How To Save Time With An Inbox Management System

A survey from Adobe found that the average professional spends over five hours per day in their inbox. This is a massive loss of productivity that distracts people from strategic projects that create value.

To be successful, you need to gain control over your inbox.

This guide will walk you through the three steps to create an efficient inbox management system that limits the amount of time you spend on email while preventing important messages from slipping through the cracks.


Here’s a quick summary of what you’ll learn.

  1. How to choose a sorting approach
  2. Best practices for creating clear sorting rules
  3. Tips for implementing your inbox management system + productivity hacks
  4. How to delegate your inbox management to an assistant

1Choose Your Sorting Approach

Sorting emails boosts your productivity by allowing you to focus on the conversations that are most important to you at the moment rather than wasting time reacting to emails, regardless of their relevance.

Here are three easy-to-adopt sorting approaches:

  1. Urgency-focused
  2. People-focused
  3. Project-focused

Choose the one that best fits your role and organizational preferences.

1. Urgency – Focused

If you’re concerned about urgent emails slipping through the cracks, the urgency-focused approach will keep all of your critical messages top of mind.

To use it, create folders based on when you need to respond.

Here are the ones we suggest:

  • Needs attention today
  • Needs attention this week
  • Read when you have time
  • Delete-store emails here until you verify they are irrelevant
  • Delegate to someone else (If you’re assistant is managing your inbox, these are the emails that they will automatically deal with themselves)

This approach is also often the best if you want to delegate inbox management to an assistant. It’s easier for them to assess urgency than the subjective criteria used in the other two approaches.

2. People – Focused

The people-focused approach is ideal if your day revolves around connecting with various groups of people, such as clients, prospects, partners, etc. To use it, create folders for each of the types of people you speak with regularly.

Here are some examples:

  • If you’re in sales, create folders for each stage of your sales funnel and sort your prospects that way.
  • If you’re a recruiter, create folders for each of the positions you’re seeking candidates for.
  • If you’re a leader who manages several groups, create folders for each one.

Your goal should be to create a folder scheme that encompasses the majority of emails you receive each day.

3. Project – Focused

If your days revolve around juggling multiple projects, you should create an email system that makes it easy to quickly dive into all the things you’re working on.

Here are some examples:

  • If you’re a marketer, create folders for each of your campaigns.
  • If you lead a product team, create folders for each product (or product component) that you oversee.
  • If you’re a data scientist, create folders for each of the projects you’re working on and the various stakeholders who are involved.

Note: If you choose a people or project-focused approach, create two additional folders for emails that don’t fit into your existing categories.

  • Miscellaneous – Urgent. Use this folder for conversations involving short-term projects and relationships.
  • Miscellaneous – Non-Urgent. Use this folder for the random newsletters and offers that you may want to read eventually and don’t require your attention

2Set Clear Sorting Rules

The success of your inbox management system depends on how consistently you sort your emails. To prevent messages from slipping through the cracks, you need to set clear rules for what goes into each folder.

Feel free to mix and match folders and sorting rules from each of these approaches as you design your inbox management system. To be successful, you just need to commit to your categories so that your inbox is organized and easy to use.

Let’s dive into some sorting examples for each of the three approaches.

Urgency – Base Sorting Criteria

It’s often challenging to assess urgency until you’ve read an email. Here are some criteria to speed up your sorting process:

  • Make a list of contacts who you need to respond to within 24 hours. Include contact types (ex. Prospects, potential partners, etc.) who fall into this category.
  • Make a list of contacts who you need to respond to within the week. Include a list of contact types who fall into this category.
  • Make a list of contacts whose emails you want to read, but there’s no urgency. This category often includes newsletters, pitches, and unimportant external communications.
  • Set criteria for emails should go into the delete folder. Define precisely what makes an email unnecessary.
  • Set criteria for what emails you’re going to delegate or are already being taken care of by others. For example, most BCC emails can go into this folder as well as tasks other people in the email thread will do.

People – Based Sorting Criteria

Due to your constant influx of new contacts, this can be the most ambiguous sorting approach. Here are some ways to keep it focused:

  • Define the scope of people that each of your folders encompasses. For example, you can sort by company type, professional titles, contact source, type of relationship, etc.
  • Make a list of regular contacts that fit into each group. Use your inbox setting to automatically send emails from them into their corresponding folders.
  • Be consistent with your CRM. If you use a CRM, consider sorting emails based on their contact status.

Project- Based Sorting Criteria

The approach is the most dynamic since it must continuously adapt to your changing workflow. Here’s how to keep it organized:

  • Create folders for all of your main projects. Add and delete folders as you create and complete projects.
  • Create folders for small, on-going tasks. This helps prevent them from slipping through the cracks.
  • Create a folder for miscellaneous internal emails. Ex. Company info, random requests from superiors and colleagues, etc. If you get a lot of these emails, consider breaking it down into an urgent and non-urgent folder.
  • Create a folder for miscellaneous external emails. If your role frequently requires you to engage with external contacts who are outside of your projects, consider creating urgent and non-urgent versions of those folders.

Is a quickskill Virtual Assistant Right for You?

