Color-coding your messages can help you significantly with triage, the process of prioritizing your messages.
The most significant improvement for me is the rule that colors messages blue, if I am the only recipient on the TO: line. Such messages are most likely to be more important that the rest of the stuff that fills up my inbox, because:
- They have not been sent to a bunch of people, but specifically to me.
- They are therefore more likely to relate to my area of responsibility.
- They are also more likely to require action.
- If I don’t answer, nobody else will. (Read some interesting background information about this.)
In Microsoft Outlook, it’s very easy to define such a rule. On the menu in the main Outlook window, just click on Tools | Organize. This will display the following panel above the messages:
You can create additional rules using the Automatic Formatting… link at the top-right of the panel.