How to Triage an email inbox that is at overload

Is there a ‘Best Way’ to triage yourself out of email overload? You already have an email management approach for these situations, (you do, after all, have a good track record in delivering your results at work). You already know that you need to make priority decisions quickly on your emails so you can work smarter on the important and urgent in your inbox and get back up to speed almost as soon as you return to your desk.  Here’s an approach that Ian Harvey, who attended one of my programmes almost 3 years ago, told me yesterday that he uses. How does your approach stack up? Do share your thoughts here:

I like Ian’s approach  for 2 main reasons: 1) It uses built-in Outlook functionality to make the job easier and 2) It focuses on deleting the low value emails first. 

The Golden Rule: Commit to Deleting emails before you take any other action, no matter how compelling a particular email appears to be when reviewing it in this triage process.

  1. Go to ‘View’ in your top toolbar and hit ‘Arrange by’ and select ‘Show in Groups’ leaving the original View criteria in place.
  2. Go to View > Arrange by > Type> and Delete all Meeting Request Responses by highlighting the Group heading and hitting Delete
  3. Go to View > Arrange by > From > and delete all system / auto generated / spam mails using above method
  4. Go to View > Arrange by > Subject and delete all unnecessary mails using the above method.

OK, we now move into a more selective Triage on the remaining mails

  1. Go to View > Arrange by > Subject and/or Conversation (this will group mails by date within the Subject so you can review the newest to make a processing decision and delete the earlier ones).
  2. Go to View > Arrange by > Importance and see if any High Priority mails really need urgent attention

Because the 80/20 Rule is ruthless, you will now have removed much of the low value / no value email bulk from your inbox. If you are not a fan of Viewing your email in Groups (and I do not use the Group view – it looks too cluttered to my eye), simply go back to the ‘View’ menu on your toolbar and select ‘Arrange By’ > Date > make sure the ‘Show in Groups’ option is unchecked.

So, there you have it – Ian’s approach. I like it. Over to you:

Remember, if you want to go beyond Tips and want to build a robust productivity platform to get stuff done that will serve you for years just let me know and we will build a proven, practical programme that will deliver measurable, lasting results for you and your team.


  1. Richard Maybury October 18, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks Andy. It does not matter what email system you use. The most important productivity impact is in HOW one uses the system. It is the process or behaviour we have around the tool that impacts our productivity day-to-day.Taroboy may or may not be cool. It will only work well if users work it well, if you get my meaning.

  2. JJ September 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Hey Richard, I assume Ian is talking about deleting all out of date Meeting Request Responses etc after returning from a holiday or something!!

    I’m with you on the keyboard shortcuts – especially when pumping a laptop!

    Happy to learn that you were not on the razzle at 7 this morning!
    keep well

  3. Richard Maybury September 21, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Hey Robbie, you’re a star. Hope all is well with you. I really like Ian’s approach and am now only a keyboard Alt V – A away from any bulk view I need!

  4. Robbie Henderson September 21, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Good one Ian! I’m a 7 year vet of Richard’s training. Using the View>Arrange by>Group approach sure makes bulk deletes and date sorts easier for processing. Thanks

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