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I’m a big fan of the Clean Inbox concept for triaging my e-mail (more on that in a future postJ). This has naturally lead me to look for ways to keep ‘noise’ out of my Inbox and leave it as the single place to monitor mails that I need to triage (read/respond/defer). I already have a set of rules for keeping my distribution lists at bay inside their own folder, but have realized that a decent amount of noise coming into my Inbox had to do with meetings – specifically, responses to meetings that I scheduled.
If you’re anything like me, then you send and receive lots of meeting requests in Outlook. In a typical week I’ll schedule around 10 new meetings with different people – if a typical meeting has approximately five attendees that could be 50 responses that come back to my Inbox. I realized a few things about meeting responses:
I set out to tame my incoming responses based on those guidelines by using a rule that would automatically deal with the responses that I don’t need to care about. You too can create this rule and modify if to suit your work style.
Here’s how my rule works:
To get started, go to the Tools menu, choose Rules and Alerts, and then click “New Rule…”
Now click “Check new messages as they arrive”.
Click “Next”. In the resulting dialog, scroll down and select the “uses the form name form” condition.
The key is the “uses the form name” condition. If you click the “form name” underlined text to edit the condition, you’ll find the Tentative and Accepts response forms in the resulting dialog:
(Be sure to select “Application Forms” from the drop down at the top of the dialog or you might miss “Accept Meeting Response” and “Tentative Meeting Response.”) Once you’ve added the two forms, click “Close” and then “Next” in the main Rules Wizard window.
Now, choose a location for these meeting responses to be moved to. I keep mine in a separate folder called “Automatic Replies”, but you can just as easily move them to Deleted Items for easier removal. Choose the “move it to the specified folder” or “delete it” action depending on your choice:
If you do choose to move them to a folder, you’ll need to specify the folder in the conditions at the bottom:
Click on the ‘specified’ text and choose a folder. Once you’ve selected a folder or chosen to delete the items, click “Next” in the wizard.
The last step is to set a condition to check if the person responding typed anything into the body of their Accept, Decline, or Tentative response. To do this, I use the “except if the body contains” condition to check for a single space in the body. Select the condition in the list:
Then click the “specific words” text at the bottom to edit the condition. In the resulting dialog, simply type a space and then click “Add”:
Now click “OK”. This way the only responses that can slip through are ones with a single character in the body.
You should now be setup with the rule looking like this:
You’re almost done! Click “Finish” in the rules wizard. It’s also very helpful to make this the first rule in your list, so use the arrows to move it to the top:
When you’re done, click “OK” in the ‘Rules and Alert’s dialog to get back to Outlook.
The result is my “Automatic Replies” folder:
Voila! Nice and tidy. :-)
I hope you find this tip helpful. Let us know what you think.
Michael Affronti Outlook Program Manager
More info on managing meeting responses
Easier Ways to Create and Manage Meetings
In the above article Michael chooses to make an exception to his rule so that any message with a space in the body text will be ignored by the rule. My question is this. If you use " " for the body text exception will this truly catch every message with a text response? for instance, would this catch a single word response? If someone responded and included 'late' in the body as shorthand for 'I'll be there but will show up late.' will the exception catch it since there is no space before or after the word 'late'?
Robert, you're correct in that this will not catch single *word* replies in the body. Since we don't have a "body IS NOT empty" condition, the only workaround is what I have above.
Very nice. Perhaps Outlook 200x could have a "preset rules" option for universally-handy options like this.
Hi Michael - am I right in thinking this would break the Tracking information for the meeting if you ran a similar rule on Outlook 2003 or earlier? My understanding was that the Sniffer adds meeting responses to the Tracking tab only 1) from the Inbox and 2) during 'idle' time so if you have a rule moving stuff away from the Inbox you'd end up with a race condition. Is there an explanation of the differences in how Outlook 2007 handles stuff like this you could point us to? Thanks!
You should definetely check out Windows Clippings, it cleanly removes the blurr that we see through the windows transaprent frame on Vista. And I also vote to make this a native option in a future Outlook 200x.
TechieBird - yes you're right that this rule will only work well on Outlook 2007. In Outlook 2003 and earlier we only sniffed the Inbox, meaning the automatic replies moved by this rule would *not* show up on the Tracking tab. In Outlook 2007 we changed behavior so that the sniffer hits all folders underneath the mailbox, thereby enabling this rule to keep the tracking tab updated. I'm not positive we have a definitive list of these types of version-specific issues, but I'm going to look and will get back you. Thanks!
I am wondering if there is a way to use rules to delete cancelled meetings from a calendar. We have 9 conference rooms using Outlook calendars and mailboxes. When scheduling meetings Auto Accept/Reject works great! However,when a meeting is cancelled it is not automatically removed from the calendar. The "remove from calendar" button in the email must be clicked manually. This is causing inaccuracies the way free/busy time is displayed, and making it increasingly difficult to schedule meetings. Is anyone else running into a similar problem? Does anyone know of a way around this problem?
We have a similar problem in Outlook. If we send out a meeting request to, for instance, 20 attendees. The tracking tab on the meeting may only show 15 responses when there are actually 20 physical responses received. Using Outlook 2007, the sending mailbox is one used by several people. No rules set to automatically process responses. Anything ring a bell?
I have a user you wants to be automatically notified if someone doesn't respond to a meeting invite she sends out. Can this be set up?
I changed the exclusion so that if there is a vowel in the response, the response is not processed.
In order to get the Response column updated in the Appointment Tracking tab, the meeting response message need to be marked as read before it is moved from the Inbox mail folder. At least it works like this in my Outlook 2003 client. Frank Krogh
This is a good tip and looks very useful for most my users. However can you help with managing automatic in a slightly different setting - Is there a way to prevent the auto tentative meeting processing. Exec gets invited to a ton of meetings more as a fyi or courtesy. This would clog his calendar and it also impacts when people are looking for a "real" free time for a meeting he will attend. What he wants is unless he open the invite and hits accept, decline, or tentative, nothing shall happen. Meaning he can read a invite and it still does not go his calendar unless he specifically chooses. best ideal so far was turning off the autoprocess at the server for his account. This would result in a lot of side effects for the meetings he did accept. (Would not get automatic updates for changes in time/location/etc.) ....
Frank, I am trying to do same as you with Outlook 2003. However, when I click on "mark it as read" and then click on "delete it", the Rules Manager automatically puts "delete it" before "mark it as read". Is there any way to make sure Outlook marks it as read (registering the tracker) and THEN deletes it? Thanks
I have the same request as Suzan mentioned above. I want to be notified in advance (let's say 24h) if someone I invited for a meeting haven't replied yet. Is there any way to set this up?
One of my challenges with this rule is that I like to put things in the message body: back up information, agenda, links to prior meeting minutes, etc... the step "Then click the “specific words” text at the bottom to edit the condition. In the resulting dialog, simply type a space and then click “Add”:" won't work if I already have information in the meeting invite. Any way to get around that?