Outlook Rules Inbox Routing: Pros and Cons

Outlook Rules Routing Pros Cons

In a prior post, we discussed the recommendation of utilizing Outlook Rules to automatically route certain messages to separate Email folders as a way to improve your Inbox triage  processing and reduce your Email Overload.

The idea is that you keep these messages from "cluttering up" your Inbox by placing them in separate Outlook Folder(s) for later review.

Although this process works well for me, and I do encourage others that I train in Email Inbox processing to make use of these capabilities, not everyone agrees with the approach of automatically routing messages to designated folders.

Here are some of the pros and cons to consider:

Advantages to Outlook Rules Automated Routing:

  • Automatic routing of messages has been found as "best practice" in Email triage in many research studies as a way to reduce your Inbox volume and allow you to focus on higher-priority messages.
  • You keep unnecessary Emails out of your Inbox, reducing the amount of information you need to review and triage.
  • You are able to look at low priority messages at times convenient to you or as part of a scheduled review processes.
  • Once set-up, it occurs all automatically, and requires no input or feedback at all. The system does the work for you!

Disadvantages to Outlook Rules Automated Routing:

  • Some people feel that moving things out of their inbox to separate folders just causes the work to get "spread out", resulting in them needing to look in more places for their messages, actually creating more work.
  • Moving messages into folders can be seen as defeating the use of the inbox as a central repository and  general "to do" list.
  • Studies have shown that users do not trust automatic classifiers and rules and they prefer to review all their messages before moving them to other folders.
  • Research has also found that rules that move messages out of the inbox and into other folders automatically may cause a situation where Email that is not in the Inbox tends to be ignored, which can be an issue in case a potentially important message gets misclassified.
  • For those that make heavy use of handheld devices such as iPhones, not all of these devices are configured to allow access to folders besides your inbox. This can make it either difficult, or impossible, to view messages that have been automatically moved to folders from your handheld .
  • Not all e-mail systems support automatic routing to folders.
  • Setting up rules, although not difficult, does require a degree of technical knowledge/skills, and there are "tricks" to learn, such as the importance of ordering your rules correctly, that need to be well understood in order to make automatic routing work appropriately.

I'm still strongly in favor of "automatic message routing", but only for specific messages that I know are not important, low priority, or can be reviewed at a later time, or even forgotten entirely.

What are your thoughts and experience on using Outlook Rules for automatic routing of Inbox messages?

Some great Outlook Training Books to Consider:

Balter, O., & Sidner, C. (2002). Bifrost inbox organizer: Giving users control over the inbox. Proceedings of the Second Nordic Conference on Human-computer Interaction (pp. 111-118). New York, NY: ACM Press.
Bellotti, V., Ducheneaut, N., Howard, M., & Smith, I. (2003). Taking email to task: The design and evaluation of a task management centered email tool. Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 345-352). New York, NY: ACM Press.
Neustaedter, C., Brush, A.J., & Smith, M. (2005). Beyond "from" and "received": Exploring the dynamics of email triage. Proceedings from the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) '05 (pp. 1977–1980). New York, NY: ACM Press.
Yang, X. (2009). Managing email overload with an automatic nonparametric clustering system. Journal of Supercomputing, 48(3), 227-242.