Color-Coding Messages and Setting the Rules

By Brien M. Posey | Oct 7, 2000 | Print this Page
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In part 1 of this article series, Taming your Exchange Databases , I explain how you can reduce the load on your Exchange server while increasing its reliability by automatically moving all inbound messages into personal folders. Although this technique will save space on your Exchange server, your personal folder server will quickly fill up as messages accumulate. After all, any one who's ever managed an e-mail server knows that users have a bad habit of not deleting old messages.

However, users' keeping old e-mail messages is only part of the problem. Some people are just constantly bombarded by a flow of e- mail. This can cause other problems besides filling up the personal folder server. Often, important messages are overlooked because they blend in with the dozens of unimportant messages. Fortunately, there is a way to counteract these two problems. In this article, I'll explain several techniques you can use to reduce personal folder size and prioritize important messages.

What Color Are Your Priorities?

To get started, let's look at the situation in which a user receives so many messages that the important ones blend right in with the unimportant ones. I personally consider this to be an even bigger issue than the personal folder server filling up. For example, in my own lab, all my servers are set to send me an e-mail message if a problem occurs. I consider a server alert to be top priority. In the past, it has caused real problems when a server alert has gone unnoticed because it blends in with junk mail. Sure, you can flag the message as urgent, but half the people who send you junk mail also flag their messages as urgent--the urgent flag has lost its meaning.

To solve this problem, I prioritize my e-mail. My highest priority is server alerts, followed by e-mail from certain people such as the EarthWeb staff, and then messages from friends. I then color-code inbound messages based on the sender. For example, server alerts are listed in red, messages from important business contacts are in yellow, and messages from certain friends are in green. Everything else in my inbox is in the standard black (except for some junk mail, but we'll talk about that later). I can instantly look at my inbox and see if there's something that needs my immediate attention.

To set up color coding, open Outlook 2000 and select a message from a sender that you want to color code. Next, select the Tools|Organize command. When you do, a Ways To Organize Inbox window will open that contains many different organization options. One of them colors messages from the sender in the color of your choice. Just pick a color, click the Apply Color button, and you're in business.

The Rules Wizard

Now that your critical e-mail messages won't go unnoticed, let's tackle that server space problem. Again, the key to conserving space on the server lies in the way that messages are organized. To help you manage your messages, Outlook 2000 supports the use of rules. As the name implies, rules are a set of guidelines you can set for Outlook to use when mail comes in. To take a closer look at the options available to you, return to the Ways To Organize Inbox window, and click the Rules Wizard button (if you can't find it, select the Using Folders tab). Doing so will launch the Rules Wizard, which will allow you to establish total control over the behavior of the inbox.

Copying Rules Between Inboxes
It's important to point out that the rules you establish with the Rules Wizard apply only to your inbox. If you build a complex set of rules, however, you can copy them to someone else's inbox. To do so, simply click the Options button in the Rules Wizard's initial screen and then use the Export Rules and Import Rules buttons in the resulting window. If you do copy a set of rules to other machines, just be sure that you haven't set up rules that should apply only to your inbox.

The Rules Wizard is fairly self explanatory. Just click the New button to see a list of the types of rules you can create. For example, you can create rules that search for junk mail or adult content. The wizard won't usually give you the option of deleting the message. However, you can automatically move messages that fit your search criteria into the Deleted Items folder, which does the same thing as deleting the messages. When you're scanning for junk mail, you can set the rule to use a list of known senders or to search for words in the subject or body of the message. For example, you might search for words like free, long distance service, or home equity loan. Just be sure to carefully consider the repercussions of your actions. For example, if your boss sent you a message with the subject Free Ice Cream in The Cafeteria, you wouldn't necessarily want Outlook to delete the message.

Cleaning up junk mail is a start to reducing personal folder size, but in actuality items in the Deleted Items folder consume as much space as those in the Inbox. The biggest wasters of space are the Sent Items folder and the Deleted Items folder. Obviously, these folders can be handy, but those who don't regularly clean the folders out may have countless messages piled up in them. You can compensate for this by automating the cleanup process. To do so, apply a rule to the Sent Items folder in the same way that you would to the Inbox. Set the rule to move any inbound message to the Deleted Items folder.

Another method that you can use involves setting the auto-archive properties on each folder. To do so, right-click on the folder you want to work with (this includes Deleted Items, Sent Items, Inbox, etc.) and select the Properties command from the resulting context menu. When you see the folder's properties sheet, select the Auto Archive tab. This tab lets you set the maximum amount of time that a message can stay in the folder. Once that time limit is up, you can set Outlook to move the item to another folder or to permanently delete it.

As you can see, there are many different ways to manage inbound mail traffic. With a little imagination and some of the techniques I've covered, you can keep your e-mail server squeaky clean. //

Brien M. Posey is an MCSE who works as a freelance writer. His past experience includes working as the director of information systems for a national chain of health care facilities and as a network engineer for the Department of Defense. Because of the extremely high volume of e-mail that Brien receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message, although he does read them all.