Top tip to triage email

Photo by  Stefan Cosma  on  Unsplash

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

Work is full of weapons of mass interruption. Like email. 

Of course email is a key communication channel. But it's easy to use indiscriminately rather than with structure and discipline. Probably because time is short—which is probably because there's constant pressure to be doing stuff like answering more emails.

Whether you work in an office or remotely I bet you spend more time than you'd like dealing with emails. 

Many of us receive hundreds of emails a day. And some are received outside working hours, if such a phenomenon still exists. Which emails are important? Which ones are urgent? Which ones can I read later? Which ones can I ignore? It's often hard to make this judgment quickly and rapidly triage your inbox so you can focus on the most valuable work. It's the same for others so remember that when you write your next email. 

Time is money. Concentration is precious. And interruptions are costly. Make it easy for people to quickly:

  • identify the nature of your message, 
  • understand what you need them to know, 
  • take the action you require, and
  • respond clearly if a response is requested. 

The time spent dealing with an errant email chain resulting from a poorly written quick-fire message will be greater than the time spent composing a clear and unambiguous email up front. 

Email etiquette

The following email mark-up provides a simple etiquette that will help you make your intention or requirements explicit and clear, in turn helping people to spot the critical messages that truly warrant their attention. Why not introduce it where you work?


Location: Subject prefix

Description: Recipient is asked to carry out a task. Add a time indicator if the task must be completed by a deadline:

  • ACTION+2d meaning action within 2 days
  • ACTION+20/02/15 meaning action to be completed by 20-Feb-2015


Location: Subject suffix; email body

Description: No Need To Respond. The recipient isn't required to reply.


Location: Subject prefix

Description: The sender requires an answer to a single question posed in the e-mail. Add a time indicator if the answer is required by a certain date, e.g.

  • QUESTION+2d meaning answer within 2 days
  • QUESTION+20/02/15 meaning answer to be given by 20-Feb-2015


Location: Subject prefix

Description: Requires the recipient's immediate attention.


Location: Subject prefix

Description: The sender requires a response to the invitation. Add a time indicator if the response is required by a certain date:

  • RSVP+2d meaning answer within 2 days
  • RSVP+20/02/15 meaning answer to be given by 20-Feb-2015