Once a month, I send out an email to the folks who subscribe to my email list. A few months ago, I noticed a particular auto-responder that I got from one of the lawyers who subscribes to the list:
I only check my email twice each day. My goal is to reply to yours within one business day of receipt. If you need a quicker reply, please contact my office manager at [email address].
If you are a client please log into MyCase using your login credentials and send me a message there, and please remember to copy the paralegal assigned to your matter when you do! Client messages within MyCase receive higher priorities than email.
I was intrigued by this. But it wasn’t until I was listening to Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek in which he discusses email batching that I decided to look into the idea further. One aspect of doing so was reaching out to the lawyer, Merrianne Dean, whose email auto-responder had first piqued my interest.
Email Batching with Merrianne Dean
JWR: Where did you learn about batching tasks, and specifically emails? How long have you been batching tasks?
MD: I don’t recall exactly when this idea first caught my eye. It’s a recurring theme in many of the articles I’ve read related to increasing efficiency.
JWR: Other than emails, what other tasks do you batch?
MD: I try to batch my phone calls and meetings in the late afternoon as much as possible. My ability to engage in creative writing plummets around that time. My ability to talk with others on the phone or in meetings is the best use of my time later in the day.
JWR: What caused you to want to give batching emails a try?
MD: It became obvious to me that responding to emails, texts and phone calls at the time they initially appear is a serious disruption to my thought processes and my ability to stay focused on completing the other work a lawyer needs to do to serve her clients. I’d seen the articles I mentioned above and decided something had to change.
JWR: Has email batching had the intended effect on your work?
JWR: Have you had any response to your email message about checking emails twice daily from clients or opposing counsel?
MD: So far, it’s all been positive – usually the response is that the other person is going to try the same technique in their own practice.
We use a cloud based practice management service called MyCase and all of our client communications occur within that environment which ensures that the conversations all stay in one location for easy reference – instead of digging through a full email box or taking the time to set up a series of “rules” to move client emails to sub folders. I encourage anyone who hasn’t tried one of these services to check them out – there are at least 4 main contenders that each have slightly different features so it shouldn’t be difficult to find one you and, more importantly, your clients like.
JWR: How has batching effected your productivity and efficiency?
MD: As you might imagine, from my comments above, it’s improved both areas of focus.
JWR: Have you experienced any negative consequences from batching emails?
MD: Not so far. It’s kind of a no-brainer once you give it a try.
JWR: What recommendations or advice would you have for others who either want to learn more about batching tasks or who want to implement such a system?
MD: Come on in, the water’s fine. Pick a logical time for accomplishing batched tasks and block that time in your calendar – as a reminder to you, when you’re getting used to the change, and to ensure your staff don’t try to schedule appointments or meetings during those time blocks. Also, remember to stay flexible – sometimes you’re going to need to deviate.
JWR: What would you say to people like me who are interested in batching emails and only checking our inboxes once or twice per day, but are scared or reluctant to pull the trigger?
MD: See my comments above. Just do it. If it doesn’t work for you, there’s obviously no reason you can’t do something different. Not being immediately available to the hoards of people who would like you to be at their beck and call is freeing. Ideally, we work at whatever job we do because we enjoy the work. If responding to emails, texts and phone calls isn’t part of what gives you joy, or interferes with your ability to do the work that gives you joy, it’s up to you to control it.
Another aspect of controlling your work environment is to make sure clients and opposing counsel know that you are NOT available evenings and weekends. I’ve declined work when the client insists on being able to communicate 24/7. Really, there is nothing I can do outside of regular business hours that will benefit my clients or their cases that isn’t better done during regular business hours. The single exception to this is during trial, when it’s often necessary to work into the evening or on weekends to prepare for the next trial day.
Do you need to increase your productivity? Consider batching your emails and other tasks to squeeze more work out of your day without increasing the time you spend working. I know that I’m going to put some more thought and research into the topic to determine how best to implement task batching systems.
Artwork by Card Karma.