Email is one of the most useful tools we have for communication and it’s probably still the most commonly used way of liaising with colleagues and clients. But are you making the most of its potential? If not, you could be wasting precious time doing things like organizing your email. In today’s tip of the week we’ll tell you how to sort email automatically to save time.

Every year Adobe releases an Email Usage Study. The July 2019 report had some surprising findings. From the survey they conducted they discovered that people spend up to five hours a day on email. That’s partly work emails, which take up to three hours, and personal emails, which account for about two hours.

The survey group wasn’t massive, consisting only of 1002 responders, so the results aren’t hugely reliable – but they are still interesting. It’s astonishing that some people spend 21% of the day on email. (Compare that to the recommendation for hours of sleep, which is 30%).

For anyone who doesn’t want to spend such a significant chunk of their day on dealing with email – there’s good news. Now there are features on email platforms that will help people sort email much more quickly.

How to Use Filters and Rules

Some people have to deal with hundreds, or even thousands of emails in a short space of time. Finding the one you need in your inbox can be a real challenge. One way to do this is to use email clients to sort email. Here’s how this works in Gmail and Outlook.


In Gmail there are several different ways to automatically sort email. To begin with there are the five tabs that your email can be sent to as it comes in, depending on how they are labeled. The categories are:

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You can’t actually edit them or add more categories, but you can get rid of any you don’t need. To do this, go to the Gmail ‘Settings’, then ‘Inbox’. Here you can select the Default Inbox you want under ‘Categories’. Save the changes and then your emails will separate out accordingly.

You can also use the ‘Labels and Filters’ option to automatically sort email. Incoming emails are identified by the filter. If the specified criteria match then a label is automatically applied (and there are other options too). Note that the emails already in your inbox won’t be touched if you add a filter, although you do have the option to do this when you set up a new filter.

Here’s how to create a new filter. Go to ‘Settings’ and then ‘Filters and Blocked Addresses’. Look for the ‘Create a New Filter’ option and it will show you the options for creating the rules you want. Alternatively you can use an existing email as a template to be copied. When you’ve set the rules, click ‘Continue’ and then you can tell it what you want to do with the emails that the program now filters out. By selecting ‘Apply the Label’ you can also opt to add new labels to matching messages.

Setting things up to automatically sort email can take a bit of time but it will be time saved down the line. Your messages will now be sorted in the sidebar menu so you can pick which subset of messages you want to look through.


In Outlook, message sorting is done by creating categories and rules. In the ‘Settings’ menu there’s a ‘General’ tab that lets you edit the categories that emails are sorted into. These are assigned a default color, so you may wish to edit these to suit your preferences.

The next step is to create your rules. Go to ‘Settings’ and then to ‘Mail’, where you should see the option to set rules. Here you can add new rules, give them suitable descriptive names, and then ‘Add a Condition’, which applies the rule.

Finally, you can ‘Add an Action’ (or more than one), which tells Outlook what to do with the message. You can also add exceptions. So if you need to separate out messages tagged as urgent, but have a colleague who tends to label everything as urgent, you can tell it to ignore the rule if the email comes from that colleague.

Email can be a fantastic tool, or a huge time waster. Using filters, rules and conditions to automatically sort email is a way to make the program file your messages for you, for easy retrieval and enhanced productivity.

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