What Are Email Message Priorities?

Some email programs automatically mark messages as 'Important'

Most email services and programs use message priorities to designate what's important and what's not. Message priorities can be applied manually or automatically, and you can also mark a message as low priority, or unimportant.

Message priority features and the way they're applied vary among email clients, including Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, Thunderbird, and macOS Mail.

How Email Priority Marking Works

Some email services and programs allow you to manually mark an outgoing message as important or unimportant. When you're ready to send the email, you can flag it as such for the recipient.

Emails carrying the highest importance might be bolded, highlighted, starred, or otherwise flagged in the Inbox. Less important messages might be grayed out or moved down the list. Again, the specifics depend on the receiver's email program.

Some email providers, such as Gmail, set an email's priority automatically even if the importance level isn't specified by the sender. It assumes a priority and filters the message into an "Important" section of your Inbox. This feature is based on predicted behavior, and it changes based on whom you email and whether a message is auto-generated or from a real person.

Other email clients let you change the importance of emails manually. This is useful, for example, when a sender frequently uses a high priority/important flag when they shouldn't, or if you like to have all emails from a particular sender marked as important.

Why It Matters

Keeping important emails at the forefront helps you focus on them, rather than spending time looking through unimportant emails. It's one of the best ways to communicate efficiently and effectively, and interacting with emails on your terms according to your priorities makes for a better experience.

Depending on the app you use, the email client might deliver notification of a new email only if it deems the message important. Removing non-critical emails from your notifications without deleting them cuts down on distractions.

How to Set Email Priorities

Many email clients let you set the message priority when composing the email. It's normally located in the compose box.

In some email clients, such as Gmail, marking an outgoing email as important is a matter of adding a descriptor, such as [URGENT], to the subject line.

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