Read More

3Implement Your Inbox Management System

Once you’ve created your folders and sorting criteria, implementing your system is easy. As you receive emails, sort them, and then dive into your folders throughout the day as you focus on the various topics.

You may find that the first iteration of your sorting system is ineffective.

Here are some reasons why:

  • You’re rarely using one or more folders
  • A large percentage of your emails don’t fit into your categories
  • Your folders are too broad and aren’t improving your ability to focus

If you’re experiencing any of these challenges or others, you need to change your folders and/or sorting criteria to be more relevant. Keep in mind that having an effective sorting system isn’t going to solve all of your inbox management problems.

Email Response Best Practices

If an email takes less than two minutes to address, respond immediately. This prevents small things from slipping through the cracks.

Schedule a couple of times throughout the day to deal with emails that require a longer response. This prevents you from spending your day reacting to the emails you receive.

Use clear, concise language when you send emails. Preventing miscommunications saves a ton of email ping-pong.

Make sure to respond to all emails by the end of the day. If you are unable to complete the task, the email is requesting that day, reply saying when you will get it done; this prevents you from holding other people back.

Unsubscribe from any email newsletters you haven’t read within the last two weeks. This will clear a ton of clutter from your inbox.

Archive messages that you’ve dealt with but may need to review later. This clears your inbox while holding on to key messages.

4How to Delegate Your Inbox Management to an Assistant

Even with an organized system, managing the overwhelming amount of emails you receive each day can still be frustrating and time-consuming. To boost your productivity, delegate the sorting process to your assistant.

Here’s how:

  • Give them a document that clearly explains your folders and sorting rules.
  • Walk them through several examples of how you sorted ambiguous emails.
  • Have your assistant sort fifty emails and review their sorting accuracy. If they sorted correctly, offload your inbox management to them. However, if they made mistakes, provide additional coaching.

If you don’t have an assistant or your in-house admin support is too busy working on other tasks, consider hiring a virtual assistant through a managed service.

A managed virtual assistant service like ours will give you an Engagement Manager who will help you create your inbox management system and train your assistant to use it. Plus, they’ll help you offload additional admin tasks such as scheduling, data entry, travel, follow-ups, etc. so that you have more time to focus on the activities that drive your success.

Check out our services or schedule a discovery call to learn how we can help you.

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

There are several ways to engage a remote virtual assistant. There are three broad categories for hiring:

  • Directly hiring a freelancer in-country or overseas from a job board.
  • Use a contract virtual assistant agency.
  • Use a managed virtual assistant service provider.

There are pros and cons for each model of hiring, and finding the right approach depends on your needs, your resources, and the amount of time and money you want to invest.

Hiring a Freelancer

Hiring a freelancer, especially overseas, is usually the least expensive route, and the dollar goes a long way in countries like India and the Philippines.

Freelancers will likely cost more, communication is sometimes easier, and depending on your arrangement and your need for synchronous work the time zones can be an issue.

Hiring a freelancer is also the highest risk option in terms of quality control, reliability, and accountability as freelancers can have other priority clients or commitments that keep them from meeting deadlines. Sometimes freelancers just disappear.

It’s also the model with the most significant lift on you.

You recruit, interview, hire, train, pay, and manage the virtual assistant. Most freelancers work from home offices and IT security can be a concern.

Finally, finding a freelancer with experience using your sales tools—CRM, project management, etc. can be challenging.

About Freelance Marketplaces

You can also hire a virtual assistant through a freelance marketplace. This model is typically used for short-term projects, not ongoing relationships. That is starting to change.

You have the same risks as with a freelancer, though the marketplace can mitigate some risks of poor quality and missed deadlines.

These freelancers are often getting multiple projects from multiple clients, so consistent availability can also be a challenge.

Using a Contract Agency

Using a contract virtual assistant agency will usually get you a vetted virtual assistant with a validated resume and track record.

As with a freelancer, performance management and training with a contract agency are up to you, and it really depends on how much time you can and want to invest in those responsibilities.

Contractors can also have multiple clients unless you plan to engage the assistant 40 hours a week. There are several contract agencies with overseas and/or U.S.-based virtual assistants

This model will be a bit more expensive than hiring a freelancer directly, especially if the assistants are in the U.S. Most work in home offices with home computers and again, security can be a concern.

As with freelancers, it could take longer to find a VA that knows your sales tools.

Managed Virtual Assistant Service

With a managed virtual assistant service, the service provider recruits, hires, trains, and manages the virtual assistants on your tools and processes.

The assistants are full-time employees of the service provider. Many also train backup assistants to make sure you’re always covered. Account managers monitor performance and client satisfaction and work with you to offload more and more processes to the assistant as they get to know your business.

There’s no direct management on your part.

Most managed service providers use virtual assistants offshore, but instead of working from a home office, the assistants work in secure facilities with encrypted networks and company-owned computers.

With this model, you are able to engage a virtual assistant in a few days with no management or training needed on your part.

Spend More Time Selling

Virtual assistants can help you free up more time to sell, and prevent you from paying yourself to do all of your own admin work.

VAs can also streamline your sales processes to improve overall operational efficiency by keeping your CRM current, documenting all sales processes, and updating sales materials.

Looking for help finding a virtual assistant? Let’s chat about your needs today.

Experience Quickskill