My top 10 rules for Email Triage

receive over 600 email messages each day (with virtually no Spam, so
they are all legitimate) and respond to most via Blackberry. How do I
triage 600 messages? I use these 10 rules to mentally score each email:

E-mail marked with a “high importance” exclamation point must pass the
“cry wolf” test. Is the sender a habitual “high importance” e-mailer?
Are these e-mails actually important? If not, the sender’s emails lose

2. I give points to high-priority people: my senior management, my direct reports, my family members and my key customers.

3.  I do the same for high-priority subjects: critical staff issues, health issues and major financial issues.

I rate email based on the contents of the “To,” “cc” and “bcc” fields.
If I am the only person in the To field, the e-mail gets points. If I
am in the To field with a dozen other people, it’s neutral. If I’m only
cc’d, it loses points. A bcc loses a lot of points, since I believe
email should always be transparent. E-mail should not be used as a

5.  I penalize email with emotional words, capital letters or anything less than civil language.

6.  I downgrade  email messages longer than five BlackBerry screens.   Issues that complex require a phone call.

Email responses that say only “Thanks,” “OK” or “Have a nice day” are
social pleasantries that I appreciate, but move to the bottom of my

8. Email with colorful backgrounds, embedded graphics or mixed font sizes lose points.

I separate email into three categories – that which is just
informational (an FYI), that which requires a short response and that
which requires a lengthy, thoughtful response. I leave the lengthy
responses to the end of the day.

10. More than 3 emails about a
topic requires a phone call or meeting. Trying to resolve complex
issues via and endless ping pong of emails is inappropriate.

These 10 rules really help me navigate my 600 emails each day.

we actually automated the rules above and senders realized that their
e-mail had to be truly relevant to get read, folks might think twice
before pressing Send. The less important matters can wait until the
next staff meeting. With some enforced discipline, we may be able to
learn how to better communicate with one another more effectively and
get back to our creative work.

One more truly controversial idea
– Companies that send bulk e-mail should be forced to pay before an
e-mail gateway delivers their mail. How many newsletters have you
really “opted in” for? A micropayment fee system will keep companies
honest about their opt-in and unsubscribe policies by aligning
financial incentives.

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3 replies »

  1. I use similar heuristics. Several of these unfortunately requiring opening the email, so then when you actually deal with it you have touched it twice.
    While I appreciate the ability to handle email from my phone while away from my office (I refer to it sometimes as “whacking the underbrush”), I wonder about my total time use, as I still have to file all the emails into folders when I get back to the office and that sometimes means looking at the contents again.
    @SuzeMuse looked at some management rules, and one tool for managing multiple accounts, in a post at http://suzemuse.netfirms.com/2009/01/13/what-awayfind-has-taught-me-about-managing-email/. I commented there as well because email overload is really getting to me, what with multiple accounts for various purposes and the overuse/abuse of email for messages not worth doing in writing.
    Maybe if we all had to write our emails in longhand for a day, it would point out which ones are really worth the effort. (But if the same rule applied to blog comments, this thought might not be here…. :D)