How to Prioritize Your Inbox, So You Don’t Lose Your Mind

January 3, 2023

Reading Time: ~4 Mins | Written By: Slava Kaganov

We’ve all been there; logging into your computer at work after a great weekend where you went to a new restaurant, saw some old friends, and maybe even took in some live music – you’re feeling great and recharged! Then up comes your inbox… and the number of emails waiting for you there hits like a heavyweight boxer, square on the chin. You deflate, roll your eyes, and lose whatever positive energy you had to start the day, preparing to dig through each email one by one by one.


Your inbox is not your enemy. Like a wild beast, it can be tamed if you are properly prepared.

Prep for Success

Confucious was quoted as saying ‘Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.’ This is as true now for your email inbox, as it was for rice farming 2,500 years ago.

The best preparation you can do is to set yourself up with a variety of sub-folders for the various types of emails you receive on a regular basis. Don’t want to set them up by type? No problem, set up a priority system using these sub-folders instead. That doesn’t work for you either? Make the system to whatever fits your needs, but make a system! Even add labels to further break up the contents for clarity and easy sorting.

Your email program should also be able to be set up with rules and/or filters to help sort those incoming emails before you set your eyes on them. Get these set up so that emails are sorted into different folders, have added colour coding for quicker reference, and rules can even be be set so these are prioritized based on the sender.

Scan and Tidy Up

Despite the very best efforts to set up your inbox to ensure everything is sorted where you want as it comes in, things will invariably slip by. The very first thing you want to do is give your inbox a quick scan. Just give a quick look at the sender and title – there’s bound to be a few that can be deleted (junk, newsletter, cold emails you have 0 interest in, etc) and others that can be quickly moved to one of your sub-folders for review later.


Items that are both important and urgent are going to be at the top of your list to get through once you dig in. It’s important to remember to compartmentalize accordingly by keeping the Eisenhower Matrix in mind when looking at your inbox.

Eisenhower matrix - shows how to prioritize inbox
  • If something is requiring immediate action or attention, and will have direct consequences, this should be at the top of your to-do list before checking any other emails – these are the types of emails you should have feeding directly into your primary inbox for immediate visibility
  • Next look at the items which are urgent but don’t hit the impatience standard, or vice-versa, think about whether this is something that can be delegated or potentially pushed to a to-do folder to do later in the day
  • Once your key items are out of the way, you can look at giving that pesky inbox a further tidying by resolving emails which you identify as ‘quick completes’, typically considered items that can be done in under 2 minutes (calendar invites, notifications, reminders, promos, etc.)
  • Now your previous setup of sub-folders and labels should really pay off, as you will be able to proceed through the remaining emails as needed depending on the folder they are in, and the labeling applied

Unsubscribing Won’t Hurt Feelings

Email promos and their senders won’t be hurt if you unsubscribe from their emails, so just do it. 

Doing so will help you keep a cleaner inbox, requiring less sanitizing in the long run. If promotional emails and newsletters hold no value to you, something you can easily recognize if you’ve simply deleted them twice or more previously, go ahead and unsubscribe. Heck, if it’s a persistent cold emailer who you’ve ignored multiple times yet again – hit that block button!

You should now be equipped to handle your inbox like a pro. No more mini heart attacks or spilled coffee from the shock of seeing your morning inbox. You’ll be ready to tackle the day without fear of that dreaded email avalanche.

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