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Getting Control of Email Glut on a Monday Morning/Afternoon

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2009   Had a -first-thing-Monday-morning appointment in Portland, Oregon. Rain-swollen streets made me look forward to getting into my dry office in Tigard. Until I fired up my computer and saw 399 unread emails waiting for me. Email glut on gray Monday morning is especially dreary. I know that a big chunck of the email to be reviewed isn’t timely, concise, or directed. Getting control of email glut is a priority. Luckily, I read a good book over the weekend, “The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before it Manages You,” by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey and Tim Burress. It’s an easy read, much like the “One Minute Manager” series by Ken Blanchard I read in the 80’s.

There are compelling reasons to get control over email glut. The book early on walks you through a math exercise. I share my results with you. I hope you do the math exercise with your own numbers to get “Getting Control of Email Glut” moved up on your priority list.

First, you want to look at your email in box and out box to come up with average daily number of emails processed.
Second, you want to multiply this by the number of annual work days, say 240, to get the total number of emails.
Third, you want to estimate the average amount of time spent on a single email, say 2 minutes, and multiply by number of emails to get total minutes spent processing emails.
Fourth, you want to divide total minutes by 60 to get total hours.
Fifth, you want to divide total hours by 8 to get total work days spent processing emails.

1. Average Number of Daily Emails: 200

2. Total Number of Emails in Year: 48000 (daily emails times 240 –or work days in year)

3. Total Time in Minutes to Process Yearly Emails: 96000 (Total number emails times 2 min or average time to process 1 email)

4. Total Hours Spent a Year Processing Emails: 1600 (Total number minutes divided by 60 equals hours spent)

5. Total 8-hour Work Days Devoted to Processing Emails: 200 (Total Hours divided by 8 hours equals workdays spent) 200 work days? 40 weeks? No wonder we eat lunch while processing email, process email from home in the evenings and weekends, drag laptops on vacations, sneak peaks at iPhones, Blackberrys, and Palm Pres.

The premise behind the “Hamster Revolution” is straight-forward – reduce email volume, improve email quality, and coach others to send you email that is actionable. If you want a preview of the book, the company responsible for Hamster Revolutions, Info Excellence, provides a free look at chapters one through three on the tool section of their website.

How to reduce email volume? Well, a big start is to resist the urge to hit “Reply All” or needless “CC.” We all have joined at least one listserv which means we’ve seen the overuse of “Reply All” and likely have contributed to that overuse. At least once, right? But it certainly adds up, and now that you know how much time it adds up to for yourself, you’ll reconsider your busy colleagues before causing their email time meters to rocket into the email glut statosphere. Reducing the volume you send out reduces the volume you get back. Simple but true.

How to improve email quality? Think about your emails. Starting with the “Subject Line,” do you make it clear what your email’s topic is and more importantly, what you want the recipient to do? Is the body of your email message clear and concise, using bullets to help process items of information? Can your email’s reader quickly figure out what you are requesting or directing or confirming?

I am reminded of an ABA CLE I attended addressing what in house counsel need from their outside law firms. An in house counsel panelist said she would not read email messages beyond what appeared in her message screen. She couldn’t afford to take the time to scroll down. If you couldn’t inform her within that window, then you didn’t get to work with her.

Because lawyers are focused on clients, it is easy to take a client-focus approach to our outgoing email messages by thinking of our email recipients, who we’d like to be our email readers. Else why hit the “Send?”

For more ideas on taming your in box, see my article, “The E-mail Blizzard: Tips for taming your inbox,” in the Bar Bulletin April 2009.