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E-mail Management

I’m a generally organized person. I keep binders, folders and redwells of all of my cases, projects, blog ideas, and even reading lists. I have one major deficiency, though.


It is my nemesis. Don’t get me wrong—I like e-mail’s functionality. The fax machine is an antiquated device, basically useless compared to the quick and instantaneous e-mail. I can’t believe people still use them. E-mail is preferable to the telephone—it is quick, to the point, and you are only limited by how quickly you can read. For telephone conversations, you have so much chit-chat that you are really just wasting time with every call.

The problem with e-mail in my life is simply a matter of organization. As of this moment, I have 2,138 e-mails in my inbox. There is no way for me to know the majority of what is in there. Here is a rough approximation of my ever-evolving system of dealing with the e-mails:

May, 2003: First law job as a law clerk. Issued firm e-mail account. Used it for pretty much everything—work and personal life. Linked case-related e-mails to Time Matters, our case management system, with about 70% efficiency. The other 30%, along with random e-mails that did not relate to specific cases, were sporadically deleted, but mostly just filled the inbox.

December, 2003: Admitted as an attorney. Stayed with the same firm. E-mail habits did not change, but e-mail volume increased exponentially.

June, 2004: E-mail getting wildly out of control. Only linked the very most important e-mails to the case management system, and frequently missed others because of volume and prioritizing “actual work” instead of e-mail organization.

July, 2004: Approximately 2,500 e-mails in inbox. Started making better use of Outlook’s folder system, sorting things in various piles by project. Also, started archiving old e-mails—I knew I wasn’t going to link them, at this point.

December, 2004: Over 5,000 e-mails in inbox. Every time that annoying reminder to archive e-mails pops up, I ignore it. I don’t want the e-mails to be archived, because I might need to search for them now. Folders only used sporadically. Spent two days linking and deleting e-mails. Can go through about 30 e-mails a minute. Inbox reduced to 1,800. Pledge to spend one day a month doing this. It was an empty pledge.

April, 2009: Something like 9,000 e-mails in inbox. Just scared of them, at this point. But, switching firms. Boss tells me that they can’t be that important, and I shouldn’t worry about it. All archived, just in case they are ever needed for legal malpractice claim. Still feel a little guilty about it.

May, 2009: New law firm. Pledge to be better with e-mail. Start using Gmail for personal e-mails.

June, 2009: 500 e-mails in inbox. Back to the folder system. Trying to do better linking e-mails as they come in, with mild success.

September, 2009: At the end of every month, all of that month’s e-mails go into a new folder. I go through them all, create a To Do list, and delete or link the e-mails. It’s a big list, even for only September.

October, 2009: Discover Microsoft OneNote. Has an easy button.  I click, it sends a copy of the e-mail to OneNote, and I keep the ones I need to address in a separate list. Do this once a month. Hopeful that it helps my problem.

I really enjoy Google’s Gmail—you don’t have to delete anything (they actually encourage you to just save it all). It’s liberating. But, I’m still a slave to the office e-mail. The key, of course, is to keep up with it. But, a trial one week, big research project the next week, and I’m already behind. My ultimate goal—less than 500 e-mails in the in-box at any given time. If I ever reach the goal, I’ll let you know…

BTW: 15 minutes to write this blog. An additional 53 e-mails in my in-box.