Managing Inbound Email – Strategies to focus on the important stuff

Do you find that you’re missing emails or you don’t see them until much later? I often get questions on ways to better manage emails to focus on critical ones. You probably get hundreds or maybe even thousands of emails a day, intermingled with solicitations, spam and legitimate emails you need to act on. Many email clients have the capability of creating rules and effectively creating rules will allow you to be notified of the important ones while reviewing the non-important later.

The primary goal of your rules is to allow all the critical/important emails to go into your Inbox while the non-important emails go to sub-folders to review later, whether it be once a day, once a week or never. By doing this, email on your phone or tablet will also show, at a glance, those important emails.

Don’t create a folders for departments or people.

Often times I see 50 different folders with co-workers names or various departments with the thought that they can easily find emails all from a person or from a department. When using this approach, you need to constantly check each email folder for a new email, even with the unread badge count next to the folder. You will quickly learn you’re not responding to or managing emails effectively. Leverage the built in search or column sort feature of your email client to get all the emails together to easily find the one you’re looking for.

Don’t use the setting “Mark As Read” or other client side rules.

You may be tempted to use the Mark As Read option in the rule set but this is a client side rule, meaning the rule will only run when the email client (Outlook) is open. If your computer is off or your email client is closed, the rule will not process until you open the email client. If you don’t receive email on a phone or tablet, this likely won’t have a big impact on you.

Do create folders for “notification” emails.

Email clients are extremely flexible to allow a very specific set of criteria for Sender, Recipient, Subject, Message and Message Header (the message header is information about the email such as where it came from, who it was for, what mail server it went through, etc).

You can create a rule to say any email from [email protected] to go to a folder. Let’s say you receive important emails from this email address but also a lot of notice emails. Do the notices all have a certain keyword in the subject or message body? Pretend the subject line has the word “Alert” in it. You can add a second criteria to your rule to say emails from [email protected] and subject contains “Alert”. This means that the email must come from that email address and anywhere in the subject line have the word “Alert”.

To take this one step further, let’s imagine that you want emails from [email protected] with the word “Warning” in the subject line to stay in your inbox and not hit this rule, and the subject line has the word “Alert” in it as well. By using the exception portion of a rule, you can create the rule to say

From Sender: [email protected]
AND
Subject Contains: Alert
EXCEPT
Subject Contains: Warning

Create a rule to look for the word “unsubscribe” in the email body and redirect it to a folder.

Most marketing and solicitation emails have to contain a method for the user to be able to easily remove themselves from a mailing list. This is the CAN-SPAM law enforced Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Keep in mind that if a co-worker receives an email that contains the word “unsubscribe” and forward it to you to review, this rule will also catch it. You may want to also add an Exception to this rule to look for message headers that contain your email domain name.

Continually monitor the folders that your rules are putting emails into to be sure they are setup correctly. Adjust them as necessary by adding additional clarifying criteria or exceptions.

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