Email Management



Many people today use a variety of social media and text messaging platforms to communicate with each other, and this is on top of, or in spite of, the existence and use of email, which still reigns as the dominant mode of communication across a variety of industries. We can refer to this experience of the abundance of communication platforms and the abundance of messaging on these platforms as communication overload. This concept basically means that there are too many messages coming at us from too many platforms.

Unfortunately, it's beyond the scope of this lecture to address strategies for managing communication from across multiple platforms, but since email reigns supreme as a form of communication across industry, it's important to learn some strategies for managing our emails and avoiding inboxes with hundreds or thousands of unread email.


The first set of readings listed above focus on overall strategies for managing our email inboxes. The readings suggest a number of strategies, but the two main strategies focus on

  1. organizing our email and
  2. searching for email.

Some of the specific suggestions they make to implement those strategies will depend upon whether we use email in the web browser, via a desktop application, or a phone app. Thus it may take some exploration to figure out how to apply these lessons based on what you use.


Each email service we use (e.g., Outlook, Gmail, etc.) offers similar but different ways to organize our email. Here are some ways to organize your emails for two of the most common services, but keep in mind that the underlying principals apply elsewhere:

  1. We can create folders (Outlook) or labels (Gmail), and then archive or group email into the respective folders or by the respective labels.

  2. We can create rules to filter email to specific folders or by labels.

    For example, I have several folders in Outlook. I have a folder titled 'university email' and a rule that sends all email from UK officials and UK mailings lists to that account. I have another folder titled 'Canvas email', where all email from my courses are routed to. And so on. Most of these emails are not time-sensitive (e.g., mailing list email) or it's simply helpful to group email by category (e.g., Canvas student email). Using them thus helps keep email organized. As a student, you might want to create folders for specific courses, specific majors/minors, administrative functions (registration related emails, for example) and like.

    Gmail doesn't use the terms rules or folders, per say, but instead uses the concept of filters and labels. Gmail will automatically assign labels to your email, but you can apply more personalized labels, and then you can set up filters that automatically assigns labels that match the logic you set up with the filters.


All email services provide some kind of search, even if implemented in different ways. And like regular search engines, Outlook and Gmail both offer advanced searching abilities.

In Outlook, you can search:

  • in specific folders
  • by whom an email is From
  • by whom you sent an email To
  • by a CC (carbon copy) address or person
  • by Subject line
  • by Keywords (that may appear in the email message),
  • within specific dates,
  • and you can limit results to specific dates

In Gmail, you can do most of same kinds of things, but you can also:

  • search by email size
  • and exclude emails that do not include certain terms

Searches are very similar to filters, and in fact, in both Outlook and Gmail, you can save a search as a filter if you find that your search query can be re-used.

Searching not only helps you find specific emails on specific topics and within specific time frames, it's also a good way to mass delete old and unnecessary email.

Other Strategies

The PC Mag and The Washington Post (paywalled) articles suggest that we turn off notifications. The point is that if we receive a lot of emails, then email becomes too distracting. Instead, The Washington Post suggests that we simply check our email only a few times per day (but probably at most twice a day is sufficient). The aim here is to be intentional about using email (and this applies to any other communication technology) rather than mindless and distracted by it.

The Washington Post article also suggests applying the four Ds to your emails: "do, delete, delegate or defer. It's up to you how to implement these ideas, but the main goal is to get rid of unnecessary email fast. Don't let it accumulate. The more emails that sit in our inbox, the more overwhelming it becomes afterward. In fact, you can unsubscribe to everything that is not important.

Another good idea is to keep personal and work email separate. In fact, have more than one personal email account. Use one personal as a throwaway account for signing up to random websites. Use your main personal account for personal communication, banking, important social media accounts, and like. Use your work account or your school account for work or school related tasks only. Be mindful that your work or school account does not belong to you and that you will lose that account when you leave a job or graduate from school. In fact, the University of Kentucky has a help page about your various UK accounts that you should read now.

As your lives become increasingly busy, if they're not already, using good Calendar and Task apps can help keep our days organized and our to-do lists manageable. Both Outlook and Gmail integrate Tasks and Calendars. The readings above link to help pages on how to use these functions. These are super time-saving functions for me.


In addition to managing our personal knowledge, one of the main points of this class is to become adept at using the various technologies that are available to us. If we're only passive users of technology, then that technology can easily overwhelm us. Active and intentional use of technology and of the specific functions that the technologies provide can actually help improve our lives and our personal knowledge management work flows.

In this lesson, we learned how to think strategically about email services. The two main strategies involve how to:

  • organize our email, and how to
  • search our email.