Free Your Inbox: Easily & Automatically Prioritize Emails With These Free Tools

Tina Sieber 05-03-2013

prioritize emailsEmail has almost completely replaced snail mail communication. Now everyone is trying to get into your inbox. From family and friends to companies and advertisers, they all demand a piece of your attention. If you have not been managing your inbox with filters and other prioritization tools, it must be a mess. And with ever more emails cluttering it up, it’s easy to lose track. Have you ever missed an important email?


About a year ago I said goodbye to my desktop email client and switched to Gmail’s online interface for good. It was a big change, but since then I have learned a thing or two about managing emails. This article shows you three hassle-free and automatic ways to prioritize emails, including one that doesn’t require Gmail. These tools will ensure that you never miss an important email again.

Starting Over With Email Or First Time Organizing Your Inbox

When you are switching to a new email address, email client, or have never ever put much effort into organizing your inbox, I highly recommend giving OtherInbox Organizer a try. That is if you use AOL, GMail, Yahoo!, or iCloud with their native / web interface or IMAP. Organizer analyzes all your emails and sorts them into different folders. It cuts out the clutter and only leaves your most important emails in your inbox.

I tried Organizer with my Gmail account. After signing up, Organizer proceeds with scanning emails to organize senders. This can take a while and you don’t have to stick around for it to finish.

prioritize emails

The next day I noticed new labels had cropped up in my Gmail account. In Gmail, Organizer sets up an OIB root label with several sub-labels, ranging from Business to Travel and everything in between. Emails that Organizer recognizes, but isn’t sure about seem to be labelled as Home. In my case that included notifications from Doodle, Dropbox, and Skype. Upon closer inspection, I found that Organizer had sorted over 30,000 emails in my Gmail account.


prioritized inbox

From the start, Organizer recognized almost all of my newsletters, social network notifications, group or list mails, and much more. Compared to the labels and filters I had set up previously – all in tedious manual work – Organizer performed very well. It even took care of some new senders that I had not submitted to any filters, yet. And every day, there is a daily digest that summarizes what Organizer has done with incoming emails.

prioritized inbox

Organizer isn’t necessarily perfect, however, it’s flexible. If there are emails you would like to sort differently, you can return to the OtherInbox web interface, find the respective sender, and change how it’s treated. You can create a new folder / label or disable sorting for selected senders.


prioritized inbox

What isn’t immediately obvious is that Organizer can learn. If you find a sender that Organizer doesn’t recognize automatically, drag the respective email to an OIB folder or label it manually. This will teach Organizer to sort all future emails from that sender into the selected folder and you should receive a respective notification email, which can take some time.

inbox prioritization

OtherInbox Organizer is a truly impressive tool. It will unclutter your inbox and help you focus on emails that matter in no time. And where it isn’t perfect, you can help it improve. If I hadn’t put so much effort into setting up complex labels and email filters, I would stick with Organizer in a heart beat. My only concern would be relying on an external tool and what would happen if it stopped being a free service or went out of business. In that sense, I’m glad I already have a system that works for me.


Verdict: Perfect tool if you have no clue how to manage the mess in your inbox!

Fixing Up An Existing Gmail Account With Priority Inbox & Filters

In my work email account I have been using Gmail’s Priority Inbox since last year. That is the only inbox I have ever managed to clear on a daily basis. Wouldn’t you like your inbox to look somewhat like the screenshot below? Priority Inbox puts important and unread emails on top, starred or important emails or any other selected labels (up to two) sit right below, and everything else is cued at the bottom.

inbox prioritization

You can enable Priority Inbox in your Inbox settings. It’s one of five inbox types. We have previously written about Priority Inbox here Gmail's Priority Inbox Solves The Bacn Problem Read More .


inbox prioritization

I found that Priority Inbox is very reliable. In some rare cases emails turned up in important and unread, although they were not from a regular contact and had not even been sent to me personally. However, on a daily basis, I only find emails that matter on top of my inbox. I had actually forgotten that I had Priority Inbox enabled – that’s how good it has worked for me!

Verdict: Set it up and find that it just works. You still might have to set up email filters, though.

