Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2006

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Inbox Overload

I use Microsoft Outlook as an example for many of theses tips, but these features are available in most if not all web-based and program-based e-mail applications. Remember, the "F1" key is your friend; and if you are using a web-based program, the FAQs are your next best bet. Each is there to help you and answer your questions.

Setting Up Folders
The first step in managing your e-mail and taking control of your inbox is to create a place for you to sort all your mail.

If everything just sits in your inbox, it can get crowed quickly – and if it's crowded, you have more opportunities to miss important messages.

So, let's create some folders. In Outlook you just need to right-click on your inbox and choose "new folder" from the list of choices, or from the file menu choose "File>New>Folder".

Here are a few ideas to name your folders:

  • Clients
  • Personal
  • Newsletters
  • Discussion Lists

Well, now you have a place you can drag and drop all of your messages, but wouldn't it be wonderful if, when you started your computer, all the messages were already sorted, or sort themselves as they come in? Well, they can.

The Wonderful World of Filters
Filters are great little features that are like adding a new assistant to your payroll. You can create filters to recognize certain parts of your incoming mail and take action. In Outlook, the filters are called "Rules", and you can find them on the file menu at "Tools>Rules Wizard". A better idea, though, is to create new Rules or Filters from an existing or open message. All of the information is there and is often filled in by the Rules Wizard. In an open message you can find it under "Actions>Create Rule". Of course, if you want to or have to do it by hand, you want to tell the filter to recognize a sender's e-mail address, the domain name it is sent from or words that appear in the subject line.

As messages are placed in the folders there will be a number next to the folder name. This is the number of unread messages in the folder.

You can now automatically sort incoming messages from clients, separate Email List messages and send annoying spam and junk mail directly to the trash bin! Whoa, whoa, whoa – hold a minute. Yes, you can actually create a rule that can send messages directly to the Deleted Items folder, but this should be reserved for specific senders who just will not comply with your unsubscribe requests. This technique should not used with keywords, or at least used very carefully. You do not want to delete messages from important clients or friends. My friend Richard called me up one day and asked why I was ignoring his e-mail messages. There is, of course, a better solution, and it involves creating another new folder called "Review". Here you can put those iffy messages and give them a good once-over before deleting them.

Color-Coded Communications
Let's go back to the inbox for a minute; I just remembered another great tip. Again, this is an Outlook thing, and this feature might not appear in your software (but I hope it does because it is really useful). Click on "Tools" on the file menu and choose "Organize". It will have an icon that looks like a broken Rubik's Cube. (Did I mention I could solve the Rubik's Cube in less than 30 seconds using nothing but a hammer?) And speaking of colors, you can color-code your e-mail message from the "Organize" area. Select a message you want to stand out and then choose "Using Colors" on the left-hand menu. It will let you assign a color to specific senders. This is great for making important messages stand out: green for family and friends, blue for coworkers, purple for clients and red for VIPs – my boss, in my case.

Color-coding your message will allow you to sort through a long list of messages quickly without even having to read the subject line or look at the sender.

Spam Target
We all get spam. Sometimes it's a little, sometimes it's a lot.

The last suggestion I have is to create a new account with one of the free web-based e-mail providers like Yahoo ( or Hotmail ( Keep your professional or home e-mail address separate and reserved for business communications. Use this new separate account when signing up for or purchasing items online. Also, keep all of your important contacts that know and use this e-mail new address in the address book. Keep a list of areas in which it is used as logins or contact information. This new address will be more likely to attract spam, leaving your professional address less susceptible to a flood of junk mail. Now, if spam mail begins to outnumber valid messages, simply close the account, open a new free account and inform everyone on your list about the change.

What Do You Use?
Well, I hope this gives you some new ideas on how to reclaim your inbox. If you want to let us know what type of e-mail software you are using, visit the Tech Talk page and take our survey (

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2006

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