunted new feature being deployed to Gmail users where the inbox view is split with prioritised emails at the top of the page, and other emails being split out further down the page. As Google tracks your behaviour it starts to learn which people are more important to you, what types of messages you respond to more, and how quickly you open or reply to certain emails.

The two key reasons why Google is rolling out this update is, in our opinion, based on existing identified weaknesses in Gmail, namely:

  1. Because it is one massive inbox and prefers to thread 'conversations' rather than use folders, it needs to add some additional clarity to busy inboxes
  2. Cloud-based systems, although offering many features, are still substantially less flexible than computer-based software

So, whilst this seems a good idea, it may not be the right time to ditch Outlook... and we believe that with a little bit of work, you can create your own Priority Inbox in Outlook that obeys rules that you set and understand, rather than relying on Google's technical wizardry.

Incoming Rules

Outlook has rules which are checked against incoming messages. If a message matches the rule specific actions are taken. To start with: 

  • In Outlook 2002 (XP) go to Tools | Rules Wizard
  • In Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007 go to Tools | Rules and Alerts
  • In Outlook 2010 go to the Home tab | Rules | Manage Rules and Alerts | News Rule

And start by setting a new rule for ‘messages I receive’. Then, select the people (senders of messages to you) that you want the rule to apply to:

By ticking the 'from people or distribution list' checkbox, you can then click the link below in Step 2 in this screengrab. From here you can choose one or many contacts to apply a rule to from your address list.

You can then click 'next' when you've selected which person or people you want the rule to apply to.

Next: To 'Manage the Message'

The next part of the rules wizard tells Outlook what to do to the matching incoming messages. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Move it to a folder (for example 'Read Receipts' or a particular named client folder)
  • Assign to a category (create one called ‘Important’ or 'Urgent')
  • Flag messages which need follow up
  • Display a desktop alert when they arrive

You can mark the message with 'High Importance' if you want to, but that would overwrite the importance tag which may be used by the sender.

Then: Identify Any Exceptions

You can also create any exceptions, so if you find that a rule needs to have an exception, then you can base this on who it comes from, the subject line, if it's just sent to you, and another 15+ additional parameters.

Finally: Test the Rule You've Created

The final step is to give the rule with an obvious name (i.e. 'Read Receipts' or 'Client Name') and if you want you can run the rule on your inbox if there's an appropriate email to test. You will then immediately see if the functionality you've just set up works for you.

If not, then you can always change the rule and test again.

A Shortcut: Create Rules on Emails You've Just Received

With later versions of Outlook, you can right click on an email and choose to 'create a rule' from the email received. In 2007 you'll see a window like this:

So, within a couple of clicks, you can establish a rule which you name, you know and you can control.

Have You Experienced 'Priority Inbox'? We'd Love to Hear From You

If you've got Gmail, we'd love to hear your views on the Priority Inbox. We haven't been able to use ours long enough to compare the two options.

Does it just tackle weaknesses of Gmail? Or is it genuinely better than Outlook Rules? We expect time will tell - particularly if they roll it out, as expected, to all Gmail users in the near future.

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