When Outlook Rules Don’t Work Automatically

June 26, 2009

in e-mail

by David Hakala

On the Tools menu of Outlook you will find “Rules and Alerts.” This option lets you create mail-handling rules that Outlook follows when it sends and receives email. For example, it can move or copy any message from your boss’ email address into a “High Priority” subfolder (rule) and/or notify you that such a message has arrived (alert). You can create rules that forward copies of messages to one or more destinations. Generally, rules are set to run automatically every time new messages come in, sorting and moving your mail around without your effort to run rules one at a time.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Thousands of Outlook users report that rules and alerts run fine when invoked manually but won’t run automatically. This problem has been going on for years. Unfortunately, there is no one solution because the problem can arise from multiple sources.

Microsoft optimizes Outlook to work best with Exchange servers. If your message rules rely on client-side-only conditions such as “with specific words in the recipient’s address” then they may not run automatically. Microsoft suggests changing your rules to use server-side conditions. For more details see this Microsoft Support Note. Of course, this doesn’t do any good if your Outlook system doesn’t use an Exchange server. Typically, Exchange servers are found only on corporate networks.

You can try deleting all of your rules, closing Outlook to clean up data files, re-opening Outlook, and re-creating your rules. Sometimes rules get corrupted and this procedure can create clean rules.

Upgrading to Outlook 2007 from an earlier version can corrupt your rules. On the Rules and Alerts screen, click Options to bring up a screen that will let you upgrade rules from previous versions of Outlook, as shown in the figure below. Be aware that once upgraded, rules will not work with earlier versions of Outlook.

Moving email from a specific person or distribution list to a folder is a common rule. When mine failed to run automatically, I tried entering the actual email address in the “specified person or distribution list” field instead of the person’s Contact display name, i. e., hakaladavid@gmail.com instead of “David Hakala.” That worked! Apparently, having to look up an email address in the Contacts database and match it to a display name was a problem.

I can’t promise that any of these fixes will solve your problem with getting Outlook rules to run automatically. Good luck!

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dhakala