Use a “Read Later” Tag for Low Priority E-Mail

April 12, 2012

Here’s a question I get in nearly every class I teach. “What do I do with low-priority e-mail that I don’t need to attend to now but I know I may want to get to later? I tend to leave these in my inbox until I can read them, and so emptying the inbox like you recommend is hard to do.”

My solution? Tag it with a “Read Later” Category in Outlook (or use a “Read Later” Label in Gmail), and immediately move it out of your Inbox. And then schedule blocks of time on slower days to catch up on your low-priority mail reading.

If any of that sounds like Greek to you, here’s some background. If you’ve read my books then you know that I recommend you file your mail into one folder, and try to empty your Inbox each day. You know I do not recommend filing into 40 different topic-named folders. If you must use topics, then tag the mail with Outlook Categories (or Gmail Labels), and put them in one single folder (called the Processed Mail folder in Outlook, and in Gmail just use the Archive space). You can view mail grouped by topics later.

So for low priority e-mails that you tend to let hang in your inbox, this is a great solution that allows you to quickly empty your inbox. Just tag that mail with a category or label called “Read Later,” move it immediately out of the Inbox, and then read it later when you have a scheduled block of time for lower priority activities. You can even have several of these tags: “Read Later High Priority” for example. Or even “Categorize Later” should you have a complicated category system and need more time to think through your assignments on read mail later.

The most important step though is to get that mail out of the Inbox quickly, on the same day if possible. The inbox should be a triage location—a quick-decision-making area for incoming mail. Make decisions quickly, convert some to tasks, and get the mail out of the inbox. An overloaded inbox hampers such quick decisions, and that leads to time wasted on rehashing old mail. And a jumbled Inbox allows requests to drop through the cracks. Rather, use the Inbox like the receiving lobby of an emergency room—quickly decide what to do with the new patient, and move them on quickly to the right place.


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2 Responses to Use a “Read Later” Tag for Low Priority E-Mail

  1. Nel says:

    On my home computer, I have a G-mail address but I asked my son to set up my computer so that all my Gmail is forwarded to my Outlook 2010 account because it operates more like the one I’m used to at work. Microsoft says I don’t have the categories function on email because it is (or it isn’t) IMEP or something like that. (I can access categories in contacts). What do you suggest using to label emails if you can’t access the category function? Many thanks.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      About the G-mail. If it’s truly being forwarded to your “Outlook Account” then G-mail is not the source of missing categories, it’s your main Outlook account that is the issue, and it does sound like it’s on an IMAP server if categories are missing. On the other hand, if you have Gmail loaded as the mail server for Outlook, it’s probably set up in IMAP mode and so blocking Categories. You can set up Gmail in non-IMAP mode, rather in POP mode. Lot’s of disadvantages to that (your read mail is stored locally so you cannot use multiple clients to access read mail). But one advantage is that categories will work on Outlook if the account is in POP mode. Here is an article about the two modes for setting up Gamil:
      You mention using Gmail labels instead. To my knowledge, you cannot access Gmail labels within Outlook–you have to be using the Gmail web account to use those. But if you are doing that, yes they work great, much like categories.
      I hope that helps,

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