Of course Priority Inbox isn’t all that I’m using to manage my work email account. I have also set up a bunch of filters to keep my inbox, particularly the everything else section, clear of clutter. This goes back to one of our key Gmail articles, 3 Things Pro Gmail Users Have Set Up In Their Accounts 3 Things Pro Gmail Users Have Set Up on Their Accounts Read More . You might also want to check out the 5 Gmail Filters To Help Prioritize & Organize Your Inbox 5 Gmail Filters to Help Prioritize & Organize Your Inbox What filters should each and every person have in their arsenal so that their inbox is as orderly as mine? I'm here to help you get started in setting up your first five filters, or... Read More .

Managing Multiple Email Accounts in Gmail with Multiple Inboxes

With Gmail you can manage multiple email accounts How to Import and Manage Multiple Email Accounts in Gmail Want to manage all your email with Gmail? Here's how to add multiple emails to your Gmail account and manage them with ease. Read More from a single interface. However, it can become quite confusing if emails from several different accounts end up in a single inbox. While labels offer a great way to sort emails and distinguish between different categories, they don’t necessarily provide a good overview. Enter Multiple Inboxes, a Gmail Labs feature that lets you view up to five additional inboxes in your Gmail Inbox pane.

Over the past year, I have been using Multiple Inboxes to get an overview of my inbox, starred emails, drafts, and emails under different labels. I admit that the Starred emails have gone a little out of control. Other than that, it has been working like a charm.

prioritize emails

Multiple Inboxes is easy to set up and I have explained it in detail and with many screenshots here How to Import and Manage Multiple Email Accounts in Gmail Want to manage all your email with Gmail? Here's how to add multiple emails to your Gmail account and manage them with ease. Read More ; just scroll down to the header Manage Multiple Email Accounts in Gmail.

Verdict: Great tool to maintain an overview over multiple labels or email accounts. Requires that you set up filters / labels.


Another tool I tired was the cloud-enabled desktop app Inky. It looks neat, but doesn’t seem very useful when it comes to prioritizing email. I didn’t find the Sort by Relevance feature very helpful, but instead found the app to be a little too simple and painfully slow. We mentioned Inky in this article: Email Goes Modern: Three Windows 8 Email Apps Email Goes Modern: Three Windows 8 Email Apps With your shiny new Windows 8 device or upgrade booted up, tiles gleaming at you and winking with useful information, you might take a few moments having a look around before you get the chance... Read More

For those of you using Outlook or Yahoo and wishing to manage multiple email accounts, this article Combine Your Email Accounts Into a Single Inbox: Here's How Are you checking multiple inboxes daily? Stop wasting time! Combine your email accounts into a single inbox. We show you how for Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo. Read More may be useful.


Being completely sold on Gmail and having invested a lot of time in setting up filters, I found that the native Gmail tools Priority Inbox and Multiple Inboxes (via Gmail Labs) still work best for me. However, if you are just starting out with prioritizing emails, if you have an email account that isn’t Gmail, and if your inbox is a terrible mess, then OtherInbox Organizer will be a life saver!

Do you use any tools or techniques for managing your emails that we should know about? Please share in the comments!

Image credits: Vector Mail via Shutterstock

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  1. Joe Johaneman
    March 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm works pretty well to help you manage your inbox. There's no automation, but you can do a lot of manual filtering which makes it easy to clean out your inbox.

  2. Russell Smith
    March 8, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Hello Tina Sieber,
    For those users, who are using Outlook application with POP3 protocol they may not have satisfactory response with email organizing. Actually these users can be faced duplication issues with messages. This situation brings a confusing stage for them. In this case, users of this email client can used an Outlook duplicate remover tool. Here is the reference : This tool fixes all duplicate mail in Outlook efficiently and organize your mailbox with expected requirement.

    Regards :

    • Tina
      March 12, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      Unfortunately, that tool isn't free.

  3. g
    March 8, 2013 at 4:24 am

    Hi Tina-

    What is happening with MUO? I tried to get to a link in this article from the email I received, but could not because MUO insists that I go through "clicks," as a condition of getting to the MUO site. Are you kidding me? I would no more give AWeber information by clicking through one of their links that I would post my MUO account login information online.

