Email Visualization: How You See Your Emails Is How You Digest Them

Have you ever wondered why food on store shelves is horizontally situated instead of a just long narrow row from the top to the bottom of the shop?

I guess you’ve never had to ask.

But if you have to check through a long food row from one end to the other, you will quickly forget what you have seen first.

Because your view gets narrow.

Instead, when your view is wider, it gives you the chance to see more things at a glance, compare things faster, and then make better choices.

This approach looks productive to me.

And what if we can apply it to the way we see, read, and digest emails?

Well, we are about to explore.

The Importance of Email Visualization

Nowadays, we have the same problem with how we see emails, the way we read them, and how we digest them.

We receive our emails in a narrow row, and we see them in a narrow view. Like this:







But what if we have the chance to see them horizontally, in a wider view? Like this:

E   |   E M A I L S

M    E M A I L S

 |   E M A I L S

    E M A I L S

 |   E M A I L S

 |   E M A I L S

Do you see what I see?

This wider horizontal view of your email workflow allows you to utilize the same space by hosting more emails on a view (workflow).

I bet that you haven’t ever thought about this.

But this is the way people digest more information when visualized and organized by archetypes – rows, colors, topics, labels, and folders.

How to Visualize Your Inbox Using the Kanban Method?

Kanban is a Japanese methodology for lean manufacturing, originating from the Toyota Production System (TPS).

Literally translated, Kanban means signboard or visual signal.

The workflow is visualized by a Kanban board that has by default three columns – “Requested (To-Do),” “In Progress,” and “Done.”

Each column represents or visualizes a step in your inbox workflow.

Here is an example.

In a traditional email client, you receive, see, and process emails this way:








Visualizing your inbox using the Kanban way requires you to take action and start working on a task (email). Just like this:

Inbox:           To-Do         In Progress           Done

S                         L                       A                      E

E                         I                        M






(for mobile devices, please use landscape view)

As you can see above, the process is simple.

When you start working on email E, you pull it from the “To Do” column and move to the “In Progress” column.

When email E is completed, you move it to “Done.” You apply the same process for emails M, A, I, L, and S.

Having this wide view of a clean email visualization flow allows you to easily track progress and spot when an email or a task is stuck.

Inbox:           To-Do         In Progress           Done

E                         S                      M                       E

M                         .                       L

                         .                       A




(for mobile devices, please use landscape view)

You can tell from the visualization above that emails A and I are probably stuck due to some reason.

Spotting problems are easy when you can visualize your workflow as a whole picture.

I bet you will agree with me that visualizing your email inbox the Kanban way brings a completely different conception of the way you see, read, and digest your emails.

How to Apply Email Visualization and Boost Productivity from Day One?

Busy people – I know you have a lot of work, tasks, emails, and meetings to attend.

We all do.

But wake up.

It’s time to digest emails, using new methodologies and tools, which meet our current business needs and demands.

What worked yesterday, may not work today or tomorrow.

Here is how you can insensibly transform the way you see and act on emails.

These are the steps I took to change the way I handle my inbox and be much more productive than ever before.

  1. Get rid of your pencil on your desk.
  2. Get rid of all sticky notes you have on your computer desktop and your keyboard.
  3. Never take a note on your hand saying “Answer my boss emails” or “Clear my 378 emails.” Too desperate for 2017.
  4. Read this article from the beginning again.
  5. Focus.
  6. Go through step 1 to step 5 again. Now you are ready to proceed.
  7. Use an email visualization tool from this era (like Flow-e).
  8. Apply Kanban methodology for email workflow visualization and create your first columns. Make them native to your email habits. If you use labels, migrate them into your new tool. If it is natural for you to use folders, import them too.
  9. Apply the relevant color scheme you are used to seeing in your inbox (if possible). Subconsciously, colors create strong associations in our brains. This lets us act on things quicker. For example, if you see a column in red, most probably this will create the association with a red flag. Usually, a red flag is associated with something that needs attention. I use red for “To-do,” orange for “In Progress,” and green for “Done.” When I see a red row full of emails and tasks, my eyes know where to look, and my brain knows what to do.
  10. Remove all additional apps or browser extensions that make you switch between your email client and these apps. You should learn to do everything in one place. Switching between apps constantly is a waste. And the Kanban method hates waste.

And that’s it.

This is an easy to follow 10-step-process for “importing” your habit-forming details into your new email visualization tool.


There’s no doubt that we’re doing more than ever before.

More focus on making a profit, less on making a difference.

But why ignore the advantage of seeing things differently?

Can you tell what percentage of the work you do each day is the job where you just replicate a process instead of inventing one?

Our inbox could be the place where we can create the most value, but exploration and a new solution are what is needed.

Don’t try to avoid the valuable, but probably unknown; instead, this is the value we need to seek out.

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