Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Email Survival

I was going to title this post "Email Management", but I realized that I do not find myself even near an "email management" status; I'm simply trying to survive. I would like to know how the community is dealing with their emails these days. I am not doing well.

At my former firm (KDW) when email first began to become prominent, the lawyers were very careful about publishing their email addresses. For example, a client would ask a lawyer's secretary for the boss's email address, and the secretary said "she [or he] would check", and not give it out without permission. An email address was treated something like a cellphone number is now treated (or itself used to be treated).

Now our email addresses are printed on our business cards and stationary. They are better known than our mailing addresses and telephone numbers. They tumble in, not mediated by receptionists, mail room clerks, and secretaries. They come in without any priority except the time of receipt. Nowadays, they come in with a receipt feature, so the sender will know if and when I opened it, and I would not be able to duck it by using "my spam filter ate your email" white lie. (Anyway, we are criticized for not reviewing what our spam filter eats.) Not that I would use such a lie, of course.

I have started using Outlook "rules" to try to herd some of this stuff. I have tried telling people who are not clients to use my home email, and that's very often ignored.

Macon told me that he has (or is thinking about) an automatic response that says something like "I'll get back to you within 24 hours". I am thinking about "I'll get back to you in about 24 weeks".

I would appreciate suggestions and links to advice on managing this mixed blessing of email. I suggest we label such posts "email survival".

Don't send me an email on this. Just post something.


robert austell said...


In a number of business (and church) settings, the secretary does filter e-mails. At your office, this would require several things, of course, including re-assignment of e-mail, consideration of privacy (also a consideration at churches), and a filtering plan with the secretary. But, this is not unlike phone filtering. It might mean re-doing cards with a generic address, with a note to indicate "att: paul stokes" and that it would be received by an administrative secretary. (I know there's only so much room on a card). But, that's the kind of direction that comes to mind.

Clients and former clients might then be given your "direct" work e-mail. It might even then be appropriate to have some billable amount assigned to usage of that address to address re-use by former clients. (What happens if you spend a half-hour on your home phone with a client?).

It would also be relatively easy to enter clients into a 'rule' to send their e-mails into a specific inbox folder. I use a white list approach to my inbox... it takes about 10 sec. to manually add someone... I review the spam folder once a day and can quickly (< 1min) recognize the legitimate addresses.

My two or three cents...

Sean Meade said...

no great suggestions, but good question and you have my sympathies.

the orthodoxy is:

for my part, i'm having success with a few labels and stars, the good old 2 minute GTD rule, and trying to handle email as few times as possible.

but my job probably lends itself to living out of my inbox(es) more than yours

Scott said...

Personally, I wouldn't want an auto-reply that says when you'll get back to me. That just adds to the clutter.

I create various "personal folders" in Outlook and move emails accordingly. I flag items for follow-up and move non-important (e.g. e-newsletters) to a holding file so as to keep my inbox cleaner. I also use 'rules' that color code emails from certain senders (e.g. my boss).

If nothing else works, then "delete-all" at the end of each day. :)

Paul Stokes said...

Those are all great suggestions. Thank you. The "delete all" at the end of the day is really tempting, but the idea of having one's secretary screen the emails is also another "global" sort of solution that I have been thinking of, and Robert's comment is encouraging. I will keep you posted. Thanks again.