Running Rules on messages after you read them

Last reviewed on December 30, 2013   —  21 comments

We frequently get questions from users who want to run their rules automatically after reading the messages. Outlook does not support this – Rules Wizard processes the messages as they are downloaded into Outlook or when you press the Run Rules Now button in Rules Wizard.

In additional to using the tools listed on this page, you can also use a VBA macro to move messages later. See Use a Macro to Move Aged Email for more details and a sample macro.

The tools on this page will either run rules after some time has passed or provide easier methods to file messages.

Tools in the Spotlight

QuickFile for Outlook

File 90% of your emails at the click of a button. Manage your Inbox and Sent Items folders. Move emails out of the Inbox to the correct folder at the click of a button. QuickFile remembers the folders used for each person and presents a short customized list each time. Use the same list to Send&File in one step instead of having to go back to your Sent Items folder. Plus many more email management features such as one-click creation of task/appointments from emails, newsletter processing, deferred non-urgent emails and much more.



Auto-Mate is an Outlook utility that allows you use define rules to move mail from your Inbox (or other folders) based on several criteria, including the age of the message. While Outlook rules only run as messages are downloaded or when you click Run Rules now, Auto-Mate rules run on a schedule, enabling you to apply rules to messages that have been in your Inbox for a given number of hours, days or weeks. Available in Standard or Pro Version. Supports Outlook 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013. Now available for Outlook 2010/2013 64-bit.

More Information

The Run Rules Now dialog in early versions of Outlook do not have a Select All button – you need to select each rule you want to run, one at a time.

Written by

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlookforums.

21 responses to “Running Rules on messages after you read them”

  1. Cindy Melgaard

    I am trying to create a rule that automatically forwards GoToMeeting replies. I have set the rule, however, it does not work unless I go in each time and say 'run rules now.' The problem with that is that my boss then gets duplicates as the rule pulls from everything in my in-box and not just the new incoming messages. Any suggestions?

  2. Cindy Melgaard

    I have two rules and the one I am having trouble with is the first one. It reads as follows:
    "Apply this rule after the message arrives
    where my name is in theTo or Cc box
    and with gotomeeting in the subject or body
    and which is a meeting invitation or update
    forward it to Bert Newman
    and display a Desktop Alert"

    I am sending out GoToMeeting invitations and want the "accept", "decline" responses to go directly to my boss.

  3. Cindy Melgaard

    Should I include "which is an automatic reply"? I associate auto-replies with people who are out of the office, but maybe that would apply to GoToMeeting replies as well?

  4. raedzahr

    i've a blackberry who gets all my emails, after i created on outlook 2007 the rules and alerts to move my emails to the specific folder each, i'm receiving no emails on the blackberry after execution of these rules, the problem also that the inbox is giving no new emails unless i enter to the folders created inside it... strange thinking of microsoft.

  5. Tobias Morris

    Hi Diane, I have just started using Outlook 2010 upgrading from 2003. I have created a unified inbox for my email accounts. I have set up rules to move copies of all messages into my unified inbox. This does not work where I have read an email on my iphone before downloading in Outlook 2010. Is there any fix to this (other than marking email as unread in iphone)? Thanks for your help.

  6. Tobias Morris

    Sorry I wasn't clear, Outlook downloads the message to the separate inbox but not to the unified new inbox I created. I would like all messages whether read or unread on my iphone to come into the unified inbox that I have created. The rules work for unread messages but where I have read a message on my iphone, the rule does not work and the message is not copied as per rule to my unified inbox. Thanks Diane.

  7. Tobias Morris

    I do have 2 copies of all messages but that doesn't really concern me. My only issue is that where I have read an email on my iphone, it does not come to my unified inbox as the rules I have set up do not work on read messages. Is there a fix for this? Thanks Diane.

  8. Mark Flaming

    I have exactly the same problem as Tobias. Outlook rules will not move a copy of an email received in an IMAP account if that email has been viewed previously on my phone. I would be so grateful for a solution to this.

  9. Armin

    This is an ancient limitation of Outlook. To be fair other products like Thunderbird also have this. A read message is not a 'new' message.

    Not completely unreasonable perhaps, but in 2013 most users have multiple devices. Thsi did make sense in the past, but less today.

    So create a macro, right? Except that macro's don't help here either. The ItemAdd does not fire if the amount of additions is too large. Too large is however defined by Microsoft as ... 15. So don't subscribe to any mailinglist or use corporate IMAP :-)

    In a last desperate attempt I tried manual macro's and just put a button on my bar I'd press after startup myself. Too bad, as Outlook will default to your personal Inbox to execute the rule, but not the IMAP inbox. When running manually you can select which inbox, but in a macro ... well perhaps you can, but I have not found out how to specify the target of the rule.

    In essence, you are toast if you cannot have a server-based rule.

