An email inbox is like a dog on a leash; sometimes you wonder who is the master. Training yourself to handle email efficiently can be like teaching a dog to behave — it requires discipline, but the results are worth it.Getting organized is especially essential if you are a solo practitioner and can’t delegate any of your email to an assistant. So instead of letting your inbox tug you this way and that, it’s essential to develop an email management plan. Unlike a dog on a leash, your email shouldn’t sit, stay and litter your work life. Here are some doggone good ideas for getting the contents of your inbox moving quickly in the right direction.
Clearing and Organizing
Sorting through an endless accumulation of email can be as appealing as tidying up after Rover in the backyard following a month of egregious neglect. But someone has to do it. Writing at Findlaw, Edward Tan suggests setting aside a weekend for major inbox cleanup. While reviewing your email queue, separate keepers (important work and private emails) from unnecessary stuff that needs to go into non-work files or the trash. Tan says to ponder folder categories as you sort. “Think about all the areas of law and work that you do and create files that reflect them,” Tan adds. One way to speed up this process, as noted by Kevin Daum of Inc., is to establish search or smart folders that allow your computer to help sort email. Check folders with non-vital emails only once a day, Daum says.
Following a Sorting Pattern
While sorting email, remember the mantra “OHIO,” which means “only handle it once” and encourages you not to procrastinate. In an article for Attorney at Work, Daniel Gold offers a pattern for considering options when sorting. It can be reduced to “DDDDI.” The choices are:
- Do. Act timely. Why wait or delegate an email if it will take you less than two minutes to answer? Also, holding off on answering certain emails can cause the sender to become resentful or to send you a reminder.
- Defer. Move items with due dates to your calendar. If your email program has a task manager, let it direct items without due dates but which require action to folders with titles such as Today, Tuesday and Someday (journal articles you want to read).
- Delegate. Place tasks without due dates in folders for action within a reasonable period of time or, if possible, delegate them to an assistant. Remember to schedule review dates for making sure that tasks get done.
- Delete. If a work email isn’t actionable or doesn’t contain necessary information for reference, toss it.
- Incubate. Archive those important informational emails you know you’ll regret deleting.
Avoiding Unnecessary Email
If you discover that you have many emails from sources that you almost never read or need, clear them from your inbox by unsubscribing. Be brutal in what you toss or unsubscribe, but not foolhardy. When frustrated with a crowded inbox, don’t just click a button to trash it all. That won’t help you avoid the hoarding problem in the future. Also, consider some advice from Jeff Weiner, who regularly communicates with more than 4,300 employees as CEO at LinkedIn. Weiner says that his first rule for controlling the inbox is “to receive less mail, send less mail.” Unless an email is essential, Weiner says, don’t send it. Each email sent generates responses not only from the original recipients but also from anyone to whom they have copied the message. Those who receive copies may spread the word further to others who respond to the thread.
Establishing a Routine
You need an inbox routine — one or more periods of time during the day set aside for email action. At the American Bar Association blog, Laura A. Calloway suggests checking email no more than once every two hours so you can sustain focus on projects in-between.Calloway also suggests turning off “all sounds and visual indications that you have new mail” to avoid interruptions. Both Weiner and Tan try to limit email time to the beginning and end of workdays. Weiner notes that sticking to your routine is the best way to avoid email buildup and its “accompanying pressure.”
Finally, as I pointed out at the beginning of this article, inboxes share certain traits with dogs, and dogs love a regular schedule. You wouldn’t want your email to bite you for bad response times.
Retraining your self to manage your emails will increase productivity throughout your day and you will also be addressing the important content of your job or life. As we read “folders” for emails is a great inbox management tool. Have you taught “Fido the email dog” any new tricks that have worked to reduce email tail wagging? Feel free to send me an email and share your results.