Rules, Quick Steps, Clutter, Junk, Spam – what is the difference

rules, quick steps, clutter, spam, junk- what are these - Dr. Nitin Paranjape

This is a confusing set of features. This is a frequently asked question during my sessions. Read on to find out which one to use when and why.

Estimated reading time 10 minutes.


Rules need to be created manually. You tell Outlook to look for specific condition(s) and take specific action(s). Rules a run automatically on every incoming mail. Rules run AFTER the mail arrives in your Inbox but BEFORE you can see the mail.

You can also have rules run on outgoing mail.

Rules are NOT used to manage junk mail or spam. Usually, each rule has a specific purpose. Some rules are more global and some are specific.

Global Rule Example: Check if my name is in CC. If yes, move that mail to a folder called CCs (and don’t run any more rule on that mail).

Specific Rule Example: If I receive a mail from my boss, play some sound, show notification and Mark the mail as High Priority (red color).

Quick Steps

These do not run automatically. You invoke them manually. What can you do to a mail which has already arrived in the Inbox (or some other folder)?

Delete it, forward it, reply to all (with a standard message), Move or copy to a folder, Create a task, Create an appointment, and many other things. Just right click on the mail and choose what you want to do. No automation possible here because the action(s) are going to differ for each mail.

Of course, the action will be done only after you have actually read the mail (at least the from and subject). Therefore, Rules cannot be of any use.

Junk Mail

Some of this happens automatically. Outlook has some built-in logic which tries to guess which mails are junk. Such mails are automatically put in Junk Mail folder.

Most often, this logic is good. But in some cases it gets confused and dumps a genuine mail into Junk Items folder. Therefore, you should periodically check Junk Mail folder and check for such mails. If you find one, right click it and choose Not Junk. Next time, Outlook will understand and not repeat the mistake.

On the other hand, if you receive a  mail in the Inbox but you realize that it is junk, then do the reverse. Right click on it and choose Junk – Block Sender.


This is also junk. But nowadays, there is a global system available to detect serious spam senders. The system works in real time – or live. All the mail servers in the world talk to each other and block useless messages BEFORE they reach your inbox. This is usually transparent to you. But periodically Outlook will send a message showing the blocked messages. These messages are kept in a special area called quarantine – just like infected patients are kept in isolation at the airport.

You can decide if any of those are genuine mails and release them to Inbox. It is important to notice such quarantine notification mails and take corrective action.

Not noticing genuine mails lying in the Junk folder in Outlook or the SPAM quarantine on the server are common reasons for complaints where you don’t receive the mail in spite of the sender having sent it repeatedly.


This is a new system. It was recently introduced with Office 365 based email. Clutter is designed to remove clutter – the crowding which invariably happens in any Inbox.

Once you activate this feature, Outlook starts learning how you handle mails. After few days, it will start applying this knowledge and automatically decide which mails are more important to you. The mails which it thinks are less important will be moved to a special folder called Clutter.

Mails which go into Clutter folder are NOT junk mails or SPAM. These are mails which are less important. That’s all.

In my experience, these usually include notifications, subscription based newsletters, transaction confirmations and so on. Necessary but not demanding your immediate attention.

This helps you focus your attention on what DOES require active reading and action from your side. So with less effort, you are more productive.

Permanent Delete

Often we delete mails by pressing Shift – Delete. These mails do not go to Deleted Items. Of course there is a way to recover these mails as well – Folder tab – Recover Deleted Items, there is another connotation to it.

If you shift-delete a mail, it obviously means that you have a strong reaction to it. You want to delete more forcefully and vehemently. Deleting the mail permanently will NOT solve the problem in the long run. Usually similar mail is bound to come in sooner or later.

Therefore, when you are about to press Shift Delete to get rid of some irritating or troublesome mail, STOP.

Think again. Here are the options you should consider:

  1. Shift Delete it
  2. Block the sender
  3. Block the entire domain of the originating mail address
  4. Create a rule
  5. Create a quick step (if the sender cannot be avoided but some mails are worth permanent deletion)


Junk and Spam happen automatically. Just monitor and tweak them.

Rules run automatically AFTER you create them.

Quick Steps have to be invoked by you AFTER you read the mails.

Clutter is a good companion to make your Inbox less crowded and help you focus on important mails.

If this technology is too much for you, I will explain a simpler method in the next article. My method assumes that you have a large mailbox with no practical limit. For example, if you use Office 365, you get 50 GB mailbox (at the time of writing this article, Mar 2015). In this case, we will use the mobile phone in conjunction with a large mailbox to find a simple but effective method of conquering the deluge of mails coming to  your Inbox.


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