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Membership Appreciation Month Tip: Tackle Your Inbox Like Butkus


We've dealt with decluttering our desks (Monday) and our minds (Tuesday and Wednesday). Today we're turning our attention to downsizing digital clutter, starting with the inbox.

Achieving Inbox Zero (or Close to It)

Go take a look at the number of emails currently in your inbox. (We'll wait.) Is it zero? If so, congrats, you've already reached the mythical Inbox Zero. Go celebrate. For the rest of us (festivus!), is it 50? 500? 5,000? Does your number stress you out? What would be your ideal number?

Knowing your comfort level will help you manage your inbox. For many of us, Inbox Zero is not realistic, but Inbox 100 just might be. Here's how we can get there...

Delete, Repeat. This one is simple, and you're probably already doing it to some degree. But if your inbox number is upwards of 3 figures, you're a prime candidate for a batch delete. To batch delete, sort your inbox by sender. Twenty emails sitting around from J.Crew? Delete them as a batch by clicking on the sender then delete. Repeat for all unwanted emails/senders.

Another helpful tip is to sort your inbox by subject. If you've got a long thread of emails using the same subject line, and the last one contains all of the earlier replies, consider just holding on to that last one and getting rid of the rest. (Tip courtesy of our Membership Coordinator Ann Boucher!)

Unsubscribe from the Unwanted. If every other email you get these days is what you'd consider junk email, it's time to block off 10-15 minutes to go through and unsubscribe from those senders. There are a couple good ways to do that:

  • Use Unroll.me to unsubscribe from unwanted email lists. After you sign up, you'll see a list of all your subscription emails and you can unsubscribe instantly from whatever you don't want.

Search 'unsubscribe' in your inbox. This will turn up all emails for which there is an unsubscribe option. Open the email and click on 'unsubscribe,' usually at the bottom in the disclaimer.


There's one very important exception here. Don't unsubscribe from your ISBA emails! Doing so may leave you without E-Clips (case digests) or Illinois Lawyer Now Weekly (news), or that email about your opportunity to sign up for a free 'Hamilton' CLE live webcast.


File into Folders. One best practice used by many Inbox Zero-ers is to only leave urgent email in your inbox. (Urgent is qualified as that which needs immediate action.) Everything else gets deleted, filed or archived. Here are a couple tips on how to create a folder system that will help keep you organized:

  • Create an 'Action' folder and file emails there that are not urgent but require your attention. Sorting through your inbox email, immediate send related emails to this folder. Schedule some time every day to review and respond to these emails.
  • File any non-urgent email you want to read but don't need to respond to (like your practice newsletters) into a 'Read' folder. Save this stuff for when you've accomplished everything else you need to get done that day.   

Once you've gone through the emails in your inbox, action folder, and read folder, be sure to then either delete each email or archive them.

Archive, It's Important. Archiving moves your emails from your inbox to a separate file on your computer. It's great to get in this practice for numerous reasons, like regulatory compliance, data retention, storage management, and application performance — i.e., it helps your inbox folder load faster.

If you've got an IT person in your office, they're probably archiving for you. If not, don't worry, we've asked our IT guys to provide some guidance for you. (Thank you, Tim Johnston and Brandt Cannon!)

Maintain It By Managing It Every Day. Once you've got your inbox number down to where you're comfortable with it, the trick is to keep it there one day, one week, one month out. Following just a few basic practices will help you do that.

  • Respond to messages in a timely manner. Once you've responded, send the email on its way (delete, file or archive it).
  • Use your 'Action' and 'Read' folders to help prioritize what email to address first.
  • Unsubscribe from any new unwanted emails as they come in.
  • Follow Ann's rule (above) in only holding on to the final email in an email thread if you can.

Any tips we didn't cover that you'd like to share or ask about? Post your recommendations or questions to this D4S Challenge post on ILN.

Posted on May 04, 2017 by Sara Anderson | Comments (2)
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Another suggestion, which may not work for every option, is to get newsletters and egoups in Digest format instead of as the messages are posted. You receive one (sometimes two if the egroup is chatty) long message each day instead of multiples, with the benefit that replies to a message are usually threaded with it instead of scattered through the inbox. This enables me to quickly read through a series of discussions, and respond or not. Most of my egroups send out a Digest in the wee hours that includes anything posted in the previous twenty-four hours, so it's not too far out of realtime and I can quickly skim through their tables of contents in the morning. If a topic is of interest I can read further in the Digest before deleting, or I delete after reading the ToC if I see nothing I want to pursue.

Great suggestion, Margo!  Digests definitely make it easier to deal with listserv emails.


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