3 Steps To A Better Inbox

Prioritization is an underrated skill.

In your first job, your manager helps you determine what’s important and what needs to get done now vs. later.

As you advance in your career, you quickly learn that there’s less hand-holding involved. Sure, your boss may give you deadlines for projects/client requests/presentations, but there are more instances where you are setting the deadlines on your own. Where does this prioritization come from?

Your inbox.

Your inbox is flooded with emails everyday. Ashton Kutcher refers to email as “everyone else’s to-do list for you.” Prioritization is key to managing deliverables and honestly, stress.

I learned a new strategy last month to have a better inbox that, so far, has been working well.

It involves three steps:

  1. Create two new folders. Name one “Today” and the other “This Week.” Have them sit at the very top of your folder list/archive system (you may need to put a number or underscore so that it stays at the top - i.e. “_Today” or “ 1 Today”)

  2. For every email that comes through your inbox, put them in the appropriate folder. Be realistic as to what you actually put in these folders.

    • If it’s going to take longer than today/this week to complete, then leave it in the inbox.

  3. Tackle the deliverables in the Today folder head-on each day and archive when done. Today = High Priority so make sure that folder is empty by end of day. This goes back to being honest with yourself on your capacity.

    • If you have more time in your day to tackle other tasks that are housed in the This Week folder, move them over to the Today folder but do this sparingly. Remember, it’s about prioritizing, not racing, to get things done.

    • The next day, move over what you think can actually be done in one day from your This Week folder and your inbox into your Today folder. Repeat the process!


After a month of using this method, here are some pros and cons:

+ My to-do list (in email form) is much less daunting now as I am focusing on the Today folder on a daily basis. I feel good when it’s empty at the end of the day!

+ I am much more honest with myself now on my capacity (where before I would be overly ambitious on a deadline).

+ I have a better view of what my priorities are vs. what my to-do list is that has enhanced my productivity.

- It’s kind of awkward to have an empty inbox (after sorting it between Today and This Week) and I get self-conscious if someone walks by and sees I have “nothing” in it.

- Sometimes I forgot to check the This Week folder.

- Not sure what to do about long-term projects. I’m considering creating a new folder for that.


Let me know what your experience is if you give this a shot!