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Use Outlook Rules to Prevent "Oh No!" After Sending Emails

How many times have you sent an email and then realized a few seconds later that your snarky comment was sent to the entire mailing list, or left an embarrassing typo in an email to somebody you were trying to impress?

Using the “Defer” rule in outlook, we can setup a rule that essentially pauses all message delivery for a few minutes after you click the Send button, to give you a chance to recover.

Select Rules and Alerts from the Tools menu, and then click on the New Rule button.

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Under “Start from a blank rule”, choose Check messages after sending, and then click Next.

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Click the Next button again on the “Which conditions do you want to check” screen, and you’ll be prompted with this dialog informing you that the rule will apply to all messages. If you want to, you can set this rule up to only work for certain groups.

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On the next screen, check the box for “defer delivery by a number of minutes”, and then click on “a number of” and change the defer minutes to something like 5 minutes, although you can change it to whatever you’d like.

I originally tried using a 1 minute delay, but it didn’t give me enough time to realize the mistake and then locate the message and fix the problem.

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Click the Next button, and then give the rule a name, preferably something memorable so you’ll recognize it in the list.

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Now when you send messages, you’ll notice that they sit in the Outbox for a few minutes. If you want to stop a message from going out, your best bet is to just delete it from the Outbox, but you could attempt to just fix the mistake and then resend.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 09/11/07

Comments (54)

  1. Dave

    GREAT lesson!!! i’ve done this a few times and this will be a lifesaver!!!

  2. Paul

    My wife’s name is Rhonda and there is a Ronda who works in my office… enough said.

  3. mom

    As usual your article is well written and easy to understand. I really like the screen shots. Mom

  4. ram

    wonderfull features…they should implement this kind of feature in all websites :)

    thanks to howtogeek

  5. Allan

    I’ve already done this at work, but my question is how do you get it to override this rule and send immediately? I’ve tried using F9 to process sending/receiving emails, but it still waits for my 1 minute delay to pass before sending. Occasionally at work there are baseball/football ticket giveaways to the first person to reply and because of the delay, I’m never the recipient of the tickets. Someone suggested adding a rule to exclude any emails with a certain character in it, so I used ~ but I’d prefer not to have to add that to my ‘emergency’ emails. Any help would be appreciated.

  6. Ralle

    wow! just wow!

  7. Hans

    Nice one.

    Sometimes I need a mail to go out fast though – I added an exception into the same rule that if the word “norule” appears in the body, there is no delay.

    Now all I need is a 15 second version for conversations with my teenager daughter… ;-)

    Thanks !

  8. Lars

    Great idea… only thing is, is there a way to click a message and say ‘send now’ (sometimes a message really does have to go out straight away, and the 15 seconds spent explicitly sending it helps to avoid any horrors)

  9. Gingembre

    Oh itn is awesome to see this used by someone else! I figured this out about 4 years ago, and have loved it ever since (particularly good for me as a last minute chance to add the attachment). I recently set up an exception where anything containing *nd* goes immediately (nd for no delay) which I find very helpful as well (freecycle anyone?). I’ve set up a sending delay rule on at least three coworkers computers, all of whom found it very helpful.

  10. Billy

    I did this a while ago. It’s saved my bacon more than once, too! However, I set it up to only delay messages that are sent with a priority of ‘normal’. When I have to respond immediately (like winning those football tickets) I up the priority to ‘high’ and the message goes immediately. Cashback!

  11. Sean

    An easy way to create a quick “override” to the delay rule is to except messages sent with High Priority or with Private or Confidential Sensitivity.

    Great article!

  12. james

    Thanks – great article. I have a policy of NEVER sending anything via e-mail I the subject to read themselves, but I have a habit of typing names in TO too quickly, pulling up the wrong person. i.e. Winston. ends up being Windemere or someone else.

    This will save me from some dumb errors.

    Take care

  13. Jonathan Aquino

    Love this tip!

  14. Saidur

    Thanks a lot. Its really useful for me to work in my org when people seek help from me.
    Is there any way not to deleting the whole mail from outbox rather than correcting where needed and then resend?
    Thanks again.

  15. Tony

    You can force your emails to be sent immediately by clicking the Send/Receive button.

