Outlook Rules Rule

Microsoft Office rules can take the drudgery out of managing emails. Say you get a gazillion emails from the treasurer of the board you belong to and you want all those emails to go into a separate folder. A rule can automatically move emails from that email into the folder you specify. Even better, suppose you get emails from someone you’d rather not hear from. You can set up a rule to delete those emails straight away.

Once you’re spoiled by Outlook rules, you won’t want to work without them. If you get a new computer or use Outlook on a desktop and laptop computer, you can move your rules from one computer to another.

Let’s take a quick look at how to create a rule in Outlook 2013.

  1. In Outlook, you can select an email to grab its email address to start your rule. If you aren’t going to use an email address, skip this step.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Move section, choose Rules, and then choose Create Rule.
  3. In the Create Rule dialog box, turn on the checkboxes for the conditions you want to use. For example, if you selected an email, turn on the From [email address] checkbox. You can also turn on the “Subject contains” checkbox and type the words you want, such as “to-dos.”
  4. In the Do the following section, tell the rule what you want Outlook to do with the incoming email. For example, turn on the “Move the item to folder” checkbox, and then select the folder you want, such as To-Dos or Deleted Items (if you want it gone). If you don’t have a folder yet, in the Rules and Alerts dialog box, click New and create the folder.
  5. Click OK. At this point, a Success message box appears. To apply the rule to all existing messages, turn on the checkbox whose label starts with “run this rule now” and click OK.

Now let’s get rules over to another computer:

  1. On the Home tab, in the Move section, choose Rules, and then choose Manage Rules & Alerts.
  2. On the E-mail Rules tab, click Options (just above the Rule table).
  3. Click Export Rules.
  4. Select the folder where you want to save the rules file. In the File name box, type a name for the file.
  5. Click Save. The rules export file has an .rwz extension.

rules

To import the rules on another computer:

  1. Copy the rules export file to that computer or make sure it’s available on the network.
  2. Open the Manage Rules & Alerts dialog box on that computer, click Options, and then click Import Rules.
  3. Select the rules export file.
  4. Click Open.

Ta-da! You’re rules are available in Outlook on this computer.

A Cautionary Tale: When Good Communication Goes Off Track

Good communication is important on the smallest of projects. My co-author Jim Ewing and I were in the middle of a very small project: designing the cover of the comedic thriller we wrote. Things were chugging along when suddenly design elements were in a big messy pile like the catch of the day. As our protagonist, Juice Verrone, would say: “Is this some kind of a joke?” Sadly, no. Our project was derailed (temporarily) by poor communication.

Here’s how it all started. Jim and I decided to use a design competition web site, 99designs.com. The project started down a familiar path. When Jim created the competition, he posted information that sounds a lot like a project summary: a book cover design that would work in color and grayscale for both print and eBook (the goal and scope rolled into one), the price level (the budget,) a description of the novel’s plot, ideas we had, a sketch I had drawn (requirements of sorts).

The design competition has a process, which we followed. During the first round, people submitted designs. Jim and I discussed the entries, provided feedback, and received revised designs. We rinsed and repeated over the several days of round one. It was all very agile. Round two was similar, although our feedback became more specific and detailed.

Several of the designers were from other countries. This international competition was a crash course in communication issues due to cultural, geographical, publishing, and other differences. Who knew book spines run in different directions in different countries? It was also interesting to see how our novel got renamed by non-native American English speakers. The book title, “Fresh Squeezed,” morphed into  the grammatically correct Freshly Squeezed on a few entries.

We picked a winner and explained that the real work was now beginning. We were going to work with the winner’s basic design and iterate to the final cover. This is when things got shaky. We made specific requests but the results that came back seemed to be further off-track. Colors that had been correct in previous iterations were suddenly wildly off base.

Jim was the point person so he tried reducing the number of changes in each iteration. He asked the designer to go back to an earlier revision that had the colors we wanted. But the results were still off.

Jim and I were confused and frustrated. Then I thought of a technique that Stephen Covey recommends. Instead of descending deeper into micro-management, I suggested he say “Help me to understand why we are having problems with the colors.” Turns out that the three-dimensional fish on the cover was created in one program. Then the colors and other effects were added in a second program followed by some clean-up steps. And finally that polished image goes into the book cover file. Every time we asked for a change to the fish, she had to jump through all those hoops (with the potential for glitches.) No surprise, those steps took her quite a bit of time–for every individual request we made.

Fresh Squeezed cook coverUnderstanding her process clarified the situation and led the way to a more effective change management approach. We worked on the fish without color effects to get its shape and facial expression right. Then, moved on to applying the color — once. With the fish complete, we could move on to the other elements of the cover. Finally, when all the elements were finalized, she laid them out on the book cover.

All along, we felt like we were communicating. But messages weren’t getting across. When we went from brainstorming into “production,” we were really moving from an early project phase (completed prototype or proof of concept) into project execution. We should have taken some time to plan how we were going to work, ask the designer questions about her process and how we could work with her most effectively.

The moral of this story: communication is crucial and requires careful planning, followed by care and feeding–even in small projects like our book cover. Remote or multicultural (or multi-anything) teams complicate the process. Finally, we can learn a lot about managing big projects from small projects we perform every day, which brings us back around to the importance of lessons learned!