Email Strategies for the Overwhelmed

Note: Today is Day 16 of my 30 day blog challenge. If you want to get my random thoughts about random stuff in your inbox, you can subscribe at the bottom of any post or mash the RSS button if that’s how you roll.¬†

Most of the people in my online sphere are overwhelmed with email. I wouldn’t be surprised if the the little number next to ‘Inbox’ has brought people I know to tears at some point.

There are lots of strategies for dealing with the constant firehose that email represents for many people.

Some people just commit email bankruptcy once or twice a year.1

Tyler Sticka has a great post that’s still relevant called Make Email Suck Less and an update for the latest apps. Much of my own strategy is adapted from his original post.

Scott Hanselman outlines his rules for processing mail and goes into great detail about how he sets up the rules in Outlook.

I really liked Scott’s post, but most people I know don’t use Outlook, so I thought it would be cool to adapt the rules for Gmail users.

Go read the post for details about the whys and wherefores of the setup. I’m just going to go through the basic Outlook to Gmail translation here.

Filtering Rules

  1. Inbox (Sent only to you)
  2. Inbox – CC (Emails that you’re cc’d on)
  3. Inbox – External (Emails from outside your company)
  4. Inbox – Invites (Calendar stuff)


In Gmail, Priority Inbox will probably do most of what you need this to do. Or, if you use the new Gmail tabs feature, this would be your ‘Primary’ Tab.

Gmail Tabs

Gmail Important ButtonIf things pop in here that you don’t want, you can train Gmail by unchecking the the yellow arrow that marks things as important. The reverse also works if you find something in another tab that should be important.

If you really want to be explicit about your inbox, you can create a filter by going to ‘Settings’ under the gear symbol in the top left and then choosing ‘filters.’ Scroll to the bottom and click ‘Create new filter.’

In the search settings enter your email address in the ‘To’ field. Have more than one? Enter as many addresses as you like and add ‘OR’ in between them (no quotes). If you’re like me and have a few too many email addresses but forward them all to a main gmail account, you could set up a filter for each address and give each it’s own Inbox. In the next step, check ‘Apply the label’ and choose and existing label or create a new one, such as ‘Inbox (Me).’

Inbox filter

Inbox CC

For this label, use the ‘Has the words’ search box and enter ‘cc:me’ into the search field.

Inbox CC filter

Inbox External

If you’re part of a large company, you can differentiate emails from outside the company by entering your company’s email domain in the ‘Doesn’t have’ search box.

External email filter

Meeting Invites

For meeting invites, use the ‘has the words’ search box and enter:
(*.ics AND has:attachment AND (“(GMT” OR “Invitation:”))

Gmail filter invites

Another way I keep my inbox clean is to not use it as a to-do list. If an email involves something I need to do, I will make an actual to-do item in my productivity app of choice. If I need information from the email, I will copy and paste it into the notes field of the to-do item. If I have to respond to the email, I will copy the actual link to the email in notes section and then archive the email. Now it’s not cluttering up my inbox, but it has a to-do item with a due date so I won’t forget about it.

So those are some ways I keep things sane in my inbox. Have some other tips for staying on top of email? Let me know in comments.

1. I keep trying to convince Jess to do this. (Back)


  1. This is very timely! I just spent 2 hours cleaning out my inbox – placing most of it in the “Email Bankruptcy” folder. We use Lotus Notes at work, which only compounds the problem…

    Thanks for the tips!


    1. Tonya, glad you found this useful!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *