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    November 13th, 2007

    She wrote upon it:
    Return to sender, address unknown.
    No such person, no such zone

    Words and Music by Winfield Scott and Otis Blackwell, recorded by Elvis Presley.

    Dave Barry says: “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion or ethnic background, is that we all believe we are above-average drivers. “Well, I will add to Dave Barry’s list and say that the other thing that unites human beings, regardless of age, is that we all have overflowing email in-boxes. More particularly, we don’t know what to do about them.

    Accordingly, this post is all about tips for mastering your mailbox: e-mail and information management.

    #1 Use More Than One Email Address:

    There are several ways to attack your email morass. The first can be called ‘divide and conquer”. This technique involves separating your email addresses and creating separate email address for:• Business use (may even consider 2…one for general use and one that is more closely guarded)
    • Personal use (to avoid all those personal messages going thru your office server and system…
    • HTML (for travel such as Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail) that can be reached from any computer connected to the internet for ease of retrieval.
    • and…Disposable. For example, many web sites require a working email address in order to send you a password to enter.

    www.10minutemail.com/10MinuteMail/index.html will give you an email address that expires after 10 minutes. This is particularly useful when you want to read something on a web site requiring a working email address for entry or otherwise need a quick short-term email address and you don’t wish to generate spam on your personal or business email addresses.

    The second technique involves being rigorous on when you give out your business address or addresses.

    #2 Don’t Use Your Business Address For Anything Other Than Business

    Use a separate email address for listservs, for receiving information or for public uses….let these emails build up somewhere other than your personal or business email addresses…so that when you open your business email (Outlook or GroupWise), you are not inundated in useful (but not necessary) emails.

    The third tip is to be equally rigorous in regards to what you store in your inbox.

    #3 Use Your Inbox Only To Gather Mail

    Most of us use the inbox as a kind of repository for things that we don’t want to forget. But your inbox should not be used as a repository for To-Do’s, memos, meeting notes, reminders, attachments, events, addresses, URLs etc…there are other ways to store those for recall purposes.

    Put those items in folders that you create (To-Do’s, Reminders, etc) or in your Practice Management Software (TimeMatters, Amicus Attorney, PC Law, LawStream etc…). Practice Management software is particularly apt here – the electronic client files, electronic calendar, contact manager, notes modules and To-Do lists are excellent in this regard to store and organize ‘stuff’. The important thing is to get this ‘stuff’ into relevant folders *somewhere* where it can be found and not let it clutter up your inbox!

    The 4th tip is designed to start to give you some breathing space…

    #4 Clean out your inbox …now!

    There is *no* way you will be able to get on top of your email if you are fighting the avalanche from the inside…you have to get out from under them in order to start imposing some order.

    So – get a fresh start…by sorting and filing the emails right now. Go thru the emails ..quickly…and separate them:

    • the ones that absolutely need replies…leave in your inbox…(important and urgent);
    • the ones that don’t need attention right now but will need attention – but into a “to do” folder (important but not urgent);
    • the ones that can be filed away in other folders (reading, listservs, personal etc) do so (not important and not urgent ).

    The important thing is to triage your email….by separating it into urgent and important, urgent but not important (ie not right now) and *everything else*.

    Then – go back and attack the urgent and important emails. Now!

    The urgent but not important ones….set aside time in the day to come back to them and deal with as many as you can. Schedule time each day to go through these ….in the time available to you. Otherwise, leave them in their current folder.

    Leave *everything else* in the folders that you created for them.

    Now – your inbox should be cleaned out!

    The next steps are to use flags and filters to sort your emails as they come in – without requiring you intervention (see filter and flags herein).

    #5 Prevent The Clutter Email From Coming Into The Inbox

    There is a way to reduce the email load ..by using RSS – Really Simple Syndication.

    This software allows you to separate current awareness from correspondence, by setting up a feed reader to deliver the content to you – in a web-page format – that is refreshed …instead of subscribing to listservs that only stuff up your mailbox with quickly outdated news and information.

    In the past you needed an news aggregator; today most browsers (Firefox, Internet Explorer) and several web pages (Google, Yahoo etc) allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds as part of their customization ability.

    Look for the XML or RSS symbol on web pages that contain information that you wish to review and use to stay current……you can then subscribe to the information on the page and have the information delivered to you to your custom web page or aggregator.

    For example, I customize my iGoogle web page and subscribe to many blogs via iGoogle; each of these blogs could have their own ‘gadget’ on my iGoogle web page, but instead I use Google Reader and aggregate all these blogs into one – allowing me to quickly review the latest postings on the blogs to which I am interested – without generating one email. And the best thing about this service is that the Google Reader organizes all the postings and lists the current ones on top…preventing them from clogging my inbox!

