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Applications

Auto-forward important mail to your phone as a text message

Set your email app to forward messages from a particular sender to your phone's SMS address automatically.

Mac OS X Mail Rules dialog
Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

How many urgent emails have you received today? This week? This month? For most people, the answer is "not many."

Last week's "Brevity is the soul of email" recommended disabling all email notifications to prevent your inbox from setting your schedule. After all, most of us receive very few messages that need to be read and responded to right this instant.

On the other hand, every email you receive from certain people could potentially be "urgent": your boss, your spouse, your kids, your bookie.... (Remember, the "e" in "email" stands for "evidence.")

It takes only a few minutes to set your email app to forward messages from a certain address to your phone as a text. Here are instructions for Gmail, Outlook, Outlook.com, and OS X Mail.

Step one: Determine your phone's email address

Your phone's SMS "address" is your 10-digit number followed by your carrier's SMS gateway. For example, to forward an email to a Verizon phone, enter "5555555555@vtext.com". You'll find a list of SMS gateways for dozens of phone services in the US and overseas on this Email Unlimited page. Here's an abbreviated list of carrier SMS gateways.

  • AT&T: [your number]@txt.att.net
  • MetroPCS: [your number]@mymetropcs.com
  • Nextel: [your number]@messaging.nextel.com
  • Sprint: [your number]@messaging.sprintpcs.com OR [your number]@pm.sprint.com
  • T-Mobile: [your number]@tmomail.net
  • Verizon: [your number]@vtext.com
  • Virgin Mobile: [your number]@vmobl.com
  • U.S. Cellular: [your number]@email.uscc.net

Step two: Forward urgent mail to your phone

Gmail: Start by adding your phone's email address to Gmail's list of forwarding addresses. Choose the gear icon in the top-right corner, click Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP, and select "Add a forwarding address." Enter your phone's SMS-gateway address, such as "5555555555@txt.att.net". Click Next, and then choose Proceed.

A confirmation number will be sent to your phone via a text message. Enter the code in the "confirmation code" box in Gmail's Forwarding settings and click Verify. The address will then appear in the drop-down list next to "Forward a copy of incoming mail to." You can choose to keep the message in the Gmail inbox, mark the Gmail copy as read, archive the Gmail copy, or delete the Gmail copy.

Next, click the Filters tab and choose "Create a new filter" at the bottom of the window. Enter the email address of the person whose messages you want to be notified about in the From field and click "Create filter with this search."

Gmail create-filter dialog
Add the address from which you want messages forwarded to your phone in Gmail's filter wizard. Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Check the "Forward it to" box in the next dialog box, choose your SMS gateway address in the "Choose an address" drop-down list, and select "Create filter."

Gmail create-filter dialog, part 2
Select your phone's "address" in the Forwarding drop-down list and click "Create filter." Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Microsoft Outlook: Create a rule that forwards messages from a specific address to your phone's SMS gateway. To open the rules wizard in Outlook 2013 and 2010, click File > Info > Manage Rules & Alerts. In Outlook 2007 and 2003, select Tools > Rules and Alerts. Click E-mail Rules > New Rule, select the option to "Start from a blank rule," check "Apply rules on messages I receive," and click Next.

Choose either "From people or public group" or "From people or distribution list," depending on your version of Outlook, and select any other conditions you wish to apply to the rule. Click either "people or public group" or "people or distribution list" in the Step 2 window. Select the sender's address from your Contacts list or enter it in the From text box at the bottom of the window. Click OK and then Next.

Under "What do you want to do with the message?", check "Forward it to people or public group" (or "people or distribution list"). Select "people or public group" or "people or distribution list" in the Step 2 window, enter your phone's SMS gateway address in the To field at the bottom of the dialog box, and click OK.

Microsoft Outlook rules wizard
Enter your phone's SMS gateway address in Microsoft Outlook's message-forwarding rules wizard. Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Click Finish if you want to be notified of all messages from the address, or click Next to add one or more exceptions for your rule. For example, you could exclude alerts for messages that have a specific word in the subject line, or that don't have your name in the To field. Once you're satisfied with the rule, click OK to exit the rules wizard.

Outlook.com: Sign into your account, choose the gear icon in the top-right corner of the window, and select "More mail settings." Under Customizing Outlook, click "Rules for sorting new messages" and then choose New. By default, "Sender's address" and "is" are selected in the top drop-down menus. Add the address of the sender whose messages you want to be notified of in the third text box under Step 1 of the rules wizard.

Under "Step 2: What action do you want to apply?", choose "Forward to," enter your phone's SMS gateway address in the text box to the right, and click Save to add the rule.

Outlook.com rules wizard
Create a rule in Outlook.com that forwards messages from a particular sender to your phone's SMS gateway address. Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

You may need to create a separate rule to retain a copy of the forwarded messages in your inbox. I didn't get consistent results when I tested this feature.

OS X Mail: Click Mail > Preferences > Rules > Add Rule. Give the rule a name, and then choose "From" in first drop-down, "Contains" in the second drop-down, and the sender's email address in the text box on the right.

Select "Forward message" in the "Perform the following actions" drop-down, enter your SMS address in the "to" text box, add a message (if you wish), and click OK. Finally, choose either Apply or Don't Apply.

OS X Mail Rules "Perform the following action" options
Create an OS X Mail rule that forwards mail from a particular address to your phone as a text message. Dennis O'Reilly/CNET