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Email has given the legal profession countless hours saved sending and receiving letters, faxes, phone calls and in-person meetings. But the technology has its downsides. The constant barrage of information is linked to stress and poorer health outcomes, and, as Cal Newport wrote for The New Yorker, is making us miserable. Strong email management skills are vital to increase lawyer happiness and productivity, and to effectively manage time. Here are a few tips:

Turn off the beep

Lawyers need uninterrupted periods to work. We also need time to relax. Turn off email notifications unless you are expecting something urgent. Instead, check email at set times.

Develop a simple email handing routing

Get into a positive email handing routine. As we suggest in Putting your best brain forward – practicePRO, one simple email handling routine is:

  • Read email at specific times each day (for example, at 9:00 am,1:00 pm, and 4:00 pm);
  • If the response needed will take 5 minutes or fewer, respond at once, and then file the email in the proper client folder;
  • If the response requires more than 5 minutes, BEFORE closing the message, make a note on a task list or a to-do list about the actions needed and the date/time by which they must be completed;
  • File the email in the proper client folder.

This is a simple example of one way to use batch processing and effective triage to enhance productivity. Modify this approach to fit your work rhythms to maximize your email effectiveness.

Embrace Julie Morgenstern’s 4 Ds

Julie Morgenstern developed the “4 Ds” for email management:

  • Delete: Some emails aren’t worth responding to
  • Delay: Most emails do not require an immediate response. Consider delaying a response to avoid interruptions in work flow.
  • Delegate: Not all emails require a response from you. Are there certain emails that can be delegated to others?
  • Diminish: For certain emails, a response is necessary, but it can be a short response.

Press Pause

“When they go low, we go high.” – Michelle Obama

It’s easy to quickly respond to emails and press send. But for some emails, pressing pause is the best decision you can make. When you receive an angry or intemperate email from someone, if a response is needed, take a breather. Avoid fighting fire with fire. Step away from the email, and then respond when you’re able to respond in a civil manner.

Use the Delay/Send Option

As a leader, be mindful that if you’re emailing outside of normal business hours, the person receiving it may feel obligated to reply or work on it. Emails at all hours risk eroding work-life boundaries. This can add stress to your team. When emails go out to clients at all hours, it may create the (unrealistic) expectation you are available 24/7.

Use the delay/send option to delay the delivery of a message. This can be used so your message is sent during normal office hours. For Microsoft users, learn how here.

Use Your Email Settings to Manage Your Inbox

You can use email setting to manage your inbox.

Use your filters: The Junk folder is your friend. Check your Junk box occasionally to make sure that you aren’t filtering out key messages. Mark spam messages as spam to help your filters improve. By receiving less junk in your Inbox, you’re increasing productivity and security.

Use Rules to manage emails: For example, in Microsoft Outlook, you can set up Rules so the program will automatically do something with a particular type of email based on a condition set by you. Rules can help you manage your email by automatically moving emails to folders or otherwise managing workflows.

Subtract Emails

Consider other ways to communicate to reduce email traffic and effectively communicate.

  • Unsubscribe: What have you signed up for that is just gumming up your inbox? Subscribing to blogs, Listservs, e-briefings or online promotions can give you benefits, but at some point, if you’ve moved on, unsubscribe to keep your inbox clutter-free.
  • Switch to real-time communication: At times real-time communication will be more effective than asynchronous email. There are a range of situations where it may be easier to stop the back and forth by email and work through items in real time with others. Consider moving conversations to an in-person chat, video conference, or phone call.
  • Consider combining emails: Rather than send out a series of small email requests to one recipient, consider whether the requests could be combined into one email. This can greatly cut down on email back and forth.

Find An Approach to Email That Works for You

Find an approach to email management that works for you. You should be comfortable, and not feel generally overwhelmed by your inbox.

There’s lots of room for personalizing how you manage your mail. But regardless of your approach, make sure that:

  • You are onside your law firm’s policies (if any are in place)
  • All correspondence related to a file can be easily accessible (such as in one email folder)
  • Others who may need access to your emails (such as to monitor your account when you are out of the office, or in case of emergency) have been granted access and are familiar with your email handling approach.

Next week is our last week in this series. We’ll be bringing it home by looking at wellness tips. Subscribe to the blog to have the post emailed right to you. Got a question? Reach out to [email protected].

Categories: Limitations Claims