    #6 – Use Gmail

    There are many web-based email services available (Yahoo being the other major alternate in my opinion to Gmail), but my personal favourite is Gmail – or Google Mail. This is (arguably) the world’s best web-based mail. It offeres HUGE capacity – almost 5000 MB of storage – that increases daily (note that Yahoo mail has no storage limits).

    Gmail allows users to filter messages by their text; their From, To, and Subject fields; and by whether or not the message has an attachment. It offers automatic threading of discussions as well as an automatic notifier (with download). Furthermore, there is automatic spam filtering, messaging forwarding, signatures and much much more!! Executable files are automatically blocked by the spam filtering system.

    Gmail automatically saves contact information when you send an email to an unknown recipient – and it updates the contact information automatically – as well. The system also ‘autosaves’ draft emails….limiting the loss of content when composing an email.

    Gmail integrates GoogleTalk – an instant messaging program – into the Gmail service as well as GoogleDocs, GoogleSpreadsheets, Presentations, a Photograph sharing service (Picassa), a calendar and much more.

    It is a great resource for use for a project (you can set up documents in GoogleDocs on the web for sharing and collaboration), or for personal mail.

    While Gmail has its detractors (privacy concerns being foremost, as Google could, theoretically, combine a users email history with their search history to profile the user for the purposes of advertising and keep that profile for 18 months), all in all it is a very useful email service for non-business related emails that you wish to access anywhere.

    #7 Filters, Flags, & Search Folders

    Since emails will continue to come into your inbox, you need a way to organize them. This is where filters, flags and search folders come in.

    Filters:

    Filters are ways to automatically sort emails and have them put into predefined folders. They take a little time to build, but then the payback is huge.

    • Once you have filters built, you can have your mail automatically filed into folders as you wish
    • Or you can use filters to automatically delete junk mail
    • You can use the exceptions and variations to suit your situation

    A filter, also known as an email rule, consists of three parts:

    1. The conditions that the rule is looking for, such as: a word in the subject, or a specific email address in the From, or your email address in the CC or To, or your email address not in the To (someone CC’ed or BCC’ed to you). Multiple conditions can be specified to work together, such as a specific word in the subject and from a specific email address.

    2. The action to take once the condition matches, such as: move it to a specific folder, or delete it, or forward it to another email address, or mark it as important, or flag it for further action, or mark it as read. Multiple actions can be performed together, such as mark it as read and move it to a folder.

    3. Exceptions to the rule. You can specify exceptions criteria to exclude any emails that match the conditions, such as: exclude if there is an attachment or if from someone on my Contacts list. Multiple exceptions criteria can be specified.

    To create a filter in Outlook:

    1. Select “Rules and Alerts” from the “Tools” menu.

    2. Click “New Rule”. The “Rules Wizard” will appear.

    3. Click “Start creating a rule from template” for the most typical rules, or “Start from a blank rule” to create a rule from scratch, and then click “Next”.

    4. In “Step 1”, specify the conditions you wish such as: “with specific words in the subject”.

    5. Then in “Step 2”, click the underlined words and enter the specifics of the condition, such as words to look for in the subject and the folder in which to move the email. For example, listservs typically send emails from the same address: you can use this address as the condition and sort this email to a specific folder for later reading.

    6. If you want the rule to look for several conditions, such as the subject contains specific words and it is from a specific email address, select those additional conditions now. When done, click “Next”.

    7. If you want to specify any exceptions, select them in a similar manner to the way that you selected the conditions. When done, click “Next”.

    8. As the last step, give the rule a name and select “Finish” to finish creating the rule. Now, whenever an email is received that matches the conditions (excluding any exceptions), the specified action will be taken.

    Flags

    Flags are indicators that you can place next to an email message in Outlook that are colour-coded (red, blue, yellow, green, orange and purple) and can be a quick visual reminder for different types of emails. You can:

    • Use flags to follow-up for incoming and outgoing e-mail,
    • Flag action options using colours
    • Use as pop-up reminders based on the sender of the email
    • Sort and arrange your emails by colour for at-a-glance priorities

    Emails can be flagged in one of two ways:

    1. A coloured flag can be added to the email, or
    2. A dated reminder can be added to the email.

    Note: Compared to earlier version of Outlook, Outlook 2007 has coloured categories instead of coloured flags. And it now has date flags (i.e.: Today, Tomorrow, This Week, Next Week, No Date).

