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Prioritize your e-mail with KeyMails for Outlook

(MoneyWatch) There are a million solutions to e-mail overload out there -- everything from mail-client alternatives to Outlook plug-ins to productivity strategies like Inbox Zero and Getting Things Done. In general, though, I've found that the best options -- the ones that really do become solutions in your everyday life -- are the ones that take the least effort to implement.

Good luck, for example, switching from Outlook to another mail client; there's just too much friction in the way. But Outlook plug-ins are another thing entirely. Many plug-ins simply add a new layer of interaction to Outlook, so you can ease into whatever features they offer at your own pace. And that's exactly what KeyMails offers.

KeyMails is an Outlook plug-in that operates behind the scenes to prioritize e-mail so you can address the most important things first and work through your inbox in a logical, rational order -- not just in the order messages arrive.

What I like about KeyMails is that you literally don't need to do anything to configure or teach it. The program analyzes your message history and then arranges your new mail according to a handful of criteria, such as the time you take to respond to specific people, the frequency with which you correspond with people and the value that KeyMails places on subject lines and content.

And the program doesn't mess with Outlook. It doesn't change your inbox or rearrange any other messages. Instead, it creates a new folder and puts a copy of your inbox messages there, arranged in a clearly marked priority order. You still have access to your usual inbox (and all the other folders), and you can switch back and forth between them at any time. KeyMails doesn't lock you into a new workflow.

Not only does KeyMails prioritize your mail, but it has an increasingly common trick up its sleeve: You can "snooze" messages that you want to deal with later. They'll disappear from the KeyMails inbox and pop back in at the time you specify (hours, days or weeks later), presumably when you're ready to deal with them. (In keeping with KeyMail's philosophy of not messing with Outlook, snoozed e-mail disappears only from the KeyMails inbox; it otherwise remains right where you left it in your ordinary inbox.)

Though KeyMails is designed with zero configuration in mind and learns from how you treat your e-mail, you can also teach the program additional preferences if you like, such as people it should prioritize (both up and down) or to pay close attention to mail from particular domains.

KeyMails is currently in beta and the download is free. You can use the program for 30 days, after which presumably there will be a subscription. Pricing hasn't been worked out yet, though, but it'll be in the neighborhood of $25 a year. Is it worth it? I'd say yes. It has dramatically improved my Outlook workflow. You can judge for yourself for free, of course. KeyMails is an excellent example of how you can work more efficiently within the structure of a program you already use. I definitely recommend it.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Brian Pocius