Clean-up Your Inbox With Retention Policies

I get a lot of email, and I can’t always keep up with it. My first line of defense is rules. Rules help me filter out a lot of noise and tag messages in meaningful ways, but I find that if I move things out of my inbox, they slip into the out-of-sight, out-of-mind void that is everywhere-except-my-inbox.

I get a lot of notifications from Azure DevOps for things like pull request reviews. These are things that I want to know about, but it’s not something I’m realistically going to get back to if I put it off for a few days. I wanted to create a rule that was something like “delete messages that match [whatever criteria] that are more than [x] days old,” but I couldn’t find a way to do it other than by moving the messages away from my inbox to a folder with a custom archiving policy (i.e. into the void where I won’t see them) or by doing some custom development.

But then I found them: retention policies.

Retention policies control how long messages messages are kept, and they’re perfect for these sorts of highly-relevant-but-only-for-a-short-while messages. You apply the policy to a message, which can be done quite easily with inbox rules, and Office 365 takes care of the rest.

Sounds awesome; sign me up, right? It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to add the policies to my account and use them. I’m talking 2 or 3 sessions where I gave up, defeated. Fear not, though, friends! For I have figured out the path forward and present it to you here in just four easy steps.

1-3. Add Policies to Your Account

This was the part that escaped me for so long, and the issue is that I was trying to do it from Outlook instead of through the Outlook Web App.

  1. Log into O365 > Outlook
  2. Settings > View all Outlook settings > Retention Policies
  3. Add new policy > (add some policies)

Alternatively, you can jump directly to the following URL:

4. Make a Rule

Now that you’ve added some retention policies, you can apply them to messages with rules. As mentioned earlier in the post, I want to delete messages from Azure DevOps after a few days, so I created a rule that applies the “1 Week Delete” policy to them.

When these messages come in, they can sit comfortably in my inbox and compete for my attention. If I happen to get a behind–which happens frequently enough for me to have pursued this several times and then write a blog post about it–these stale messages will conveniently self-destruct and go away all by themselves. Wonderful!

Author: Adam Prescott

I'm enthusiastic and passionate about creating intuitive, great-looking software. I strive to find the simplest solutions to complex problems, and I embrace agile principles and test-driven development.

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