    Oh, that's right; MUO has become partial to social logins these days.

    Thanks for listening to the rant :-)

    • Chris Hoffman
      March 8, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      Hi g,

      Aweber is our current newsletter platform. They already have your information (email address) because we use them to do our newsletter. When you click those links, it will give _us_ the information about what you clicked. This is important to help us measure how many people are clicking what things in the newsletter. We can use it to see what types of newsletters are subscribers like best, and what type they click least. Tracking this stuff is important so we can see what our subscribers actually like.

      • Chris Hoffman
        March 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm

        I should note that we didn't give your email address to Aweber. When you signed up to the newsletter, you signed up through Aweber.

        They won't use your email address for anything else -- we pay them to manage our email lists and that's how they make money, not be selling people's personal information.

        • g
          March 8, 2013 at 9:02 pm

          Well actually, 'No' I did not sign up through or with Aweber, so if they have my email address, MUO gave it to them. Here is an example of how the newsletter links were used when I signed up.


          BTW, a very good post by Matt Smith that I saved for future reference.


        • dragonmouth
          March 9, 2013 at 12:15 pm

          "They won’t use your email address for anything else"
          Hmmmm. Curious you should say that. Since I joined MUO, my spam volume went up from 2-3 every couple of weeks to 2-3 a day. And I did not change my Internet habits. SOmebody, somewhere is leaking information.

        • K. C.
          March 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm

          If you pay them for managing your newsletter, then you probably should also tell them not to use the Unicode character U+2019 (RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK) in the subject line instead of an apostrophe. Especially when the message is encoded as iso-8859-1.

  4. PaulH
    March 8, 2013 at 3:49 am

    The absolute best GMAIL product I have used is Active Inbox HQ @activeinbox ( Follows the GTD model for managing email (Get Things Done). Brilliant add-in to GMAIL and great customer support.

  5. Bern Brooks
    March 7, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    I don't like having to agree to this request on signing up:

    Click "Agree" to sign in to using your Yahoo! ID and to allow the sharing of Yahoo! info.

    You are sharing the following:
    You are authorising access to:
    Yahoo! Mail
    Yahoo! Contacts
    Yahoo! Status
    Yahoo! Updates

    Is this wise?????

    • Tina Sieber
      March 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm


      I believe the bigger problem was that you posted your email address here for the world to see. I removed it for you.

      Well, does it matter whether a third party service or Yahoo! or Google or get a copy of your email? They all offer Terms of Service and you either trust them or you don't.

      OtherInbox has been in business for a while if that means anything to you.

  6. Brey
    March 7, 2013 at 9:41 am

    It is unfortunate that this article only focuses on Utilities. I switched some time ago from Outlook to the free open source version, THUNDERBIRD. Thunderbird provides easy to control sorting, forwarding, responding, and deleting via its powerful "message filters".
    If Tina is so hyped over the apps included in her article, she will flip over Thunderbird. I always wonder if the authors have polled the users around them prior to publishing? In any event, Tina wrote a fine article and I enjoyed how well she's done in presenting these utilities.

    • K. C.
      March 7, 2013 at 10:05 am

      I'm using Thunderbird as well. It's also available on all major OS.

    • Tina Sieber
      March 7, 2013 at 5:46 pm


      I have actually used Thunderbird until about a year ago and then switched to Gmail as my only (web based) email client. Search MakeUseOf and you will find several Thunderbird-related articles from me. :)

      However, since I haven't been using it for over a year, I didn't feel qualified writing about it. Plus, I personally think Thunderbird is not as good as Gmail. Maybe it can do all the same things, but I found it much easier to organize my email in Gmail.

      And to answer your question, no, we typically don't poll users before we write an article. We report from our own experience, which may be limited because not everyone can use every device or tool there is out there to derive a fair comparison. And even then it still comes down to personal preferences and taste.