  16. mohamed

    This’ll bring smiles on managers who often send important mails with out attachments.

    Images are good to look at. I’ve a question. Can you share how did you give the “fading shadow effect” to the image backgrounds? Can it be done with SnagIt? Hope to read your answer.

    Keep your good work.

  17. claire

    Rather than using a rule, I have simply set a 15-minute interval on send/receive. That way, if I do need to send immediately, the “send/receive all” button works right away.

    Love the tips, though, and always learn something here.

  18. Matthew Cornell

    Great tip! A related one you may all know about: Fill in the “To:” field last. Keeps you from accidentally sending!

  19. saul pasternack

    question – I use Outlook Express. I don’t see “Rules and Alerts” on the Tool bar. Is there a way for me to defer the sending of emails as there is on Outlook?

  20. AdminMike

    You would benefit more from outlook… I love Office 2007

  21. a lifehacker reader

    What claire said, but I just set it up to send/receive every 3 minutes. If you need to send immediately just hit F9 to send/rec’v all. Just uncheck the box that says “Send immediately when online” or something like that. In any case, this is a great article and idea to have your system help you avoid dumb mistakes.

  22. Sean Rafferty

    Is there any way to send out messages using this w/o having to hit send receive button or manually hit the “send all” command, but also w/o having to have send/receive automatically in 2003? I only want to receive msgs 2x p/day when I manually receive them.

  23. srini

    Thanks a lot

  24. rb

    This is better than just setting your send/receive interval to, say 3 minutes, since sometimes you might just happen to click send a split second before the timer is up and your e-mail will escape. This has happened to me before but fortunately without much embarrassment, yet… The high priority exception seems to be a good work around for messages that really do need to go out immediately. Good tip.

  25. Robert

    If you don’t like messing with rules something else you can do is turn on cached exchanged mode and stay in offline mode. That way you you will only send email when you hit send/receive, though you will only receive mail when you send/receive also.

  26. Ran Davidovitz

    GREAT solution, should be by default.

  27. Marianne

    Thanks very much for the excellent tip. What would be really cool would be a dialogue that pops up every time you press send that asks “Are you sure you want to send this email now?”

  28. Jason

    What I do to *send immediately* is to have an alternate signature called “immediate” that has my signature info, but includes a non-sense string like [jviw5hg655] at the bottom. Then I set the exception for the delay rule to exclude messages with [jviw5hg655] in the body. I just find that a more obvious queue to myself that this one was sent immediately.

  29. tony

    I have the same rule set at work, 3 minute delay “just in case”. But I set up to ingore the rule if I mark it as “high” importance.

    Works great.

    Now just to work out hot to do the same on GMail at home.

    Any bright ideas?

  30. Aswin

    Before starting to write the e-mail body, I usually add a junk name “zldkf” in the To: address bar. After finishing the mail and on clicking Send, Outlook would give the “wrong email recipient” error. This would give some extra seconds for me to remove the junk name, and in the process of doing that, I might notice some foolish mistake I had done. So simple way to buy time post-Send !!

  31. sankar.s

    Thank you very much friends, this could save us from some unwanted future
    actions as well as allow us to delete, when we think to stop the message
    after sending.

    Sankar.S

  32. Peter Wills

    “Now when you send messages, you’ll notice that they sit in the Outbox for a few minutes. If you want to stop a message from going out, your best bet is to just delete it from the Outbox, but you could attempt to just fix the mistake and then resend.”

    The above concluding statement concerns me coming from a site such as this. If you want to change the message to correct an error simply open it from the Outbox before the delay expires. While you have it opened to amend it, it will NOT be sent. When you click send after you have made your corrections it will go back to the Outbox and the preset delay period will start again. I know this works because I have done it in Outlook 2007. I don’t know about earlier versions.

  33. Kevin L

    @Peter Willis

    I thought of the same thing on reading that statement.

    From personal experience, it works the same way in Outlook 2002 (XP) and Outlook 2000

  34. Michael

    To allow “emergency” email to go out immediately, add an exception of your choice. Mine is
    “Unless Priority is “High””
    or
    “Unless subject contains ‘–>’

  35. Nick Thanopoulos

    Great tip, although a little too late for me. :(

    I just sent out a mail that embarrased my entire firm.

    I wish I had seen this first.