  10. Armin

    Thanks Dianne, however the problem *is* read vs unread. If I read the message on e.g. my Phone before starting Outlook on the desktop, the message is downloaded, but not flagged as 'new' and hence the regular Rules don't get triggered. The same applies to NewMailEx. This is by design.
    A design which made sense with Outlook being the only mail client, but not in todays world where most users have multiple devices. E.g. like so many others I scan my emails on my phone to read/handle some urgent ones, and do the rest of my work at the office.

    Now as explained, you might try ItemAdd macro, but then you hit the limitation of 15 items. It will simply not fire the event if more items are added in one sync-operation. This is even documented on MSDN.
    Now that limitation perhaps made sense in the distant past, but with todays powerful desktop machines this limit should just be gone or at least some very high number.

    Hence, only server-based rules are foolproof here. But most servers provide only limited rule capabilities to end-customers.

    Microsoft really needs to step up its game here and revisit some old design assumptions from the past. (Although, like stated, Thunderbird has the same limitation.)

  11. Armin

    OK, as a follow up on my own post. I manage to more or less work around the limitation using some VBA marco's.

    As explained and experienced by other users, if an email is already read on another device (phone), a rule won't trigger on the desktop. Using VBA and NewmailEx also won't trigger for the same reason.

    Using VBA and ItemAdd works fine, except it - by design - does not trigger if the amount of emails gets above a certain value. This value is undocumented for new releases, but MSDN lists 15 for older releases.

    Then I realised that running a Rule manually works, and you can even specify the folder top run in. However although you can run this rule from a macro too, you then cannot specify its folder. When executed from a macro it will always run in the default (local) inbox, and therefore potentially not from the inbox of the account. (If someone knows how to fix this, I'd love to know, but several Bing-searches revealed many others encountered this as a showstopper as well.)

    So then I decided to just do it manually in VBA.
    1) Create a regular rule that copies all new mail from the IMAP inbox to the local inbox, and set a category. Use anyone you like.
    2) Create a VBA macro that copies all mail from the IMAP inbox to the local inbox, except if the category is already set. This will then only copy mail that the regular rule did not catch. Of course then set the category too in your VBA macro.

    You can then sign this macro and put it on your toolbar. You then only have to press it once each time you started Outlook and done a initial sync (unless you are actively reading on multiple devices in parallel). I can live with that.

    The examples on this site helped a lot as I had never programmed VBA before.

    Some improvements I still working one:

    a) Unfortunately you cannot copy mail in VBA, so you have to

    Set objCopy = objItem.Copy
    objCopy.Move objLocallnbox

    objItem.Category = strCategory

    This is still bad, as it will immediately sync the copy to the server IMAP folder, and then depending on Outlook version move it to trash (Outlook 2010+) or flag it for deletion (Outlook 2007-) delete it, causing lots of server activity and delay.

    However it is likely the best option you have. In Outlook 2013 syncing will be in the background, so you may not notice it.

    Of course I'm open to improvements.

    b) Also your online mailbox will have these deleted copies from (a). I therefore then created a second subroutine to delete (Outlook 2010+) or purge (Outlook 2007-) these temp files.


    works fine for delete. For purge it is a bit harder. You can do this by navigating through the menu and assigning the final object to a button and then do:


    I first looked up the unique ID, and then hardcoded this in my macro. You can also navigate using index values through the menu, but then if you shuffle items around it may not work.

    Also make sure that you manually set the view in purge your macro to the IMAP folder, else the purge command (Outlook 2007-) may not be available.

    c) The rule from step 1 will unfortunately first set a category and then copy, so all you emails through the rule will have that flag set. So for niceness, I then also created a second subroutine to clear all the categories on my local inbox.

    All in all, this requires some programming skills and is not for the regular end-user.

    Four improvements for Outlook 2016 which are on my Santa list:
    I) Allow rules to trigger also on new read downloads and not just new unread mails.
    II) Have a VBA NewEmailEx2 that triggers on downloaded email, read or unread
    III) Add VBA ItemAdd2 event that always triggers regardless of item count, or allow users to set the registry or so to handle the limit.
    IV) Allow a rule to run on any folder when executed from a macro (after all the user can do that through the UX already).

    Either one of these would have made all of my work obsolete. In the mean time, I hope the above does help somebody.

  12. JB

    Is there a way to have any email that has been moved to the deleted folder, be marked as read? This didn't seem to be a problem in outlook 2007, but now in outlook 2013, every time I delete an email (or delete from a different device), I have a bunch of emails in my deleted folder showing "unread." It's annoying, as I mistake it for my inbox.

  13. JB

    Hmm, I never noticed it before in outlook 2007, as any email I put in deleted folder (or deleted), didn't show up as "unread." Is there a rule I can do that classifies anything in the deleted folder as read? Or do I just have to spend my whole day marking the entire folder as read...

    Wow, Outlook 2013 has sure kept you busy with all us whiners!!!! :)

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