General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter


Polymailaphobia is Curable

By jennifer j. rose

More than 800 messages flood my mailbox daily, but the torrent is far easier to manage than eight pieces of paper. Why? Those messages are e-mail, the easiest form of correspondence to manage. I’m floored by complaints that 20 messages make an avalanche. Most folks don’t get hot and bothered when yet another Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes offer is nestled among letters from clients, clerks, and lawyers, and toss the detritus with nary a second thought. They’ve learned to spot bulk-rate items, set aside alumni bulletins and Greenpeace solicitations for later perusal, cherry-picking what’s important. Those same techniques of sorting, stashing, trashing, and saving for later can be applied to e-mail. An e-mail may not be useful for stoking up a woodstove or lining the birdcage, but it’s far easier to manage than paper with a few simple rules.

1. Never commingle office mail with personal e-mail. You already know the rules about mixing up clients’ money with your own, and you wouldn’t dream of using the same phone line for office, home and pleasure. Establish separate e-mail addresses for the office, friends, and mailing lists. An extra e-mail address costs little to nothing from your regular Internet Service Provider. AOL users can create five accounts for the price of one. Among the free Web-based e-mail accounts are Hotmail (, JusticeMail (,MailCity (, and Yahoo Mail (www.

2. Make your e-mail program do more than receive, read, and respond. Limit the size of downloads to 40K and trim waiting time for mail retrieval, even if it means that Cousin Jasper’s vacation pics may have to sit on the server. Folders and mailboxes create a nifty filing scheme, and filtering deposits incoming and outgoing mail just where you want it. Finely tuned filters can identify incoming and outgoing mail by the sender’s name, a header, or certain words contained in the subject line. Eudora Pro 4 and Pegasus are the strongest and easiest-to-master e-mail programs.

3. Consider using multiple e-mail clients, as well as separate servers. Eudora, Netscape, MS Mail, and Pegasus all can run simultaneously, segregating business from personal mail.

4. Stifle the urge to open, read, and answer within nanoseconds each precious message that flashes onto your monitor. The excitement of that very first e-mail message addressed to you should be over by now. Surely you don’t rip open that VISA bill the very minute it’s deposited in your snail mailbox, write out a check, and race to the nearest USPS mail facility to mail it, do you? Just as the latest issue of Vanity Fair might be saved for future enjoyment, e-mail has a shelf life. Determine which messages have timely import and which are best perused at leisure. Create a mailbox marked “Later” to stash those messages, cleaning out that box every two weeks in one fell swoop.

5. E-mail doesn’t assume a greater importance or urgency just because it’s delivered electronically. Not every message warrants reading. It’s perfectly all right to delete messages without reading them verbatim. After all, who reads every single word of MCI’s snail-mailed offer of 5,000 OnePass miles? A single glance, and into the wastebasket it goes. If the subject line bodes no possible interest, hit the delete key.

6. Stay out of the loop. Remaining online while you’re reading, responding, and downloading is a sure-fire way to kill time. While few of us sit in front of a USPS mailbox waiting like Pavlov’s dog for a letter, many of us are as anxious about incoming e-mail as a college freshman waiting for her boyfriend’stelephone call.

7. Establish a routine. Some people check e-mail every hour on the hour, even getting up in the middle of the night to do so, but you don’t have to. Set aside specific times to tend to e-mail, or while you’re waiting for a client, put that dead time to good use.

jennifer j. rose is a lawyer-writer in Morelia, Mexico, who once went for 48 consecutive hours without checking her e-mail at



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