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Nothing But the Ruth
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Nothing But The Ruth!

The Great Email Clean Out 2015

By Ruth Carter

One of the downsides of traveling is that email keeps coming in while you’re gone. Although I had an awesome time doing The Undeniable Tour earlier this year and speaking at the Ungagged conference in London, my inbox turned into a nightmare while I was away.

I prefer to keep the population of my inbox at 25 or less. That way I can see all pending messages on one page. I get easily overwhelmed and distracted if I feel like too many pressing issues need my attention. When I got back from London, I had nearly 300 messages in my inbox. Bah! It was time to get a handle on this. I challenged myself to get my inbox under control by the end of June, and I kept a mini journal of the experience.

May 25, 2015
Inbox messages: 267
Thirty minutes of diligent work brought my email count down to 248. I had many LinkedIn invitations from people I met at Ungagged.

May 28, 2015
Inbox messages: 235
In 20 minutes, I got my email count down to 216. I was able to answer and delete several emails related to past events and emails from students in a business media law class I taught at a local art college.

June 2, 2015
Inbox messages: 235
My goal for the day was to get my inbox under 200 messages, but that didn’t happen. Life got busy and the emails kept coming in! I managed to get it down to 223, mostly by processing messages that I needed to record in my contact databases.

June 9, 2015
Inbox messages: 227
I think email is like weight loss — you hit plateaus that are hard to break through without concerted effort. After 40 minutes, my inbox was only down to 213. I processed more than 14 messages, but the downside of answering emails is that then the other person responds! I put in another 30 minutes of work and got it down to 192. Woo-hoo for breaking the 200 mark! I went to the bottom of my inbox and was able to delete several messages that were two or three months old and had become irrelevant.

June 11, 2015
Inbox messages: 204 (Bah!)
I realize my problem isn’t that I don’t answer emails. Rather, they were important enough at the time to keep them in my inbox or I kept them because I didn’t record the conversation in my contact database on the same day it occurred. Seeing some of these important emails again gave me the chance to follow up with prospective clients. I created a folder for an event I’m speaking at in the fall for all the emails regarding my registration, flight and hostel information. (Note to self: You have a lot of email folders. Some of them are probably junk now.) I worked on my inbox in between client work and got it down to 171 by noon.

June 14, 2015
Inbox messages: 150
I was able to get my inbox down to 109 by the end of the weekend. It’s easier to clear email on the weekend without the constant influx of new messages.

June 21, 2015
Inbox messages: 94
I’m not sure what I did or how I did it but I got my inbox down to 53.

June 30, 2015 – Last day of the month!
Inbox messages: 34
The theme for this afternoon was Read, Respond, Record, Delete, Move On. I was determined to achieve my goal — partly because I didn’t want to tell you all that I failed. By the end of the night, my inbox was at 7.

Looking Back

So what lessons did I learn from this experience?

  • Make clearing email a priority. Set aside time just to answer messages.
  • Part of returning from traveling is clearing email, just as you need to go through your snail-mail.
  • Go through your inbox at least once a week to answer or file emails and delete superfluous messages. Don’t let them collect the proverbial dust.

I’ve heard one of the best ways to achieve a goal is to tell others about it. Knowing I would be writing a post about how I got a handle on my inbox kept me motivated to achieve my goal. It took a lot of diligence to put my butt in my chair and work on this, but making progress helped keep me motivated to keep working.

Having a nearly empty inbox makes it easier to keep track of my priorities and obligations. As I gear up for more travel this fall, I already know that when I get back I’ll be setting aside a block of time to tackle my inbox.

Email Hell? Check Out Tips from the Pros

Illustration ©

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Productivity, Managing a Law Firm, Nothing But The Ruth!
Originally published July 14, 2015
Last updated October 19, 2019
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Ruth Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at and

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