My Mailbox, My Enemy...

Mariana Fradman, MBA
January 20, 2014 — 1,693 views  
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My enemy?  Oh yes.  I am not talking about my good ole’ mailbox that sits next to my computer on my desk, nor the one that is a permanent fixture on the front wall of my humble abode. Those are easy to manage: I open an envelope, I toss unwanted catalogs out, I pay my bills (or, if in the office, send invoices to a responsible party or forward them to the billing coordinator), I respond to letters or mark them “to do” and file documents and — I am done.

The enemy I am referring to is that dreaded “invisible” mailbox that hosts my e-mails. You know the one!  How many e-mails per day do I receive? How many of them are important? How many mailboxes do I manage on any given day?  These are just a few of the questions that lead me to declare that “my mailbox is my enemy.” 

Let’s count my mailboxes.  There’s my work account, [email protected], [email protected], every official mailbox on NYCPA’s account that is not assigned to a leader on our team (yes, we have plenty of vacant positions and are looking for leaders to join us and take that job from my list), LinkedIn, my personal account…did I forget anything? Yes, I also have a hobby – I knit and hold a separate e-mail account for contacts related to my knitting projects…so, how many e-mails do I deal with every day?  It’s mind-boggling.

I realigned my priorities a long time ago. My personal account and, unfortunately, the knitting account, fall on the low end of the priority spectrum. I now check them once a week…before I did it almost daily…but that was before…in a time long, long ago. 

So how can you prevail over your enemy and be productive? My advice: conquer and divide. Here are a few tips that I have learned over the past few years.  Some of them you may already use, but I hope you’ll learn at least one or two new tricks for maintaining your inbox insanity.

Disclaimer: as I don’t know which software you use, my tips are general in nature. However, I believe that by applying and modifying them, you will be able to “clear” your mailbox pretty darn fast:

Get on top of your inbox, not to the bottom!

Create folders for the following: “Urgent,” “Today,” and “File.”  Your “Delete” folder is a part of your e-mail system already, so there is no reason to create it. 

Scan your incoming e-mails and file them into the subfolders right away. (By the way, my “File” folder has many offspring, as I create a separate sub folder for every matter I work on. As a result, each e-mail finds its “home” right away, so that in the event I need to refer to it, I don’t need to search my entire mailbox to find it).

Delete all junk e-mails right away! How many times you have told yourself “I will read it later” just to find that e-mail sitting in your mailbox a month or two later? If you can’t file it in one of your three main folders right away, chances are you won’t read or use it later either.  Do yourself a favor and hit “delete.”

If you feel that an e-mail contains information that you will need at a later time – file it accordingly, but set up a reminder on your calendar and review it at the specified time.  If you find that you don’t need it three days or a week later, promptly delete it!

Respond to each “urgent” email from your supervising attorney, case manager or co-worker with an acknowledgment. The simple “Got it” or “Will do” will cut off any reminders and follow-ups. But if you said, “will do” – do it! If an e-mail asks for action – calendar and file it. Yes, you just created a new item on your to-do-list, but you will clear your mailbox as well.  In addition, when you calendar the task, don’t forget to assign a reminder when the task will need your attention. The main point here is: don’t “delay” your reminders. Give yourself enough time to respond to the task and check it off as soon as it is done.

If your response will be as short as “thank you,” this email can’t be called “urgent” and could be sent at the end of the day. There are two reasons as to why it was flagged as “urgent”: the sender responded to another email and didn’t check off the flag or the sender considers all her emails to be urgent in nature (yes, we know some people like this one, don’t we?) Keep this e-mail in your “Today” folder and make sure that you empty that folder by the end of the day. By the way, “thank you” e-mails can take a lot of your time, but if you send them all at once, you are (again!) cleaning your mailbox and won’t be doing it at the same time as you are trying to concentrate on more important tasks.

The tip above brings me to another one: time designation to e-mails that are not labeled “urgent.” Designate your e-mails a particular time of day when you can read them all uninterrupted and respond to them accordingly. For me, first thing in the morning, a few minutes right after I take my lunch break and before the end of my day, works the best. What time will work best for you? Many people constantly feel starved for time, but if you create a ritual, you may find that you accomplished tasks more carefully and productively and your mailbox will shrink in no time. I guarantee it!

Be clear in your new messages and responses. Make sure that you cover all the bases to avoid unnecessary back and forth e-mail exhanges.

Change your subject line if you are changing the course of an e-mail. This won’t only bring a new string of e-mails, but will help you to follow the conversation and file it appropriately.

Refrain from sending forwards unless e-mail needs to be brought to the attention of other people.  AND don’t hit “Reply to All” ALL the time. Really!  With one click of your mouse, you create unnecessary e-mails that clutter everyone’s mailbox.


Mariana Fradman, MBA

The Paralegal Society