Email. It brings every lawyer their daily news, missives from clients, correspondence from associates, words from partners, and all that other “fun” stuff. And many people think of their work as…well…answering email. “Hey,” you say, “I responded to 75 messages today! I got so much done!”
You didn’t. While you were wasting your day with email, responding to every message as it came in, everything else piled up, didn’t it? What if you could just…well…stop reading it? “Impossible,” you say. “I need email! It’s how everything gets done!”
Here’s a small secret: Stop worrying about email. A very well regarded technique (one discussed in numerous books and sites about personal efficiency) is to answer email no more than twice a day, such as at 11AM and 4PM. This technique has a real name, by the way. It’s called “Email Batching,” and the hardest part of the technique is following your own rule – checking only twice (or even once!) a day. Otherwise, focus on your other tasks. You’ll find that (a) you get more done and (b) no one is going to notice. This will keep you from having “email conversations” – the one line emails back and forth, often with little to no point – and it will force you to focus and respond to your real tasks.
The question then becomes “well, what if someone really really really needs my attention?” They very likely will call you. Honestly! If there’s something so pressing that an immediate response is necessary, if you don’t respond immediately, the sender will probably be able to call you and let you know of a genuine emergency. Some users put up an auto-responder that informs the sender that the recipient only checks mail at certain times; you’ll have to decide if this is right for you. For example, you could automatically respond to emails with the following:
Due to my current workload I am only checking email at 11am and 4pm. If you need anything immediately please call me so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!
The proof of this really is in the pudding. A friend of mine – an associate at a large Philadelphia-based law firm – recently began using this technique after I told her that it was impossible to talk with her as she kept getting emails (she told me that she received over 200 messages a day). I suggested “email batching,” and she agreed to give it a go, switching off her notifications and only checking her email twice a day. Within a week, she told me that some of the partners noticed that her work-product had improved significantly – and not a single person, in the two months she’s been “batching,” has mentioned the fact that she only responds twice a day. (In fact, even without using an auto-responder, she found that people started calling her when they needed her help instead.)
If you get yourself on a strict, low-email diet, focusing on your output rather than your input, I think your clients, colleagues, and your time off will all thank you.
Jerry Levine is an attorney, social media evangelist, technologist, and all-around awesome guy. He consults with FSRDG (www.fsrdg.com), a legal technology, eDiscovery, and investment firm; founded NetworkEsq. to speak about social media and social networking, and edits the Journal of Legal Technology Risk Management (www.ltrm.org), as well as few other concepts that are still brewing. Outside of law, Jerry likes food, brewing his own beer, playing with his Wii, and has two cats – Lo Mein & Yakineko. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on the web at jerrylevine.com, and is @jerry_levine on twitter.