Silencing Your Noisy Inbox – Part 1

Lawyers get a lot of emails. Important email. But interspersed with the important email, you also get a lot of unnecessary, unimportant, or low-priority email. Some of those emails can be categorized as spam, but many of them are noise that you get by nature of the way information has been delivered for many years. Of course, there is actual spam – unsolicited emails that are not harmful, but very annoying. Then there are the malicious emails – phishing attempts that try to thwart your cybersecurity. To reduce the email in your inbox to allow you to focus on the important/urgent messages, versus the not urgent/not important messages, you must first classify these messages and manage them. In this installment, we will focus on managing noise but not spam or malicious emails.

Focused Inbox

A quick and effortless way to help conquer inbox overload is to use the filtering built into your email application. In Microsoft Outlook, you can turn on Focused inbox, which shows you messages that require your attention and all else goes to the “Other” tab. It works remarkably well. If you see an email in the “Other” tab, right click on it to “Move to Focus” or “Always Move to Focus.” Or right click on an email in the Focus tab to “Move to Other” or “Always Move to Other.” Focused inbox for Outlook works in the browser and the Outlook app for your mobile devices.

If you are a Gmail user, Gmail has even more automatic filtering, creating categories for Primary, Social, Updates, Forums, and Promotions. In Settings, you can turn these filters into Tabs. You can also enable bundling of top promos. Select a message to indicate that the email has been miscategorized. If you want to create your own tabs, change your inbox type to Multiple Inboxes and you can create custom sections based on search criteria. While the Default inbox type with categories works on your smartphone app, Multiple Inboxes can only be viewed on a computer. Note that you can’t turn on inbox categories if you have more than 250,000 messages in your inbox.

Sales & Marketing Emails

When you purchase something online or sign up to receive a whitepaper, you are indicating that you agree to continue to receive marketing emails in addition to confirmations, unless there is a box to indicate you do NOT want to receive further marketing messages. In some cases, your email address is also shared with affiliate companies. Technically, this is not spam, it is bacn. To combat this, you can create a disposable email address or an alias email.

Email Aliases

In Gmail you use your current account and append a + or . to your email address. For instance, [email protected] or [email protected]. These emails will go into your Gmail account, but you can easily add labels and filters to manage them more easily. If you get too many of these emails you can block the sender or write a filter to delete the emails automatically.

If you need to use your work email to sign up for purchases or whitepapers, and you use Microsoft Outlook with either hosted Exchange or Microsoft 365, you can get your administrator to set up an email alias. You can set up to 400 aliases per user, and there are no additional fees or licenses required. You can have aliases like [email protected] or [email protected]. However, to write a rule that deals with the alias (e.g., filter to a folder) the rule must be written to identify the alias in the message header, otherwise these emails will just automatically go to your inbox.

You can create email aliases in iCloud Mail and (f/k/a Hotmail).

Disposable email addresses

If setting up an alias, especially in Microsoft Exchange or 365 environments, seems a little daunting, there are many services that offer disposable contact information. This Wired article highlights options native to Apple devices, or alternatives such as 10 Minute Mail or Burner Mail and offers options for disposable phone numbers too. Other options include the venerable Spam Gourmet.

Unsubscribe Options

If the sales and marketing emails you are receiving are legitimate, under CAN-SPAM they are required to provide an unsubscribe link. If you see marketing emails from a company that you have done business with (and you trust) offer an unsubscribe link at the bottom of an email, just click it and stop receiving emails from that provider. You can even search your inbox for the word “unsubscribe” to find all the emails that offer that possibility to make it easier when you have a moment to focus on cleaning up your inbox and reducing the incoming messages.

If there is no unsubscribe link and you are quite confident that the message is truly spam, you can mark it as spam in either Outlook or Gmail. If, however, it is not technically spam but it is noisy, like a very persistent salesperson, in Microsoft Outlook click the Ignore Conversation button to remove all related and future messages to your Deleted Items folder. In Gmail you can Mute messages.

There are third-party unsubscribe options. However, those have suffered from reputational issues, mostly due to privacy concerns like that of There are paid plans from companies like Leave Me Alone that offer features to unsubscribe from email as well as “rollups” to manage email newsletters and much more.


If you get notifications from social media and other accounts in your inbox, and you never read or act on them, you can change your notifications to ping you in the app, via SMS (if you really need to) or in the browser. This also applies to Google News Alerts and emails from Slack, Teams, Planner, Asana, and online communities. See if you are really reading them and acting on them. If not, you don’t need an email alert or notification after all.

Email Newsletters

Email newsletters can be a reliable source of information fed directly to you. However, if you find that they are just cluttering up your inbox unread, there are some ways to manage your email newsletters more effectively.

Current Subscriptions

Going through and changing your address for a lot of newsletters is unwieldy at least. You may want to continue to associate them with a work email. There are several ways to tackle the existing subscriptions you have.

Rules and Filters

In Outlook and in Gmail, you can easily write rules to filter e-newsletters and skip the inbox and go straight to a folder. You can check the folders with unread messages at your leisure. However, if you find that you never actually read the emails because they skip your inbox, you have other options.

Use an RSS Feed Reader

RSS feed readers still exist and are useful for reading news headlines without having to subscribe to an email newsletter at all. You have one place, usually through a browser, to scan headlines without involving email at all. You can set your feed reader as your browser home page and just get into the habit of skimming your headlines. If your email newsletter subscription renders a readable page in a browser when you click “read in browser,” there is a good chance you can add it to your feed reader.

If you are subscribing to a lot of your newsletters in Gmail, you might check out Meco. Meco creates a feed from your existing email newsletters. You can categorize them, and then instead of reading the newsletters in your Gmail, you go to the Meco site and log in to see a nice feed reader style layout. Meco also has an option to use Outlook but carefully read the terms and privacy policy to determine if you want to connect to your work email.

Future Subscriptions

If you don’t mind changing the email you use to subscribe to a newsletter or when subscribing to a new newsletter, there are many options.

You can use a feed reader like Inoreader (requires the Pro plan at $5 a month). Other services like Kill the Newsletter will convert your email newsletters to RSS feed to be read with your reader of choice. Mailscribe creates a custom email for you to use for the purpose of receiving newsletters and then sign in and your newsletters will be organized and waiting for you.

Final Thoughts

There are a few products on the market that purport to help you get your inbox under control with paid plans such as Sanebox. Sanebox has a lot of options to help filter newsletters, unwanted email, email receipts, unsubscribe and more. The basic plan with one email account and two features (“snack”) starts at $59 per year. Another multi-tool, Leave Me Alone, offers to turn your newsletters into digests (roll ups) as well as screen your inbox by controlling who is allowed to contact you, smart email blocking, priority senders, unsubscribes, and more. Ongoing plans start at $9 per month.

There are a lot of ways to combat inbox overload. First you have to decide what is causing it, finding a cure for the particular issue, and then you can start focusing on managing email communication without all the noise.

Catherine Sanders Reach serves as director of the NCBA Center for Practice Management.