      So the comments are the best space for readers to share their experience and counter-balance the possibly biased view of the author. :)

      • dragonmouth
        March 7, 2013 at 8:46 pm

        I feel the exact opposite. Even though I have not used Thunderbird for 4-5 years, even the old version I did use gave me better options of organizing my mail. So, unless in those 4-5 years Thunderbird has really gone down hill, I still prefer it to GMail. Having said that, it is possible that our organizing styles differ to the point where T-Bird works better for me and GMail works better for you.

        One basic feature, at least for me, that GMail does not offer but I think it should, is the ability to sort mail by column (Date, Sender, Title).

        • Tina
          March 12, 2013 at 5:26 pm

          I never missed the feature to sort by date or sender or title. Guess we do use these tools differently.

  7. Keith Swartz
    March 7, 2013 at 7:12 am

    WOW! I must say that these are some of the best I have seen. Now... which one will I use? Decisions, decisions! Thanks, Tina.

    • Tina Sieber
      March 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm


      I recommend starting simple. If you are using Gmail and are already using filters and labels, start with Priority Inbox. If you yet have to set up filters and labels, especially if you are not using Gmail, try OtherInbox Organizer. And if you import multiple email accounts or work on different projects that you would like to keep apart in your inbox, try Multiple Inbox. Easy. :)

  8. Scott
    March 7, 2013 at 4:36 am


    I've been online since 2400 bit/s modems & BBSs.

    While I would normally have ignored a post like this one, you are insightful, and once again you didn't disappoint.

    Thank you!


    • Tina Sieber
      March 7, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Scott! Let me know if you try any of these, whether they work out for you, or if you have any other suggestions.

  9. K. C.
    March 7, 2013 at 4:13 am

    I have my own mail server (IMAP/SSL) and I use clamav-milter, spamassassin-milter, and sieve scripts.
    I don't feel feel comfortable having Google scan and read all my emails. Also, there are no good gpg plugins for Gmail.

    • Tina Sieber
      March 7, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      I can understand the privacy issue. Personally, I think Google is the least problem. All emails are passing through a server somewhere and I'm sure someone, like the NSA, is collecting this information.

      Anyways, what plugins do you think are missing for Gmail? I know of some amazing ones like Boomerang.

      • K. C.
        March 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm

        I do understand that a secure mail server does not necessarily imply a secure transfer to 3rd parties. But that's what gpg is for.
        But I can be sure that my mail is not used for data mining, personalizing ads or some other weird stuff some wackos came up with lately.

        The NSA can collect my gpg encrypted mail as much as they like. Yes, they can figure out who sent the mail and who received the mail. But that's it.
        What the NSA still hasn't figured out yet is that the people they really want to catch/monitor do not 'send' mails. They probably share the same account and use encrypted drafts to exchange stuff...

        I will have a look at Boomerang. Thanks for the tip. I haven't checked out any new plugins yet, since Google did not exist when I set up my first mail server. When Gmail came out and I tested it, it was rather basic and I had my own mail server anyway. I've never really checked back since then. But I have read feedback for gpg plugins (not all for Gmail though) and some of them required to upload your private key.
        Yes, this is exactly what I want to do with my private key. ;-)

  10. Garris Rago
    March 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    I've just been using the built in features of Gmail to organised my emails, though I realise I probably don't get as much as say, the writers at makeuseof but I get a fair few, and it's been working great for me for a while now.

  11. Dave Bakker
    March 5, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    I saw a tip showing to set up a few labels with @ sign in front and use as a todo list.
    So I drag the labels to the email and archive @meetings @need attention @Person1todo, @person2todo etc. Works great, and these emails stay till handled and a new label is assigned and archived.

    • Tina Sieber
      March 7, 2013 at 5:53 pm

      Awesome tip, thank you for sharing, Dave!

      So using your email as a ToDo list works well for you? Usually, the recommendation is not to do that. However, I guess that's with the goal in mind that people should actually clear their inbox. But with this approach and if you actually check those labels, you can still clear your inbox.

      • Dave Bakker
        March 7, 2013 at 5:56 pm

        It works amazing for me. Keeps my inbox clear and forces me to deal with all email.