When people ask “How are you doing?” I think most people answer on behalf of their inboxes. “Full”, some might say, or “Crazy” say most as they glance at the notice saying that there are 99,999 email messages in their inbox and then glance at the clock indicating the time remaining in their day. We’re in an age where time-saving technology is woven into our everyday communications and instantaneous email messages are replacing phone or face-to-face conversations. And it’s not going anywhere, whether you like it or not.
Before I become a mom 2 years ago, I worked lawyer hours (over 60 hours a week) answering my inbox from clients, other lawyers, suppliers, business development contacts and employees. Now, that I’m at the office for focused kid-less work time for 2 days per week, basically condensing my 60-hour week to about 18 hours, I needed to find ways to get back to people quickly and efficiently.
Here are my top 10 tips to tackle your inbox to make email work for you, instead of the other way around. It’s my Power Hour method:
- Turn off all notifications – yes, that “ding” or that little envelope that pops up. No notifications.
- Preview Pane. Set up a preview pane either on the bottom or sides of your screen so that you can see the message without needing to double click into it. It saves time in glancing through the context of an email or an attachment without having to fully open them.
- Unsubscribe to every newsletter, update, message notification, from non-humans. Get the robots out of there, and yes, that includes LinkedIn, Twitter, and newsletters. I politely tell people that I’m unsubscribing because my inbox is too full and that it’s not personal, I unsubscribe to everyone! Even if you’re just deleting it everytime, it wastes time just clicking delete and it’s important to stay focused on the emails from humans (only).
- Power Hour. Get our your phone and set a timer for 1 hour and attack that inbox. No disruptions or interruptions, it’s do not disturb email time. Take the full hour to go through your inbox. I follow the following 3 tips during this hour.
- 2 Minutes. Now that your inbox is cleared of all the automated messages, first go through your inbox in chronological order and if you can do, dump or delegate in 2 minutes, then do, dump and delegate them. Do (reply) to the ones that you can quickly respond to. Dump (delete) the ones that have been dealt with by other people or you’re just copied on for your information. Delegate (forward) the ones that other people should be dealing with on your behalf.
- Say No. Out of the ones that remain, there are probably a few that need some “no” answers and you’re leaving it there for later because you don’t want to say “no”. Maybe it’s that contact that’s following up from a cancelled lunch, a supplier wanting to talk to you about a quote for new services, or candidates asking for a job. If your answer will be the same tomorrow, and deep down you already know what the answer is, just reply now and get it out of your inbox. It saves time staring that message down and clogging up your inbox.
- Focus. What’s left of your inbox is your personal to-do list for the day or for the week, depending how much you have delegated and how many emails you get. Focus on only 1 email at a time (usually I start with the ones that require the least amount of time to reply to or the most urgent ones) and do not move onto the next email until you have completely replied to 1 email. Do not peek at new messages coming in and do no do any of the dumping or delegating until you have dealt with that 1 email that you have selected.
- Do again. Select the next easiest or more urgent email and focus on that one email only until it is completed.
- Power Hour. After completing a few projects, set up another power hour to get through any new messages since the last power hour in the same way.
- Out of Office. Use your out-of-office reply to manage expectations to those people who are emailing you. If you’re going to be in appointments for most of the morning or the day, then let people know so they don’t keep sending you reminder messages about the email they sent. I also use it just to say that my inbox is stuffed and that I’ll get back to them probably the next day or 2 and not to forward the message to anyone else if that timeline is okay. You don’t want to duplicate the work around the office and have your paralegal come back to you about whether you’ve already answered.
There are also some new tips and applications in Outlook that help with sorting out email and saving time, like saving templated emails that you use all the time (like with new client inquiries). We’re trying new things all the time to tackle this beast of a box.
-Elizabeth Mah, Vancouver (Elizabeth@papercliplaw.com).