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Get a little bit more out of your email

By Joshua Poje
ABA Legal Technology Resource Center

Most of us spend an enormous amount of our time at the office each day wrestling with email. We use it to communicate with colleagues, clients and the court; we use it to collaborate on documents; we assign, track and complete tasks in email; we even use it as a repository for our research and in-draft writing projects.

With so much time spent in our email applications, finding a way to simplify a process here and there or tweaking our productivity methods can lead to real time savings and improved efficiency. Here are two quick tips to get you started:

Email folders as productivity tools

We tend to look at email folders primarily as organizational tools. Depending on your personal preference or firm policy, you may have folders for each client or matter, for special projects or internal working groups, or you may even have folders arranged to mirror an existing paper file system.

But email folders can also serve as incredibly simple and effective productivity tools. Here are a few examples:

  • Monday and Friday. When you have a busy schedule, it’s natural to read a less-than-urgent email and think to yourself: I’ll come back to that before the end of the week, or I’ll take care of that on Monday. But within a few hours the email is buried under a pile of fresh messages and the chances you’ll forget skyrocket. Solution? Create folders Monday and Friday and sort the less urgent emails accordingly. When the day arrives, do not let yourself leave the office until that folder is empty. Block off an hour on your calendar on the corresponding day to make sure you have time to take care of the old messages.

  • Waiting. If you’re sending out an email that requires some kind of response — feedback on a draft, an answer to a question, confirmation that something has been completed — CC or BCC yourself on the message and then move the copy you receive into the _Waiting folder. Take a few minutes each morning or afternoon to run through the folder so you can keep track of your outstanding requests and follow up as necessary.

  • Reference. If there are emails you find yourself returning to regularly, like an email with a list of important phone numbers or email addresses, consider moving them into a Reference folder where you’ll be able to find them more easily. Block off 30 minutes on your calendar every couple months to quickly scan through the folder and delete or refile anything you find you’re no longer using regularly.

And if you’re wondering why there’s an underscore before the folder names, the reason is simple: Because folders are sorted alphabetically by default in most email clients, the underscore will move them to the top of the list.

Email shortcuts

Chances are good that the bulk of the email you send each week goes to a handful of the same people — your assistant, a partner, your spouse and so forth. The time you spend creating each email and addressing it can add up, and each new message becomes an opportunity to inadvertently type in the wrong email address.

Email shortcuts are an easy way to save a few seconds and cut down on the risk of a misdirected email. An email shortcut is an icon on your desktop that, when double-clicked, will automatically open up your email client and address a new email to a pre-set person. For example, you might have a shortcut on your desktop that says “Email John Doe” and when you click on it, it’ll open and address an email to john.doe@example.com.

Setting up these shortcuts is fairly easy:

On Windows:

  • Right-click on your desktop and choose New > Shortcut.
  • A “Create Shortcut” dialogue box will open. In the text field, type mailto: followed by the email address. For example, you could type mailto:john.doe@example.com
  • Click Next and give the shortcut a descriptive name like “Email John Doe.”
  • Click Finish. Your new shortcut should be ready to use.

On Mac OS X:

  • Locate the Automator app in your Applications folder and open it.
  • Choose the Application template from the list of template options.
  • In the Automator window, scroll through the far left column to locate the Mail app and select it.
  • In the list of actions in the middle column locate and select New Mail Message.
  • In the field to the right enter the intended recipient’s email address in the To field and otherwise customize the email template however you’d like.
  • Click the Run button to test your new action.
  • If every step works correctly, just save the new workflow. Be sure to change the File Format drop down in the save dialogue to Application. You should now have an application that’ll automatically address your emails.

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