Aim for an Empty Inbox Each Afternoon

As we head for the end of the year, your mind is probably already turning to things you’d like to change in the new year.  We think that aiming for an empty inbox each afternoon is one of the best resolutions you can make.

The holy grail of current email management is the empty inbox.  This is often referred to as Zero Inbox, RAFT (Refer, Act, File or Toss) or OHIO (Only Handle It Once).  The idea behind all these systems is that you deal with each item in your Inbox only once by doing what lawyers hate most to do:  making a decision now about how to handle the message, taking the necessary action immediately, and never looking back.

When an email comes in, you must decide immediately whether it is something you must do, something you can foist off onto someone else in the office to do, something you would like to keep for future reference but need not act on, or something you will never do, no matter how much time elapses or how much the sender pleads.  At this point the two minute rule comes into play.  If you can handle an item in two minutes or less, whether that means doing it yourself or forwarding it with appropriate instructions to someone else, then you must handle it immediately.  This will usually be the case with items which you Refer, File or Toss, whether by just deleting or sending back a quick, but polite, message denying the sender’s request.  (Caveat:  All of these little two minute items can add up, so be sure that you allocate an hour or so at the beginning of each day, or a half hour a couple of times throughout the day, to handle them.  If you are anxious to get on to other work, there is a tendency to overlook these items for the time being, but doing so will make the system fail.)

If the item cannot be handled in two minutes or less, then it needs to be sorted into either a high priority or a low priority folder or, even better, immediately turned into a task and scheduled for an appropriate block of time so that you can get it done.

There is a split of opinion as to whether or not it’s a good idea to use a folder full of messages as a “to do” list.  I think it all comes down to how you best handle scheduled tasks.  If your tendency is to file them away and never get around to looking in that folder again, then it’s much better to drag them either to the calendar or otherwise add them to your To Do list, however you maintain it.

The Zero Inbox system is great for getting the Inbox cleared out, which always makes its owner feel better and also helps you to avoid the situation where your Inbox becomes so cluttered that you can’t effectively tell when you have important new messages.  But it doesn’t do much to tell you where to put the stuff that you’ve RAFTed out, so it’s up to you to set up adequate systems to make sure you actually get the work done on the items which are deferred.

Aiming for an empty inbox each afternoon will make you a much happier and more efficient lawyer in 2013.

We wish you health, happiness and prosperity in the New Year!


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