How to make good use of email forwarding

If you feel inundated with email and you don't already have a bunch of complicated automations to help you sort through all those incoming messages, you might turn to email forwarding, also known as "redirecting," for a little help.

Some people think email forwarding is what you do when you want to drop one email account and switch to using another one. But you can actually use email forwarding for a lot more than that. Let's say you have a business email address that's very public, and you start to get a lot of unsolicited messages from the community at large — but you also still get emails to this same account from your mother, your kids, and an old business acquaintance who has since become a friend. Instead of begging these people to update their address books and email you at your personal account, you can automatically redirect messages from them, and only them, to whichever account you choose.

Or here's a real-life situation of mine: PR firms occasionally do a search for my name and sometimes find a personal email address where they email me about business. It doesn't happen too often, so usually I just send a canned response and CC my work address on the reply.

What I could do, though, is set up email forwarding for all incoming email messages that contain keywords pertaining to work, such as "your article," or some other phrase that these outsiders invariably use but my friends would likely not.

Setting up email forwarding based on keywords can be tricky, though. It's much more reliable to set it up for specific people or emails from a specific domain, for example: Redirect all emails from any address ending in '@PR-firm.com.'

If you do set up email forwarding, you'll find a lot of great options that you can explore to meet your own needs. Say you're going on vacation and you want to only see emails that are in reply to existing conversations. You could set up email forwarding such that if an email in reply to an existing thread comes into your work inbox, it will automatically forward to your personal email address. That way, you can see the emails you want without even opening your business email.

You can turn email forwarding on and off at your leisure, so it really is a great way to keep on top of email while on holiday or travelling, when time is tight and you need a quick way to control or cut down how much email crosses your path each day.

In this article, I'm going to give you instructions on how to set up email forwarding in Gmail and Outlook. Those follow, but you can also check out the video above, of course!

How to turn on email forwarding in Gmail

1. Click the gear icon in the upper right corner to get to Settings.

2. Click the tab for Forwarding and POP/IMAP.

3. Near the top of this page, you'll see a section for Forwarding. Click Add a Forwarding Address.

4. Enter the email address where you want to receive mail. Confirm it, and Google will tell you it has sent a confirmation code there.

5. Log into the other email account to find the message containing a link to confirm the forwarding, as well as a confirmation code (in case the link doesn't work), which you can copy and paste into a field back in Gmail's Settings.

6. In Gmail's Settings page, select the option to enable forwarding and choose how the forwarding will work. For example, do you want the original email address to keep incoming mail unread, or mark them as read? Or should Gmail just delete them? You have control.

7. Click Save at the bottom of the page, and you're done... unless you want to add a filter. A filter will let you forward only certain kinds of messages, which is what you would want to do if you're using forwarding for email management.

8. Click the link to add a filter. A box will appear, and it looks like it doesn't have enough fields for what you want, but it actually generates a second page's worth of options after you fill in the first. The second page looks like this:

If you need to adjust the filters, they are on a separate tab away from the forwarding information in the Settings (just to the left of the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" tab).

How to turn on email forwarding in Outlook and Outlook.com

The steps needed to turn on email forwarding in Outlook vary depending on which version of Outlook you're running. The location of menu items and their names are different, so bear with me as I try to explain how to do this as simply as possible.

Actually, let me cover how to do it in Outlook.com first because that way is by far the simplest.

Outlook.com

If you want to forward all mail, it's very simple.

1. Click the gear icon in the upper right and select More mail settings.

2. Choose Email Forwarding.

3. Select "Forward your mail to another account" and type in the address where you want it to go.

4. You may want to check the box to "Keep a copy of forwarded messages."

If you want to forward only certain emails, you have to go into the Rules area.

1. Click the gear icon in the upper right and select More mail settings.

2. Choose "Rules for sorting new messages."

3. Click "New," and fill out the top as desired. At the bottom, pick "Forward to" and enter the email address. Save it, and you're done.

Outlook for Windows

1. In the menu bar, go to Tools and select Rules (in some versions, it's called Rules and Alerts).

2. Windows users: select New Rule. On a Mac, look at the bottom of the pop-up window for the plus sign and click it. Mac users might also have to select which email account service they're using: Exchange, IMAP, POP (or choose Outgoing if you want to set up forwarding for sent mail).

3. Windows users: select "Check messages when they arrive," which is under the heading Start from a blank rule. Click Next.

4. Here's where the steps for Windows and Mac users really diverge.

Windows users: Next you'll see a window with Step 1 and Step 2. First you'll pick "Through the specified account." In the second part, click the link on "Specified" (it should be the only link that appears there). Then you'll have to select the account where you want the mail forwarded.

In the next window, choose "Redirect/forward it to people or distribution list" (some versions of Outlook say "Forward" and some say "Redirect"). At the bottom of this window is a link for "People or distribution list." Click that, and you can enter the email address where you want the mail forwarded in the To field. Click Okay. When you return to the previous window, click Next (you might actually have two Next buttons to click through), and then you can name the rule. I recommend "Forward email to Name@Email.com" or something equally obvious and similar. You have a few more options here, such as running the rule on existing email, so be sure to read through what you can do.

Mac users: You have it much easier. Your selection box has pretty self-explanatory drop-down menus. Fill out the top as you like, and then under the section "Do the following," choose "Forward to" and type in the email address.

You can add another action below that one, such as "Move the message to the trash," or you can have no follow-up actions by hitting the minus sign next to the dummy one that appears automatically.

And you're done! If you want to read some related articles that further explore email management philosophies and tools, then check out the following articles: