Morning work email triage: the coffee-to-results pipeline

I’ve never used Tinder. The whole “swipe right, swipe left” thing has long since entered our collective cultural consciousness though, and I do engage a bit of directional swiping in Microsoft Outlook on my iPhone to carry out daily triage of business emails. “That sounds pretty lame” I can hear you say to yourself, and sure, maybe it is, but I get paid to do it, which really softens the blow.

In about 3 or 4 minutes each morning, I can sift through the email which piled up overnight while I was doing good stuff like cooking dinner, hanging out with my family, or sleeping. I also glance at my calendar for the day. This method allows me to approach my desk each morning able to focus on what’s important, instead of whatever I happen to see first.

Coffee is just Mtn Dew® Code Red for office workers

Right before I start work, I like to have a cup of coffee. I don’t know if this method works without the coffee and I don’t plan to find out. For the first few sips, I look at something which isn’t a screen, like a tree or a cloud or a squirrel excavating my planter boxes yet again ffs, because that’s just good for the soul. Then, I fire up Outlook on my phone, and start with the oldest unread mail.

I assign a fate to each unread mail:

  • Swipe right to Flag. I need to do something about this email.
  • Swipe left to Archive. I almost certainly don’t need to look at this mail ever again.

To refer back to these emails.

An animated GIF showing the process of swiping left to archive an email in Microsoft Outlook on iPhone.
shallimus | Dread Pirate Robots
  • Do nothing. It’s sort-of-important, and I might want to refer back to it, but I don’t need to respond. This email can sit in my inbox forever, or until an admin complains about my mail quota again.

Judicious pruning

To easily review just my flagged mail, I marked the For Follow Up Search Folder as a Favourite. When I’ve dealt with a mail, I clear the Flag. A really useful keyboard shortcut here is Alt + Insert.

There are extra features around email flagging in Outlook which I don’t use, like setting a day by which the flagged item is due for action. I tried it but didn’t find it helped me be more productive. I like keeping my flagged items to 5 or less, and if anything I found that flagging things for action on days other than today encouraged me to let work pile up.

None of this is rocket science, but my basic email triage routine helps me set out in the right direction in the morning, and as a lifelong night owl, that’s gold dust.

Leave a Reply