How I organise my inbox

I receive, on average, 70-100 emails a day. This is not, in itself, a stunning fact. Many people receive more. But I thought I would share the way I manage this flow, in the first half hour of the day, for any other Type-A folk who are interested.

Step 1: Make sure I have a view window open (I use Mail on a Mac), as I scroll down the list of emails.

I can skim down the list of emails, and quickly delete any that I know I won’t read, or don’t need to read. These are the ‘nice to haves’, such as subscriptions to blogs. Sometimes I’ll read them, sometimes I won’t.

Warning! The next step is where we enter Type-A territory…

Step 2: Colour code

At the same time as Step 1, as I note the emails that I do need  to read, I have the Colours pane open [Format > Show colours] and I colour code emails according to the project / context with which they are associated. You can choose your own colours:-)

Step 3:Prioritise

Then it’s down to work. Choose which project I need to focus on for the first part of the day, go to ‘View > By colour’ and all the emails related to a project are grouped together.

I find that this associates all messages in the same context, making it less of a leap for my mind as I work through them, as well as highlighting connections across different parts of the project.

But I did warn you – we are certainly on the nerd-spectrum here:-)

7 thoughts on “How I organise my inbox

  1. I’m another type A. I try to have an empty inbox, based on a triage system. Things that need to be replied to now, I do and then file. Things that need to replied to by the end of the business day into another folder, non urgent stuff goes into another folder. Because I’m now using gmail I just make sure that my inbox is all labelled.


  2. I have mail boxes that I go through flurries of being good at filing into and then fall off the wagon again. Given that I file documents away very carefully in both my computer and Google Docs, I find this a bit disturbing. It probably is the fact that I have three addresses coming in and I simply don’t have the headspace to deal with the sheer volume properly. Still, I am intrigued by this colour coding option. I may even be inspired to give it a go 🙂


  3. I would spend more time choosing colours and figuring out which project an email belongs to than answering them.

    Question for you: If an email is both yellow and blue, does that make it green?


    1. Procrastination is an under-appreciated art, Jedd;-) You’d be amazed, though, how quick you can be. I only use about 4 colours. A friend responded to my post on Facebook. She has 22,000 emails in her inbox. Makes me feel positively breathless with anxiety!;-)


  4. I loved this! I’m definitely Type A so the colour-coding appeals in so many ways! I’m also a well-developed procrastinator – Jedd’s comment appeals too 😉
    (I’m now off to complete my colour-coding, after I’ve decided the colours to use – you’d never guess that I’ve got two assignments due!)
    Fantastic system Karen – your friend on FB makes me nervous though!


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