Tips For E-Mail Management

Years ago, before e-mails were the perennial form of communication they are now, lawyers didn’t have to worry about filing e-mails. They didn’t have to worry too much about document management—office staff usually took care of that. And e-mail hadn’t hit law yet.   How far back are we talking?  In the ‘60’s is when e-mails first started invading our consciousness. Back then, the ARPANET computer network based on “packet switching” (which is basically what’s still used today) relied on phone lines and had no “@” symbol.  It wasn’t until 1988 that the first authorized use of commercial e-mail on the Internet came to be.

Since then, of course, as we’ve become more complicated we’ve become more efficient. All except for the way in which we manage our e-mails, that is.

What exactly does e-mail management mean?  It means deciding what you’re going to do with a message: ie., file it in its appropriate folder; forward it, delete it, etc.   In this manner, you are able to keep track of the timeline and content of your communications.

But as professionals have  all turned into talented  multi-taskers….able to to send and receive hundreds of messages per day…the sheer volume of material has threatened to clutter up that very system of organization, rendering it virtually useless.

Fear not:  there are tools…and tips…that can come to our rescue.

For instance, The Thoughtful Blogger has discovered a way that your e-mail client can “guess” at which file to insert e-mails in, and do so with one click.  You have to be using Microsoft Outlook, and the app isn’t free, but according to David J. Bilinsky, it’s well worth switching your e-mail client if necessary and spending a few bucks to SimplyFile.

Yes, that’s the catchy name:  SimplyFile.  (Bilinsky also mentions other software programs that act as your e-mail management tools, one that will help you detach attachments and two that will make the most of your Adobe Acrobat downloads.)  Now back to SimplyFile. You’ve got to install the plug-in–go to http://www.techhit.com/– and set it up but, “one click later”, says Bilinsky, your e-mails are filed.

In the author’s own words:

“SimplyFile is undoubtedly the best tool I have found for helping with email. It is an Intelligent Filing Assistant for Microsoft Outlook. Once you install the plug-in for Outlook, SimplyFile ‘guesses’ the folder that an email should go. One click later – and it is filed. It does the same for outgoing emails too – which ensures that all your emails – both incoming and outgoing – are in the correct client folder in Outlook. No more searching in ‘Sent’ to try to find an email that you did on a client file. This filing ability vastly speeds up handling the email avalanche!”

Another lawyer-blogger, Legal Ease’s Allison C. Shields, reminds us that, for free, you can create folders, rules and filters for incoming messages.  (Outlook Express also has a feature, under View, where you can group messages by conversation.)   Shields has compiled a comprehensive list of lawyer’s blogs which give suggestions on e-mail management. One of her own how-to’s:  you must delete as much, and as soon, as you possibly can.  After that, forward messages whenever it’s feasible.

Finally, it may be time to realize that, every time you check your e-mail without taking any action, you’re wasting time.  You’ll only check again later, and again and again…until that inevitable and unwelcome occasion when your Inbox and Sent e-mail directories are so clogged you HAVE to put everything else aside and spend an hour or so cleaning up your e-mails.

Says Shields: “Unless you frequently get urgent emails from clients (be honest about this – how many of your emails are truly urgent and require an immediate response?), don’t start your day by reviewing your email, and don’t look at email constantly throughout the day. If you’re waiting for a particular email, don’t get caught up in answering all of your email or reading less urgent email over and over during the day – skim for the urgent email or the one you’re waiting for [,] and move on.”

One of Legal Ease’s readers made the following observation “Attorneys often ‘check’ email. If you are a hockey fan, ‘checking’ means impeding progress towards the goal. It can mean many other things but typically isn’t associated with an ACTION. Processing email is a skill which can be taught.”

To learn about ARPANET’s beginnings, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARPANET   And here:   http://wiki.answers.com/Q/When_did_email_start_reaching_american_homes

Graphic courtesy of David J. Bilinsky’s “Thoughtful Legal Management”

-EM

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