Managing e-mail is an important skill in today’s workplace, and not having a good strategy for it can be a source of frustration not only for you but also for the people you work with.

One of the strategies that I have developed for a stress-free inbox uses Outlook conditional formatting to automatically color-code my e-mail. (Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to do this in Gmail). With color-coding, I am very easily able to prioritize which e-mails need my attention first. This is my color code, but any version that makes sense for managing your e-mail will work:

  • Magenta—Messages from my boss. She will be expecting a quick response to whatever she has sent me, so I answer these first.
  • Bright Blue—Messages that are sent only to me. If an e-mail has been sent to me and me alone, it often contains important information or requests that are best dealt with quickly. I don’t want these messages to get overlooked, so I handle these as soon as requests from my boss are complete.
  • Black—Messages that are sent to me and other recipients. I read these, but only after I have dealt with messages in the first two categories.
  • Grey—Messages that I am only copied on. Many of us get copied on hundreds of emails that are good to have for our archive, but aren’t necessarily important to read. I leave these for the end of the day, and if they aren’t read by the time I go home, I ruthlessly archive them.

Conditional formatting can be a useful tool however you strategize and prioritize your e-mail management. See if color-coding can help you establish a low-stress method for managing your e-mail too. It won’t only help you. It will also help the people who are trying to communicate with you.


My name is Anissa Stansfield. I'm a Manager for a large manufacturing company in Southern California. Although I started as an entry-level engineer, I have since worked my way up and now manage a department of 50 talented engineers working on a variety of complex and exciting projects. I have learned a lot through my experiences, and so I started this blog to share them with all of you. I hope that my thoughts and perspectives help you on your successful journey toward your goals.

1 Comment

  1. Managing your inbox is so important in the work place. I use as many filters and colors as I can. It really does help the work flow!

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