All Posts, Organization, Tricks of the Trade, (5) Comments

Email Triage: What it is and how it can help you

Submitted by Ethan

triageTo be honest, I don’t know exactly where I first read the term “email triage” before—and if it was you who coined the term, please let me know in the comments and I’ll edit this post—but when I read that term, I realized that I was performing email triage for a very long time without actually having a name or term for the process.

It’s an extremely useful technique for dealing with the vast amounts of both work and personal email that comes in on a daily basis but before I go into detail about what email triage is and how it can help you too, let’s first start by defining the term “triage”:

Function: noun
1 a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care
2: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success

When I read that above definition in terms of “email triage”, here is what it says to me: “the sorting of an allocation of treatment to emails… according to a system of priorities designed to maximize success in the shortest time period”.

Now I’ll detail how I use email triage with the hope that you see a use for this technique in your dealings with both work and personal emails to “maximize email success in the shortest time period”.

On Sunday evenings, I log onto my work email from home to take a peak at my inbox and perform my initial round of email triage so I don’t feel caught off guard come Monday morning bright and early when I boot up my computer at work. In this round of triage, I go through and delete any emails that I’ve signed up to have delivered to me daily like The New York Times since I usually keep up with the news over the weekend.

Then I quickly scan through for any emails from my boss as action items for the upcoming week. It’s not that I’m going to actually do anything with these emails, just make myself aware of them for the week ahead. Then, I go through the number of Microsoft Outlook invites that are sprinkled throughout and delete the ones that I can and leave the ones that need to be accepted on Monday morning in my inbox.

Lastly, I familiarize myself with which emails deserve priority. When I log out, I am familiar with what’s happening and have my inbox in tip top shape to tackle the following Monday morning. Two of the best benefits of dealing with my work email in this fashion is that I’m not stressed out come Monday morning and I’m on top of any questions my boss has first thing in the morning.

Email triage has also crept into my personal email habits which allows me to label emails and keep them as either read or un-read so I know what I need to get to and what can be left for when there is a break in the day… again, reducing my stress—even personal email can be stressful—and keeping me on my game with email communication.

What about you?... how do you handle the massive amounts of email you get on a daily basis?


#1. Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Have separate accounts for various items. I do this for several reasons, more privacy (I know what to expect coming in, and no one watching over shoulder for something to be taken wrong…nothing like having boss thinking your doing family business on company time), also whatever is coming across company servers/PC’s just assume belongs to the company and can be read by the sys admin, protects your PC since you know which accounts have a higher or lower probability of viruses, also fewer missed emails when you “scan” the inbox page for new emails, there are days I can easily get 200 emails, just easier to have technical posts, news, newsletters, volunteer work etc go to another account then my main work account or one I have for personal emails. Also, you know if you’re getting all your email since many company’s block certain addresses from coming in or out.

#2. Posted by Ethan

Totally agree that you need separate email accounts for personal versus business… with this post though, I’m explaining my technique for dealing with mass amounts of email on just one email account—work specifically—and how doing email triage on a Sunday evening makes me less stressful and more “on top of my game” come Monday morning. 

@Debbie- Do you do some sort of email triage on your email accounts?... sounds like you get a lot of email…

#3. Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I usually do a “sort” on incoming e-addresses, delete what I can there. Then do a 2nd sort on Subject so I can see who’s responded to specific projects. (Don’t forget to do a 3rd sort by time stamp if yours doesn’t automatically reset to default). I check my inbox often, but schedule several specific times in the day to sit down and reply when I know I’m not expecting calls or interruptions and I know I have all the information on hand and opened once (rather then multiple times, by replying to each as they come in), saves a lot of time. DO reply immediately to those needing attention.

Daily masses of emails are a problem. The idea to look through and “triage” them Sunday night is a good one.  It’s always stressful to walk in Monday morningin and wonder what your boss wants before you have a chance to read the emails.  I usually click the button at the top that marks all of the emails. Then I scan through and unclick the ones I want to or need to read. Then I click delete and all of the rest are gone.

#5. Posted by Julio

Use a filter to flag high priority incoming email such as from your boss and other key individuals. After that, sort by subject and apply triage measures.





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