    To add a flag, start by right-click on the flag symbol that appears to the right of any email (when viewing your Inbox or any email folder). You can also right-click on the email’s subject and select the “Follow Up” sub-menu.

    To add a coloured flag, select one of the coloured flags. Emails can then be sorted by flag colour by clicking the flag icon in the column heading.

    To add a dated reminder, select “Add Reminder…” from the flags menu. The “Flag for Follow Up” window appears where you can specify follow up details.

    Search Folders

    Search folders are not real folders (*such as “Inbox” or “Sent Items”), but rather they are virtual folders that contain views of emails matching specific search criteria. There are typically a couple of search folders already in Outlook – “Unread Mail” and “For Follow Up” for example. You can, of course, create many more.

    Search folders:

    • Show unread messages and those marked for follow-up by default,
    • Customizable – will show any search you create,
    • Contains shortcuts to messages – the messages themselves remain in the original folder(s)

    Search Folders help you to quickly find all messages that match a search condition. You can define your own Search Folders, such as searching for a specific word in the subject. Multiple conditions can be used together, such as searching for a specific word in the subject and from a specific email address and unread.

    Search Folders appear in the Folder List and look like any other folder. But Search Folders only contain shortcuts to the actual emails. The messages are still in their original folders. When you delete a search folder, you do not affect the emails that were listed therein.

    Click “Search Folders” in the Folder List to see the pre-defined searches and any searches that you have defined.

    When you click on one of the searches under Search Folders, the results of that search appear on the right-hand side as a list of messages. You can work with those messages as you normally would.

    To create a new Search Folder:

    1. Select “File menu > New > Search Folder…”, or right click on “Search Folder” and select “New Search Folder…”.

    2. Select the type of the new Search Folder, such as “Mail with specific words”.

    3. When you select some types of Search Folder, a “Choose…” button appears so that you can specify the details of the search. If present, click “Choose…” and enter the search criteria, such as specific words to search for.

    4. Click “OK” to save the new Search Folder.

    5. The new search will appear in the Folder List and results of that search will appear on the right-hand side.

    Note: When you first create a new Search Folder, a search is performed on all of your messages. Depending upon how many messages you have, it may take a few minutes for the search to finish. In the future when you click on an existing Search Folder, the results will appear immediately.

    #8 Spam

    Email systems can be configured in most cases, to week out spam automatically. There are also other ways to prevent spam from coming into your inbox:

    1. The first is to avoid giving out a valid email address.

    There are services such as 10 min mail – that will provide you with an email address that self-destructs in 10 minutes time – just long enough to receive a password to enter a site that harvests an email address as the cost of entry (www.10minutemail.com/10MinuteMail/index.html). This avoids having to give out an address that will only collect spam.

    2. Do not respond to emails that state “To be removed from this list go to…”.

    Typically these links are simply a way to confirm that your email address is indeed, a valid and working email address – and following this link simply ensures that you have elevated your status from “unknown” to “confirmed”.

    3. Don’t spam the spammer.

    Some people advocate ‘spamming the spammer’ by replying multiple times to increase the inbox of the spammer. It is questionable if this actually works, since in most cases the email address used by the spammer is not valid.

    4. Report the spam:

    You can report the spam to: spam@uce.gov maintained by the US FTC.

    There are also automated ways to stop spam:

    1. Content-based filtering. This technique involves building specific filters to look for key words in your incoming emails, such as “Viagra” and sending the email to the junk pile. The problems with this technique is that you have to create the filters; but the spellings used by the spammers vary (for example, via*gra) and it may in fact filter out legitimate emails.

    2. Statistical Filtering. In this case, you acquire a software program that implements statistical filtering to exclude spam. The advantage here is that this technique requires no user intervention. Email programs that incorporate statistical filtering include Bogofilter, the e-mail programs Mozilla and Mozilla Thunderbird, Mailwasher, and later revisions of SpamAssassin.

    3. Heuristic Filtering. This technique is incorporated in the software SpamAssassin and Policyd-weight. This technique uses multiple tests for spam and assigns a numerical score to each test. Every incoming message is scanned for these patterns. If the applicable scores in total are above a fixed value, the message is rejected or flagged as spam.

    4. Outlook spam techniques (Outlook 2003): Since most of us use MS Outlook (at least for our business emails) we should cover how to configure Outlook to minimize spam:

    In Outlook click on the “Tools” menu, then “Options”, and then click “Junk E-mail” on the Preferences tab. This in turn, opens the Junk E-mail Options dialog box.

