A pox on your inbox! Reign in email chaos with these essential tools

  • December 13, 2008
  • Kathryn Robichaud

Over the past decade, email has significantly changed the way we communicate—from the way we do business and stay in touch with family and friends, to keeping on top of personal pastimes and interests. Although it’s a valuable communications tool, we can be too easily be bogged down by inbox information overload and personal security issues.

But there are effective ways to reign in the email monster, as was made clear at a CLE presented at the Canadian Legal Conference in Quebec City last summer.

Dominic Jaar, legal counsel at Ledjit Consulting in Montreal and David J. Bilinsky, practice advisor to the Law Society of British Columbia in Vancouver provided helpful tips on how to organize and prioritize emails by using filters, flags and search; understanding spam; avoiding phishing emails; and online security. Here are some highlights of the session.

General tips and techniques

  1. Use more than one email address. Separate business and personal accounts, and use temporary/disposable addresses for signing up for items such as newsletters and promotions. Separate addresses filter out the nature of emails—so you can deal with separate priorities. Disposable addresses ensure spam/promotional advertising as a result from signing up for newsletters end up in one account, leaving you with cleaner business and personal accounts.
  2. Use your inbox to gather mail only. Do not use your inbox as a repository for to-do lists, memos, meeting notes, etc. These items should be stored in to file folders, planner/calendars, or in your practice management software. Emails, once opened, should be converted into tasks or filed in order to keep your inbox clean and up-to-date.
  3. Organize sub-folders. Although they shouldn't be used as a long-term solution, creating and organizing email folders and sub-folders will clear out your inbox and sort out emails which can be attended to at a later date. A few examples of sub-folders: “personal,” “clients-open,” “clients-closed,”“administrative.”
  4. Backup your files. If using Outlook or another email client with server backup capabilities, always remember to automate backup copies to your server or remote hard-drive. This can alleviate any future lost/deleted email headaches.
  5. Use RSS feeds. With RSS feeds (really simple syndication), you can get the information you want when you want it. Although RSS is used mostly by bloggers, many websites have RSS feeds—simply look for the RSS logo and subscribe. RSS can replace newsletters and lessen emails.

Filters and rules

Filters and rules are a great tool to help organize your inbox. Setting up filters is easy, and an efficient way to have your mail automatically filed into folders, delete spam/junk mail, categorize mail based on words/recipients, notify your absence, and more. But keep in mind that there is a limit to the amount of rules which can be used simultaneously, so be sure to use only the most efficient ones.


Flags are used to visualize email status and follow-up priority. Colours and remarks can be added to flags for easier sorting and at-a-glance prioritization. Although flags are a great way to keep your mail organized, try not to keep them in your inbox for too long.


Using the search function is a good way to filter through emails which may have similar content, in order file them in to folders or in your practice management software. Searching is customizable, but note that Outlook searches email body and subject line content only, and content not in attached documents.


Spam setting options are found in the filters/rules options and are a great way to re-route unwanted messages from arriving in your inbox. Try not to set spam filters too high, or you risk deleting important emails.


Phishing is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication (Wikipedia).

Outlook 2003 and 2007 (with Office 2003 Service Pack installed) have phishing detection capabilities. Dangerous emails are routed to your junk mail file, message format is changed to plain text, and hypertext links are disabled.

Password security

We all have passwords which we use on a regular basis. These passwords are the keys to highly personal and confidential information, and should never be shared.

A few tips:


  1. Don't keep passwords in a Word or Excel file, or written down—keep them in your head!
  2. Don't use key dates or information such as birthdays, phone numbers, and street address numbers.
  3. Don't use the same password for all logins; try to keep them varied as much as possible.


  1. Do use upper and lower case letters and characters which are not names, dates or words.
  2. Do change passwords on a regular basis.
  3. Do keep passwords to yourself.

A great way to come up with a unique password, is to use a free online password generator such as Perfect Password Generator, which creates a unique set of custom, cryptographic-strength passwords with every page refresh.

Having a hard time remembering all your login information? Password storage applications such as Login King, RoboForm Pro, and Password Safe (free) can store your information and ease the pain of forgetting user login information.

Bottom line

Managing your email doesn’t have to be an arduous task. Incorporating the above tips and techniques daily will shrink your inbox, boost productivity, keep your personal information secure and, ultimately, tame the email beast.

Kathryn Robichaud is production editor at the CBA National Office.