I make extensive use of smart folders (in Apple Mail) and tags (in Gmail) to sort my email into logical groups that I can easily process all at once; it’s an important part of my strategy for processing my inbox faster and dealing with email overload. The key is to use rules and filters that automatically sort my email without any additional intervention from me.
Here are a few of the rules, filters and email groupings that I use to sort my email and process my inbox more efficiently:
- Status reports. I use a rule that automatically places anything that contains “monthly status report” or “MSR” anywhere in the subject line into a “status reports” smart folder, without removing it from my inbox. At the end of the month, when the status reports are flooding in, I can click on my folder and pick out the few that I need to read while filing the rest away in my archive to quickly get them out of my inbox.
- High volume subjects. For any topic that is generating a lot of email, such as a project that’s about to be completed, I’ll often create a temporary smart mailbox that uses keywords to find those high volume subjects. I can then easily scan through all the emails on that particular topic and better see the threads that are being discussed all together in one place. Turning threaded discussions on for those folders is a good way to see entire conversations in order to decide whether or not I need to add anything to the discussion.
- Twitter messages. To reduce distraction, Twitter messages automatically get dumped into a separate folder without ever hitting my inbox. I can just take a quick look at this folder occasionally to see if there is anything interesting or anyone that I want to follow back.
- Services. I also create folders to group mail from bug trackers, mailing lists, etc. These go to individual folders without skipping my inbox, which helps me to get through the first wave of email in the morning, because I can process all the email from each service that came in overnight. During the day, I can see the new emails popping into the inbox and decide whether they need to be dealt with immediately or processed later.
- People. I keep a list of the people who work for me and make sure that their emails appear both in my inbox and in a smart folder. This is really important when I am pressed for time and can’t get through my email, because it allows me to at least glance at the email from my employees to see if anyone urgently needs something from me.
- Unimportant. I also have a bunch of filters that take things like press releases from random PR people and dump them immediately to reduce the clutter in my inbox.
- Important people. I use a rule to color-code emails from my boss, my boss’s boss, employees and people in other critical roles as orange. Whenever I see something orange pop into my inbox, I know that I need to at least take a quick look at it, because it is more likely to be important than most other types of email.
- Critical notices. Things like spam reports that I know need to be dealt with immediately get set to red. Anytime I see something red in my inbox, it requires some kind of immediate action on my part.
- Projects and topics. I have other colors that I use to keep track of important projects and topics. For example, as a community manager, I subscribe to all the mailing lists for my project. I need to pay a little more attention to the community mailing list, though, so I set those emails to blue to make sure they stand out.