    You can choose the level of spam protection that you feel appropriate. You can start on “Low” and if this still produces too much spam, switch to High or even Safe Lists Only.

    The next step is to use the safe senders list to add in email addresses that are generating ‘false positives’ and being tagged as spam needlessly.

    Lastly there is the “Block senders list” which allows you to add in addresses to which you do not wish to receive any further emails. For example, you can add in addresses of those individuals who have repeatedly spammed everyone in your organization to save everyone the tedious task of having to delete these unwanted emails.

    #9 Phishing emails

    Phishing emails are emails that appear to be from legitimate organizations such as a bank but are in fact forged emails that attempt to fool the user in order to fraudulently acquire information from the user such as their bank account number and/or password for illegal uses including identity theft. A phishing email usually shows a banks logo and claims that there has been a security breach or new feature and the user is prompted to click on the link in the email and log in. However, the link in the email does not go to the organization’s website but instead is redirected to a fraudulent website that mimics the organization’s website.

    How to Prevent Phishing for Outlook 2003 (Outlook 2007 has increased anti-phishing and junk email protections)

    • Upgrade to Outlook 2003
    • In 2003, install the latest Office 2003 Service Pack
    • Install the Junk e-mail filter update for Outlook 2003

    As part of the Outlook 2003 Service Pack 2, the Junk E-mail Filter now checks for Phishing e mails. The phishing protection feature is not available for earlier versions of Outlook.

    To install the latest service packs and updates for Microsoft Office, go to http://office.microsoft.com and click on “Check for free updates”.

    Internet Explorer 7 comes with a built-in Phishing Filter. Accordingly, upgrade to Internet Explorer 7. That way, if any phishing emails get past Outlook, those phishing websites will hopefully be blocked by Internet Explorer 7.

    The Junk E-mail Filter – Phishing Protection works as follows:

    • Dangerous email is automatically routed to your “Junk E-mail” folder.
    • All formatting has been stripped out – all html, all pictures – all you see is straight text.
    • All hypertext links are turned off.
    • If good emails are ending up in your “Junk E-mail” folder, then: Right-click on one of those emails. Then click “Junk E-Mail” and then “Add Sender to Safe Senders List”.

    Warning: Do not add your bank’s email address or domain name to your Safe Senders List because phishing e-mails typically have forged From addresses. The Junk E mail Filter does not scan any email from your Safe Senders List.

    #10 Security of Your IT System

    The best treatment of this area for Canadian lawyers is the PracticePro publication:

    Managing the security and privacy of electronic data in a law office Booklet available at: (www.practicepro.ca/practice/ElectronicDataSecurity.asp).

    #11 Anti-virus & Firewalls

    These are ‘must haves’ today – as any computer that does not have a good anti-virus program will be attached shortly after being connected to the internet. And a firewall prevents intruders from coming into your system.

    There are certified Anti-virus software lists maintained by ICSA labs, which tests Anti-Virus software. Their results can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/aoyns.

    Furthermore, Certified Firewalls can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/agmr6.

    The ratings of anti-spyware change constantly; it is best to conduct a google search on anti-spyware reviews to find out which applications are currently listed as the best of breed.

    More useful information and links:

    www.cusimano.com/lawyer/expo2007

    Rogue/Suspect Anti-Spyware Products & Web Sites:
    http://tinyurl.com/yslol

    Subscribe to Bruce Schneier’s newsletter on internet security: http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram.html

    Test your firewalls, wireless security and more…
    http://www.grc.com

    Conclusion

    We have just run through the tried and tested techniques to wrestle the email demon to the ground and start to regain control over your inbox ( and your life!).

    Now – what remains…is for you to take that first step …and start along the journey that leads to an inbox that only has a few items (that came in today!) and which you can easily deal with by the end of day. As they say, every journey begins with a single step. And this journey will ensure that the only emails that come into your inbox are ones that are intended for you; all others returned to sender.

    This post is based on a paper presented at the 2007 Solo and Small Firm Conference at the Law Society of Upper Canada by David J. Bilinsky and Peter Cusimano. (c) 2007 Bilinsky and Cusimano.

    This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 13th, 2007 at 1:25 am and is filed under Issues facing Law Firms, Technology, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    4 Responses to “The Inbox Runneth Over…”
    1. hristofor Says:

      10minutemail – very convenient service!

    2. Ben Says:

      Thanks. Good idea. I’ll become your regular visitor and RSS subscriber.

    3. seo blog Says:

      This is a really interesting blog post,I have added your blog to my favourites I really like it,keep up the good work!

    4. Carroll B. Merriman Says:

      Great information!! Thanks very much!

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