(And the Rest of Us!)
From Scott’s Article in the "The Bottom Line", Official Publication of The State Bar of California:
1. Don’t let email control you
The inherent instant gratification of clearing your inbox provides a brief feeling of accomplishment, but it’s really not productive. Doing email is just one part of work. Determine how much time you want to spend in your inbox on a given day and don’t exceed it. When you first open your inbox in the morning, star/flag emails that must be dealt with today, but make sure to focus on your work priorities first before diving into your Inbox.
Dedicate 30 minute blocks every 2 hours to staying on top of email. If you need more time, make it 45 minute blocks, but it’s critical to not let your Inbox control you.
2. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
When you do make it to your Inbox, it’s key to remember that not all emails are created equal. Most email clients give each email the same amount of real estate on the screen. Flags, stars and other prioritization signals help, but it’s hard for our brain to discriminate. This creates a tendency to give each email the same amount of attention upfront. In reality not all emails are created equal. Some need to be read and responded to right away (these are your urgent client inquiries and new client opportunities). Some can wait until you’re done with important priorities (smaller or low probability deals). Others should be archived or deleted in bulk.
This means that some emails will never be responded to, and that’s OK in the world of limited time and resources. Start with your top opportunities, and make sure you dedicate enough time to them. Even if you don’t get to the smaller stuff, you’ll feel great that you went after your top leads and gave them your best.
3. Create a system
Folders are vital to the success of any email processor, but it’s a losing situation if they aren’t utilized correctly. Make sure each folder has a distinct purpose and has a relevant title. If you aren’t using a folder delete it.
Filters are just as critical. You can create manual filters in Gmail or Outlook, or use automatic intelligent tools like SaneBox.com, which automatically filter out unimportant emails.
4. Be Decisive When checking your email decide what to do with each email immediately:
- Respond if it’s absolutely necessary or takes less than two minutes
- Delete it
- Archive it
- Defer it and respond later
- Develop of plan of action from the email
This approach is called Inbox Zero, and has become a popular email management method. It prevents looking at the same email twice, which is one of the greatest time wasters (and something we are all guilty of)!
5. Turn Off your Email Notification
Having a notification flagging you every three minutes is a constant distraction and instantly disengages you from your important work at hand. Turn off the on-screen alert, any sound notifications, and finally the flashing icons at the bottom of the screen. This will allow you to stay focused on your important, time sensitive projects.
6. Use email tools
While everyone complains about email overload, few realize there are a number of excellent tools to make things better. Some of my favorites are:
Rapportive – shows you everything about your contact right inside your Inbox
Awayfind – sends you SMS notifications when you get an email from important senders, so you don’t have to keep checking your Inbox
ToutApp – offers templates and helps you track open rates on emails you send
SaneBox – filters out and summarizes unimportant emails. It has lots of other tools, such as reminders when an email you sent was not replied to by a certain time.
Schedule some quiet time after hours to review these strategies and see how they might help you improve your overall productivity in your practice.
Your clients expect you to get back to them quickly. And while this is an admirable goal, your overall work strategy needs to be sustainable long term to maintain a healthy work/life balance.