How to use email filters to optimize your inbox processing

If you are receiving about 30 to 50 or more emails per day, my email filter strategy might help you to optimize your inbox processing by prioritizing incoming email based on filters.

The underlying methodology of this strategy is the assumption that the information of the sender and the recipient of an email can be used to prioritize emails for processing:

Priority 1: All emails where you are the only recipient will only be processed by yourself and this is why you should definitely have a look onto these emails as soon as possible.

Priority 2: Emails sent to you and to other recipients might be answered by others as well and you can postpone processing of these emails a little bit to increase the chance that others already will have responded to the email. – On the one hand, this could answer the request completely; on the other hand, this might help to get additional information to answer the request.

Priority 3: Emails send to others but taking you into copy (cc or bcc) only, do not require an answer from your side and processing can be postponed. – I know people who move these emails into the deleted folder right away, but I like to have – at least – a brief look onto all my incoming emails to take an active decision about how to handle my emails.

Based on these assumptions, I am using the following folders to filter my email:

Posteingang (Inbox): This is the base folder of my inbox where new email shows up first. Besides emails from a few important people like my boss as well as my wife, my email software moves all incoming emails to one of the following folders.

01_Inbox_TO_exclusive: Folder for all emails where I am the only recipient. I check this folder whenever I have time.

02_Inbox_TO_others – after lunch only: Folder for all emails where – besides me – also other recipients are named in the TO field. I try to check this folder only after lunch.

03_Inbox_CC – afternoon only: This is the folder where all other emails are moved to. I try to check this folder only in the afternoon. – Yes, “I try to”, but sometimes I am just too curious to wait until afternoon. ;-)

In addition, I am using two more folders in my inbox:

To_Be_Processed: Whenever I create a task out of an email and I know that I will need the email to process the task (e.g., in case of necessary answers), I manually move the email to this folder.

Z_Processed: This is my archive folder. I simply move all processed emails to this folder for later reference. – Yes, this results from testing the chaotic email archiving approach I described within my last post. And yes, I am still testing this approach. :-)

This is it! I created some filters in Outlook that move the emails to the different folders as soon as a new email is received.

I am using this strategy since beginning of 2011 and – for me – it works fine so far. If you have different strategies to process your inbox, please feel free to post your experience. :-)

By the way, I was working on two other projects since my last post. This is why it took a little bit longer until I was able to publish this post. If you are interested, please take a look at: This is the website of an initiative of process management experts from several organizations to bring process management experts together and to share process management know how by identifying best practices in the area of process management. Our daughter was born in March and my wife and I decided to create a blog to review baby products we are using to share our experience with other parents.

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