  36. Scott Ford

    Great trick!!!

  37. ed

    Ok, but HOW do I set up an EXCEPTION using priority or a key word in the email’s body? Thanks.

  38. Murali Krishnan

    First hit I got from google…

    Usually my colleagues send “Welcome to party” mails to groups of people from my outlook, when I kept my laptop unlocked. I got so fed up by this. Now I stopped all these non-sense by deferring all mails contains “party”, “pizza” to 120 mins except if the body contains “norule” (a real party).

    Thanks a lot.

  39. Laura

    Thanks very much for the guide, great help

  40. Jason

    Using the non-sensical signature text, you can also change the color of the text to white, so that it doesn’t show up on your email. Works perfectly for me as an override.

  41. Bob

    Just found this web site. This is better than an ice-cream Sunday. Love your site!!!

  42. BruinEric

    Thanks. I created this rule and followed the other suggestions, so my rule has an exception if the text ‘immediatesend’ is in the body of the email.

    Then, I created a signature named immediatesend with this text in 8-point WHITE font so it is unseen by most recipients, and it works great!

    For some reason, making the settings to simply have outlook check and send emails at 5 min wasn’t working. THe messages weren’t going out unless I hit Send/Receive. So since I gave that approach up and now am using this one, everything works fine.

  43. Paul

    I’ve instituted this rule at work with a 2 minute delay, with the exception of mails marked with “Importance: high”, rather than a textual clue. It’s saved me numerous times. It seems that if you reopen your delayed message from within the outbox, you have to remember to click on ‘send’ again, or it won’t go out.

  44. Adam

    Nice discussion. If you want to have full control go to Tools, Options, Mail Setup. Uncheck “Send immediately when connected”. Push the Send/Receive button displayed after this sentence. Uncheck the “Schedule an automatic send/receive every”. Your messages will sit in the Outbox forever unless you push the send/reveive (F9) option on the task bar. If you want to send all the messages in the Outbox on exiting Outlook check also the option “Perform an automatic send/reveive when exiting”. Click Close and Apply and you have full control on outgoing and incoming messages. If you want to send a message immediately push Send in the message and then immediately F9. If you want seperate control over send and receive messages you can create seperate accounts for receive and send messages and automate receive and have full control over send messages.

  45. smahadevan

    set a category to the email and you can override the send mail delay. on outlook 2003, tools -> rules and alerts -> select the delay send rule -> change rule -> edit rule settings -> are there any exceptions -> check except if assigned to category category -> click on the category link -> master category list -> new category -> type immediate -> ok -> check immediate -> ok -> ….

  46. Nilima

    oh!!!!!!!!!! it’s really good, i like it. thank u

  47. Lorne

    Good tip. However I too, like to be able to send immediately by hitting Send/Receive.

    So I went to Options/Mail Setup and unchecked the box send immediately when connected. Then under Send/Receive Settings… I chose to delay my messages by 3 mins. This allows me to have them sit in my outbox for a max of 3 mins, or immediately if I hit F9 or Send/Receive button.

    Hope this helps.

  48. Amy

    Lorne, Thanks so much. Your tip was perfect.

  49. John

    Wish I’d known this earlier – but glad to know can prevent future idiot events. Thank you

  50. Aaron

    I would like to still be able to use the Delay Send feature in Outlook. Now whenever I schedule an email for delivery at ~5pm it resets the “Do not deliver before” to be one minute after I click send, even when I explicitly set it to later. Is there a way to add that as an exception without manually typing something in the subject or body? For example, do this one minute delay unless the delay is already set for longer.

  51. ahmet balkan

    working, thanks~!

  52. Garran

    Great tip … unfortunately I had to search for this topic to prevent FUTURE embarrassing emails from accidentally being sent to the wrong person.

  53. Sohaib

    Can we implement a way to send a notification of a mail and a text message on Mobile to perticular set of people informing the status of a mail based on Success/fail message recieved? kindly help for the same it will be of great help.

  54. Sue

    Can you stop an email from going out if it is in the sent items but did not “Send” yet? (I shut down computer to stop it from going and Outlook said “Messages have not been sent, Do you want to shutdown?” Also my copy of the email had not been received yet. So I shutdown.) Any way to fix or delete the message?

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