Email 101: Part 1 – Prioritising Your Inbox

Email 101: Part 1 – Prioritising Your Inbox


This is the first part in the Email 101 series. In this article we look at how you can prioritise your inbox so that you can start to focus on what’s important and stop being distracted by content that can wait until later or be deleted straight away.

Email 101: Part 1 - Prioritising Your Inbox
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You know what it’s like: it’s first thing Monday morning and you’ve just returned from a relaxing weekend. You turn on your work P.C, fire up your email and see you have 100 new emails to read before you can even get work started.

Wait. What? Is this 2005?

That’s what my life used to be like but now of course we’re connected 24-7 to email, whether it be work or personal, and there’s a temptation to deal with it as soon as it comes in so now your weekend becomes one of chasing phone notifications rather than relaxing as you should be.

What’s The Problem With Reacting to Email On You Phone?

There’s no real problem checking your phone when your email alert goes off, but wouldn’t it be better if you knew that the email coming is was important and needed reading or actioning? That way you could spend more time enjoying your weekend off rather than fretting over what was happening in your email.

So, how do we go about prioritising your emails so you only act on the important ones?

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1. Split Up Work & Personal Emails

It’s quite common for people just to use one email address for everything. Whilst this might seem like the best way of ensuring all your email reaches you – and back before smartphones it was – you can’t separate personal from private. This means that an email coming in could be a high-priority deal breaker or it could be a notification you’ve been tagged in a Facebook post – not really the same level of urgency are they?

Also, don’t forget that most companies have the right to monitor what’s going in and out of work email so do you really need them to know you like forwarding cat memes to all of your old college friends?

The solution is to get yourself a personal email address. If you have a smartphone then you probably would have set up a Google, Microsoft or Apple account when setting up your device and all of these come with free email accounts. If you skipped this step on your phone you can go back and create the account, or if you’d like to chose a different provider there are plenty to choose from:

If you want impartial advice on the above email providers check out this PC World Article

All the above providers will work through a web interface, email client (such as Outlook or Thunderbird) and with your mobile phone (through their own app or your stock email client).

2. Set Up Filters

This goes for both work and personal email accounts. Not all emails are created equal after all!

For work emails you may want to filter emails from certain people into separate folders, if you’re CC’d or BCC’d on on something it’s probably just for your information so can be filed to look at later.

If you’re able to get everyone you deal with on board you can set up filters to file everything that’s not marked “Important” – just make sure that people don’t abuse this system.

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For personal emails, some accounts already come with some basic filters. Gmail uses its “Priority” inbox to show you what it thinks are the important emails you need to see and filters other emails into “Promotional” and “Social” tabs. This can be a bit hit and miss and requires some training on your part – flagging emails as important so it can learn. For a quicker set-up you can use the inbuilt filtering in the email provider’s web interface to sort your emails. The down side of this is any filters you set on your desktop client probably won’t be reflected back into your web and phone client – but the filters you set up on the web run at server level so your desktop emails will still be nicely filtered.

You might ask why you need to bother setting filters up. Well, here’s my inbox showing all of the emails I’ve received in the past 12 hours that I’ve not set filters up for:

Email 101: Inbox without filtering

If you look these emails you’ll see that there’s only four “important” emails out of the whole bunch. I received notifications for each one of those emails on my phone, that’s 18 unnecessary notifications in a 12 hour period.

Filtering these emails keeps these messages that can wait until later from hitting my inbox. Setting up filters doesn’t even have to take a great deal of time – and once they’re set up that’s it, you can forget about them! Here’s my inbox after just 5 minutes of setting a few basic filters up:

Email 101 - A filtered Inbox

You can see that after spending just 5 minutes setting up a few filters I’m now starting to only see the important emails and will also be cutting down the amount of notifications I’ll be receiving too.

3. Unsubscribe & Spam

Quite often we skim-read an email then just hit the delete button. When these messages come into your inbox take a couple of seconds to evaluate the content – is it something you’re interested in reading later? Then set a filter up for it. Is the content not what you expected? Then unsubscribe.

Don’t let your inbox get cluttered with irrelevant subscriptions that offer little value to you.

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If you’re getting a lot of Spam emails, don’t just bin them, mark them as Spam so that your email program knows to keep them out of your inbox – you can always go through your spam folder at a later date to catch any it may have flagged by accident.

4. File Your Read Emails

You should never use your inbox as your to-do list.

Important tasks will be lost as they fall to the bottom of your inbox, you’ll be distracted by all the new information filtering through to your inbox, and having an email just sitting there means you don’t have a clue whether you need to action it, file it, read it or respond to it.

About The Author
Katy is always trying to be more productive one day at a time! Whether it's analogue, digital, motivational or psychological who'll try any system that will help her get things done and get organised. As well as running, she also loves making music and reviewing things.
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