October 01, 2015

TAPAs: Outfox Your Inbox

Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

This month’s tips are all about how you can outfox your inbox.

The first tip: Clean up your inbox.

To maintain a healthy inbox, you should focus on making quick decisions and pursuing immediate action when appropriate. You will perform a sort of triage to maximize the efficiency of your inbox. For starters, you should train yourself to follow the four D’s:

  • Delete it—when appropriate. Newsletters and advertisements can overwhelm your inbox and bury important messages. Clean out the clutter. Unsubscribe from receiving messages from specific senders if you no longer want to receive their missives or don’t have the time to read them. To make the unsubscribe process quick and painless, search your inbox for the term “unsubscribe.” Review the search results and determine whose emails you would continue to welcome and the missives you would prefer to live without.
  • Do it—If the action requested can be handled quickly, do it right then. When half the time of the task is reading the email to find out what is requested, why read it twice? Handle the action and move on. If the message does not require a response, archive it in a folder if you need to maintain the record, or delete it.
  • Delegate it—If the action requested is one that can and should be delegated, do so immediately upon review. Again, why read the message twice if you know the action is to simply forward it along?
  • Defer it—Action items that require some thought or preparation should be added to a “to do” list if you can address it immediately. Give enough details to understand deadlines or the priority of the matter. Make a habit of checking your to do list.

You should never let important emails sit in your inbox for days. Unless you are on vacation, you should strive to respond within 48 hours. If you find that you are unable to respond within that timeline, communicate to the sender that you received the message and will be in touch shortly. Set a deadline and follow up.

The second tip: Pump up your search power with Lookeen Free. Lookeen is an application that integrates directly into Outlook as an add-in and also acts as a separate program to search all of your windows files. Lookeen provides speedy, index-based searches from within and outside of Outlook. From within Outlook, you can type a word into Lookeen’s toolbar search field, then a new window will pop up with relevant emails, contacts, and appointments. The initial indexing process takes a bit of time so we do not recommend installing the application when you are in a rush. The faster searches are worth the wait on the front end though. The free version provides loads of features worth looking into, if you really love it, or if you have a more complex network of drives that you would like to apply search features to, then you may want to explore the Lookeen Standard or Enterprise editions. (Lookeen free is available at http://free.lookeen.com/download.html.)

The third tip: Soar ahead of the curve with Mail Pilot. Mail Pilot is a task-oriented email application for the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and the Apple Watch. Mail Pilot treats all emails as tasks, so instead of a message starting out “unread” it is labelled “incomplete.” When you are done with a message’s task, you check it off as complete, and just like you expect to happen with to-do lists, the message is then archived. If you cannot complete the task at that time, Mail Pilot allows you to set a reminder to address the task within the message, and the message then leaves your inbox. It will notify you when you need to address it. Mail Pilot 2 adds gesture-based interaction to the task-based email system for iOS.  

The fourth tip: Synchronize your inboxes with Mailbird. Mailbird is a desktop email client similar to Outlook Express or Thunderbird. It is a great email client for Gmail based users. Mailbird can manage a lot of Gmail accounts, without getting bogged down by the traffic. It does not have its own calendar system, but integrates with Google Calendar. If you are a Google Apps for business user, you will enjoy how company contacts and shared calendars connect seamlessly. Mailbird provides a series of apps that integrate into a variety of popular services such as Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, and Google Drive. Some of them, like Facebook, tie into your email to provide additional context to the contact on an email.

The fifth tip: Set aside time to read and respond to email. The first step here is to turn off notification from Outlook or whichever email client you use. Every time that notification box pops up at the corner of your screen it’s a distraction, an interruption of the mental flow you had going. Custom still dictates that if an immediate response is necessary, people will call you. They may email, then call you, but there are ways to get the point across, making instant desktop notification unnecessary. You can then block out time every day to spend processing email without interruption. Mark it on your calendar or notify staff not to disturb you during that time. Depending on your email work load, you may want multiple shorter time slots to process email so you can break it up throughout the day, maybe 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the late afternoon.

Once you get the hang of your email management routine, why not have a little fun with it? Check out The Email Game (an application that challenges you to get through your unanswered emails as quickly as possible. The more efficient you become, the more you will be able to maximize your time, and dedicate your attention to providing thoughtful, quality service to your clients.  

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Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is editor-in-chief of GPSolo Magazine and GPSolo eReport. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com. You may also get updated technology information from his blog: jallenlawtekblog.com. Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions, and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She maintains a diverse solo practice on the side. Ashley is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo Magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the ABA’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the Houston Young Lawyers Association, and the Houston Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport.