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Email management – step 2: get ready to act

By January 26, 2011websites

My last post on email management generated some good backchannel discussion. My friend—and legal-tech consultant—Craig Bayer posted his methodology over here. Great information, for sure. And Ben Schorr, another tech consultant, posted his thoughts here. What's interesting about these various posts is that, while they differ slightly in approach, everyone's system focuses on getting things out the in-box.

Believe it or not, there are lawyers out there who keep every email they ever received in their in-box. This is not a good strategy, for lots of reasons.

So, back to our discussion. As I said, the first thing I do each morning (and periodically during the day) is to delete emails that I don't need to keep or act on. During this process I don't do anything other than delete. It makes me feel good, and it's easy to do.

Once I've deleted useless emails, I go back and flag emails that I plan to act on during the day. A flag means (to me) that responding will require some effort, or that I don't want to answer the email right away. I try to give thoughtful responses to my emails, and this is one way I increase the chances of doing that.

After I've flagged the emails I need to respond to later (or that need some other action), I turn to the emails that can be dealt with quickly. I work my way down the inbox, responding to those emails. Again, the fact that these all are dealt with quickly lets me build up momentum. If you want to be efficient it's best to learn how to “batch process,” which means to do similar tasks at the same time.

After I've responded to those emails, I file the emails that need filing. Then I scan the flagged emails to see if there are any in there that I'm now motivated to deal with. Usually, though, I take a break from email and turn to something else.

At the end of the day, I check my flagged emails to see if any are left. Sometimes I'm waiting on information to be able to respond so it's not unusual to have some flagged emails left over.

Anyone else have any tips they'd like to share about how they process their email?

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  • Cass Tyson says:

    Looking for productivity enhancers, and found this. I swear, if I ever get so many emails I have to flag them at first pass then go through them a second time…well, I think that’s just too many darn emails.

    Mine are set to go direct to archive on reading. Anything not read or deleted or dealt with by the end of the day just gets marked as read and archived anyway.

  • I flag the items I defer and usually add a reminder time and date as well. Lately, I’ve taken to dragging emails to the Task bar to create a new Task when the email requires further action. I also recently started saving emails in a Folder marked “Email” in the client’s file folder on the server. Let’s face “search” in Outlook doesn’t work well anyway. It will be easier to find emails saved with the client’s other documents and information.

  • Terry Carter says:

    The key is the kind of triage you’re talking about. Get it in, prioritize it, deal with it ASAN (N=necessary, rather than P for “possible.”) And I must admit to using Gmail a lot for storage, meaning bunches and bunches of labels. With that I’m probably a bit of a hoarder, to your way of thinking about this.But for me personally, I’ve found that remaining relatively non-useful and unimportant to the rest of the world, along with spam filtering, has helped a lot in keeping my inbox manageable.I hope you don’t take that tack. I like your work too much.

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