If you’ve ever worked in a corporate setting, you’ve surely encountered the nightmare of a “Reply All” misfire. This is when someone accidentally (or purposefully) blasts an email to way more people than they should’ve, and even more people chime in via “reply all” asking to be removed from the conversation and/or distribution list.
It’s usually pretty funny when it happens—unless you work in IT and it’s wrecking your mail server—but a “Reply All” email storm can get annoying if you’re trying to get work done and are being constantly distracted by notifications. If you’ve found yourself drowning in a deluge of unwanted “Reply All” emails, here’s how you can bail yourself out using Gmail, Apple Mail and Outlook.
Gmail / G Suite
I have two techniques to fix this problem in Gmail. First, if you’re getting a lot of unwanted pile-ons to a message (or all the replies it spawned), and they are all contained within the same email thread, simply mute the thread. Click on the email (or click into the email), look for the triple-dot icon at the top of Gmail’s web interface, and select mute:
If you’re using the Gmail mobile app, the “mute” option should be hidden behind the triple-dot icon that appears whenever you tap on or jump into an email.
This might not be enough to stem the tide, especially if a bunch of auto-generated “out of office” messages have started pouring in as well. In this case, I recommend setting up a Gmail filter, or a few of them. On the browser-based version of Gmail, click on the Gear icon and select Settings, then click on “Filters and Blocked addresses” on top of your screen and click on the blue “Create a new filter” that appears in the main body—at the bottom, if you already have a bunch of filters.
As for what you should include in your filter, that depends on what circle of “Reply All” hell you’ve find yourself in. You can probably get away with dropping in a few of the words found in the subject line of the original email (which everyone is surely replying to), which should catch most of the junk. Adding a filter for “autoreply” could help too. That will look like this if you combine them all on one line:
Click on “Search” to test your filter, or “Create Filter” to keep building it. You can then elect to have the messages skip your inbox or, if you’re really annoyed, go straight to the trash.
Second verse, same as the first: If you’re caught in a never-ending series of email replies, the fastest and easiest thing you can do to keep your “new message” notifications from driving you nuts in Apple Mail is to mute the offending conversation. Highlight the thread (or threads) that are driving you nuts, and then click on the alarm-bell icon in Mail’s toolbar:
That should mute the thread(s). Your inbox will still fill up, but you won’t get notified each and every time another message is added to the pile. If that’s not good enough, you can also filter all of these messages out of your inbox and into your trash. Click on Mail > Preferences and select the Rules icon. Click on “Add Rule” and you’ll be able to set various criteria for filtering emails you receive right into the trash:
Though Microsoft gives your IT administrators additional, automated firepower for stopping Reply All storms before they churn up into a frenzy, we’ll teach you how to silence them yourself just in case.
Microsoft doesn’t let you “mute” emails in Outlook, but you can choose to “Ignore” them. Simply right-click on the email conversation(s) and pick the “Ignore” option from the context menu. When you do, that email goes into the trash. Anything else sent as part of the conversation will automatically get binned, too.
To resurrect the conversation (why would you want to?), simply pull up your trash, right-click again and select “Ignore” one more time. This will move it back to your inbox—and any other messages within said conversation that arrive later.
If you need to filter messages—like those pesky auto-replies that a Reply All storm tends to generate—simply click on the “Rules” icon in your toolbar:
Create a rule and set the parameters—for example, targeting certain words within the subject to catch all the Reply All emails, and then moving emails matching that criteria into your trash.