Manage Your Priority Emails with This Simple Tagging Tip

Learn how to use tags in the body of your email to keep your high priority email visible, while you just might ignore the rest.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #430

Use disappearing ink

Say you’re corresponding with your secret overseas contact, arranging for an office visit next week where they’ll deliver “the papers.” Instead of using a special email address for the conversation, use a tag in the email body to shunt the conversation into your top secret inbox. But you’ll have to be careful. A big bold ZPLF tag will stick out in the middle of your courteous welcome letter. Your contact will figure out your scheme and start putting ZPLF in the cat picture messages they send you, because they truly believe the new Grumpy Cat meme belongs in your high priority inbox. 

Even their unsuspecting replies will have the code, and get sorted into high priority.

Well, if they can play Spy versus Spy, so can you. Use tags written in invisible ink! Put your code quietly below your signature, and use your email editor to color the text white. Since it’s white text against a white background, it will be as invisible as Uma Thurman riding a polar bear through a snowstorm. But your sorting rule is colorblind, and it will still move the ZPLF message into your high-priority inbox. Your well-meaning-but-grumpy associate won’t have a clue they’re being sorted and selected.

Add or drop tags to change priorities

Except if they drift off topic, they might drop from “important” back down to “really? Do I need to waste my precious life energy on this?” Most emails include text from previous replies, so future messages in a thread you’ve tagged will still contain your code, trigger your rule, and sort into high priority. That was the whole point. But now that your colleague has started sending you memes, you want to demote the conversation back down to normal.

Easily done! Create a tag JMQM that means “leave this message alone.” Change your inbox sorting rule so it only moves messages that do contain ZPLF, but don’t contain JMQM. Voila! You can now promote and demote a conversation at will! 

You can, of course, also add your ZPLF tag in the middle of a conversation, at the moment it leaps out to you as important. Then what was a normal conversation starts getting sorted as a high-priority conversation.

Email-address-based sorting doesn’t handle this sort of changing midstream, so your new, brilliant email body win out! But wait, there’s more! Email body tags have more tricks up their sleeves than a magician in the Red Light District.

Tags let you do even sneakier things

You can use tags to do more than just sort by priority. Tagging by topic can be particularly helpful. If, like me, you’re a Renaissance person, you can use topic tags that sort sculpture from poetry from playwriting. Or you can tag a message as involving all three! Using tags, you can easily release your inner polymath! (A polymath is a master of many disciplines! This is different from polyamorous, though depending on the circumstances, “master” and “discipline” might still apply.)

Speaking of multi-party partnerships, email tags enable a trick that can help those run smoothly. Imagine you’re emailing a client back and forth about the design of a website. You want your designer in on the content of these emails, so they know the client’s opinion of the site. You also want your client to speak freely’ so you’d like the thread to seem to be between just them and you (no designer on the TO: line). Rather than forwarding everything to the designer by hand, you can tag them in the email body, and set up a rule based on that to pass them each message in the exchange. This essentially includes a BCC in an email thread, where both your messages and your client’s messages get BCC’d, through the clever use of a tag.

Sorting email is a pain. Use tags to make your email program do it for you. Make your tags invisible to keep your contacts from coopting them. Add or drop tags if a thread changes priority. And step up your email game with special tags for special tricks. Leave those extra addresses for the secret basement servers—the key to mastering your inbox was in the email body all along.

I'm Stever Robbins. I run programs to help people have Extraordinary Lives and extraordinary careers. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com .  

Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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