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Take Control of your Email Inbox (in 5 minutes or less)

by | Apr 13, 2023 | Productivity

Lawyers are guilty of sending and receiving more than their fair share of emails and I used to always worry that I would miss an important one. This post is about sharing a trick I came up with to take back control of my inbox. Hopefully, it’ll help you do the same thing.

I tried initially to create folders for each of my client files, but I quickly lost control after having a couple of days consumed by a trial. I tried flagging the important ones, but that also ended up not working. I tried employing David Allen’s Getting Things Done  approach, but that didn’t work either (I really like his paper filing method, but I couldn’t adapt it for the huge volume of emails I was receiving.)

Taking a step back, my greatest concern was that I would miss an email, so I wanted to design a system which made sure that I processed each message that came in.

My system is simple. I created four folders: “To do”, “To respond”, “Reference”, and “Storage”.

When I go through my email (and I try as much as possible to only go through my email once per hour to let myself focus on the task at hand without distraction), I can quickly put each email into one of these four folders.

  1. “To do” is for all action items. These are emails containing tasks to do. Once the task is complete or added to my task management software ClickUp, I then move it out of “To do” to “Storage”.
  2. “To respond” is for all emails that require a response. Once the response has been sent, I move it out of “To respond” to “Storage”.
  3. “Reference” is for all emails that I want to be able to find quickly or that I want to read later when I have some free time. Once again, once I no longer need to frequently refer to the email, I’ll move it to “Storage”.
  4. “Storage” is for everything else. With the large storage capacities of most email providers, there is no need anymore to delete emails, plus you may want to refer to an email in the future, so deleting emails is a bad idea anyway.

What is really nice about this system is that you can set it up right away. Simply drag all of the emails in your email inbox to “Storage” and then you are good to go to deal with all of your new new incoming messages.

Lose control of the system at any time, simply drag all of the emails in your inbox into “Storage” and your inbox is empty again.

Now, I hear you saying, “But what about processing all of the emails which I just plopped into ‘Storage’ at the beginning or after I lost control?” Well, go through them as you would otherwise, just now instead of them being in your inbox, they are now in “Storage”. You really are in no different of a situation than you were before setting up the system for those past emails (granted, you can now process them into your newly created folders if you like). However, moving forward, you can now be confident that you will process all of your incoming emails since your inbox has been decluttered.

What about folders or labels for each client, project, or assignment? Feel free to do so if you like, but know that you may end up “losing” emails through this filing exercise. With the speed at which searches can be done in your inbox, the time saved doesn’t justify the time spent to archive all of your emails into these different labels or email folders. I suggest instead that you create folders on some shared (or shareable) drive and create your project or client folders there, and then save copies of those emails into the right folder of the shared drive.

This way, it is easy to provide access to other team members to those emails, rather than having an organized system which no one else has access to since it’s only part of your email account. Once you get big enough, you might want to consider a document management service which can take care of the storage and categorization of emails for you.

With all of this, as you no longer have to be worried about missing emails, you can devote all of that otherwise wasted energy towards growing your business. Give it a shot, you have nothing to lose.

Matthew Meland

Matthew Meland

Lawyer at FFMP, entrepreneur, blogger

As a lawyer with a diversified civil and commercial law practice, I often work with start-ups and small businesses. On the side, I am involved in several businesses from education services to high-tech.


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