Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The Super Basic Email Trick You'll Be Surprised You Haven't Tried Yet

person on phone
Hero Images/Getty Images

Earlier this year, I decided to leave my Inbox Zero days behind me and resolved to stay calm, cool, and collected as emails piled up. I aspired to be that person who could say, “Oh, just 433 messages to go through on Monday morning? That’s most certainly not ruining my weekend and causing me to lose any sleep.”

Six minutes into the resolution, I found myself staring intensely at the little “one” notification on my phone’s inbox and quickly decided that actually it would be better for my overall wellness and stress levels if I became that person next year. So, needless to say, I’m always in my inbox, trying to find more efficient ways to deal with it.

I’ve tried hacks, apps, filters, folders, séances, canned responses—really, no stone’s been left unturned. But what I found to be one of the best tricks of all is one that anyone can easily do: Create specific subject lines for every email you send.

(You can read this next sentence in an infomercial voice.) Because how many times have you searched your inbox for an email that you know exists, yet doesn’t seem to be anywhere? And then, just at that stage when you’re asking your computer, “Am I going crazy or are you trying to ruin me?”—you find it! And the subject line is something wildly vague like, “Hi,” or “Upcoming Project,” or “For Tomorrow.”

Well, good news, you can stop that from ever happening again just by creating subject lines that are chock-full of detail. For example, “Upcoming Project” becomes “Update on Data Research Project for August.” And “For Tomorrow” turns into “Notes for the Sales Meeting on 7/25.” And “Hi” becomes “Long Time No Talk Former Co-worker! Boy Didn’t We Used to Laugh About Our Old Boss Together—Hey Will You Be My Reference for a Job?” (Because “hi” emails are second only to “just checking in” emails when it comes to people wanting something from you.)

I know we’re all so busy and these extra letters can feel very taxing on our fingers and on our packed schedules, but I can almost guarantee that it will stop you from ever having to play “inbox hide and seek” right before an important client meeting again.

Oh, and it gets better! You can also do this for emails people send to you with meaningless subject lines. Just tweak that subject before you reply, and suddenly that message becomes much easier to find when you’re searching for it.

Looking for more bonuses? OK, how’s this: By coming up with specific lines, you’re quickly eliminating having to sort through 26 emails that all have the same subject, but wildly different messages. Because, turns out, you’re not the only person who sends out “Updates.”

Last, but not least, the best part of this for me is that now when an email pops up on my phone and I’m not in the office, I can usually very quickly see if it’s urgent or if it can wait. Do I still check it? Of course! But now I wait a few minutes first, because I’m calm, cool, and collected like that.

Are you going to try this? Tweet me and let me know!