Of the many discussions about "information overload" as it relates to email, on of the biggest frustrations that people deal with is the shear volume of stuff coming at them. It's an easy topic for newspapers and magazines that want to talk about personal productivity.
I hold that the best way to deal with this is to encourage people to send you email less often: walk down to their office or call them! Of course, before these efforts are successful you still need some solutions for triaging when there is just too much. Triage options include dealing with email at select times (instead of "always"); coming to agreement on useful subject and action-oriented writing; filtering as much of that mail into appropriate contextual folders (or GMail-style tags); and more. I wrote about this a bit last year in Is email really so evil?
In this light, Eli Holder of Unblab contacted me with an offer to check out their new GTriage (in Beta). It's a triage tool for GMail that watches how you read and respond to mail and adds "important" tags to email that it believes will be more important to you. Eli has also offered to let my readers in on the beta-test, if you are interested. There are about 25 free trials available. Use the invite code, "jackvinson" to activate. (No disclaimer. Eli hasn't given me anything other than a reason to blog. I don't even use GMail as my primary email processing, so I can't comment on how this fits into the flow.)
In triage of incoming work (email or otherwise), one of the first things you want to know is the context for that stuff. Is it really important to deal with? Does it need to be dealt with NOW or in the next time where you are in the appropriate context? Does it need to be dealt with in the next 24 hours, or can it wait? Will it require deep investigation or a quick response? While many of these questions require that you actually read the messages, there are some likely rules to at least make the messages stand out in importance: it comes from a client or colleague with whom you have a key relationship; it comes from your boss (whether that is your life partner or the president of the company); the subject is particularly relevant; etc.
To be honest, while I use these rules as I review my inbox, my personal process is such that I get this stuff out of my inbox as quickly as I can on a regular basis. If I cannot respond right away or it requires a more in-depth response, I set up an appointment or task to give the item the time it deserves. This way, nothing is sitting there staring at me that still needs action from the last sweep of the inbox.
According to Xobni statistics, I receive 40-80 messages a day, many of which are filtered away for easy skimming (and deleting). But even so, that pales in comparison to the deluge that some people claim. It also pales in comparison to Luis Suarez' < 20 (work-related) messages per week.
[Photo: "An offering to the Ganges" by judepics]