Power Processing Your E-mail – Q&A – Follow-up to RocketMatter Webinar

On February 18th, 2011, I delivered a Power Processing Your E-mail webinar to clients and subscribers of RocketMatterRocketMatter is an online legal practice management platform.  Larry Port, RocketMatter’s founder and CEO, had invited me to present to his clients and those interested in learning more about how to better manage e-mail via webinar and I was thrilled to oblige. 

The 60-minute, CLE-approved seminar was well attended and we ran right up against the 60 minutes leaving time to answer only a few questions.  However, Larry’s presentation platform was able to capture all the questions posed and this post consists of my responses to the many great questions raised during the webinar. 

Note, I’ve aggregated some of the questions by subject matter, so if you don’t see your exact question, please see if it’s been aggregated.  If not, please use the Comment section at the end of the post to re-ask your question and I’ll respond specifically to your inquiry.

Question #1:  How would you save an email that is “Trash,” but you want to keep it in the client’s file?

As you may recall, the QuietSpacing® method breaks everything we receive (physically or electronically) into one of four Categories of Stuff: Trash, Archive, Reference or Work.  When triaging your e-mail, the first thing to do is determine into which Category each e-mail fits.  Anything you want to keep in a client file fits into the Archive Category and is, therefore, not Trash.

Question #2:  Can QuietSpacng® be used with other e-mail programs, e.g., Mac Mail, Gmail (Google Apps), or Thunderbird?

Yes, QuietSpacing® is a methodology – a way of doing something, in this case, managing e-mail.  I demonstrated the use of QuietSpacing® for e-mail using Microsoft Outlook because, frankly, it’s the most robust e-mail client in the market and the vast majority of my clients use it.  However, as a methodology, the value of QuietSpacing® arises out of the ability to quickly determine what each e-mail “is” and how it must be handled.  Functionality varies in other programs, but my experience is that 80% or more of the underlying processing of e-mail via QuietSpacing® can be replicated. 

Question #3: Not everything requires a decision.  Many emails require research before a response can be generated.

Absolutely correct.  However, one of the primary benefits of QuietSpacing® is separating the Work (items requiring research before a response can be generated) from the “Closed” items – Trash, Archive and Reference (items requiring no additional effort other than filing).  Thus, any e-mail you open that requires additional effort before it is complete is Work and should be queued up for future effort.   Remember, right “now” we’re just getting through the batch of unread e-mails in our Inbox to allow us to de-clutter the playing field and accurately re-prioritze our workload accordingly.

Question #4: I see his Favorite Folders with WIP Action, WIP Pending, etc, but when he sets the flag and the reminder, where/when does he mark it as one of those categories such as Action, Awaiting Response, Pending, Reading?

During the training, we broke what is one fluid process into two steps for demonstration purposes.  Specifically, when batch processing through your unread e-mails, you will Categorize each e-mail (Trash, Archive, Reference, Work).  If it’s Trash, you will click the black “X” Delete icon.  If it’s Archive or Reference, you will click the Move To Folder icon (near the Delete icon) and file it in the appropriate folder. If it’s Work, you will click the For Follow Up red “Flag” icon, set a reminder date using the Due By drop down, then – if you wish – you can Move To Folder to a WIP_Folder (WIP_Action Items, WIP_Awaiting Response, WIP_Pending, or WIP_Reading). This last step sets the flag and moves the e-mail into a folder OUTSIDE of your Inbox. 

Note:  Moving e-mails to WIP_Folders is a Power User step that should ONLY be done after you are comfortable that you won’t forget to look in those folders periodically throughout the day.  Stated differently, I recommend that my clients just set the Flag for Follow Up and leave those Work e-mails in the Inbox at first.  This guarantees that you will see all of them when they turn red and pop into your Reminders Window.

Question #5: Is it better to use Cc or Bcc when sending copying yourself in on e-mails you send?

I recommend you use Cc or Bcc for all e-mail you send.  This DOES increase the amount of e-mail you receive, but it also guarantees that you get to handle the disposition of every e-mail in your workflow – including those you send to others that contain instructions or requests for action.  Another way to answer this question of “Why copy yourself on all e-mails you send?” is that if you do, you’ll never wish you had! 

Now, on with the specific question: I personally Cc myself rather than Bcc myself. The reason is that when you Cc yourself, others see that you are tracking this particular e-mail.  It’s my experience that when people know I’m following things, they tend to focus on them more.

Note: There are plugins for this behavior for Outlook and you can also write your own Rule for it in most e-mail programs.

Question #6: Why not just Flag e-mails for a reminder from the Sent Items folder?

This is an excellent alternative to Cc’ing or Bcc’ing yourself on the e-mail you send.  The only risk here is that you must remember to check your Sent Items folder regularly or risk missing something that may require your follow up.

Question #7: On turning off notices – People today (and especially clients) have come to expect quick response times.  Any thoughts on how dealing with the Inbox in batches affects that expectation?  (There was also a related question about teleworking and missing things from the office).

There is a fundamental misunderstanding that has developed with expectations and e-mail.  Candidly, there’s an entire book on this subject should I want to flog it that much.  But here’s the quick and dirty.  Getting alerted every time an e-mail hits your Inbox is a distraction from what you’re doing.  You WILL waste time between checking it and trying to get back in the groove on what you were working on just before that distracting e-mail pinged you.  I say WILL because I’ve timed it with clients and it’s generally about 4 seconds for EVERY e-mail that distracts you.  At 100 e-mails per day, that’s over 6.5 minutes a day or about 24 hours a year of lost productivity – 3 working days of much activity but no productivity!

That’s the bad news (alerts cause tremendous loss of productivity).  Here’s the good news – by deciding to check your Inbox as regularly as necessary to stay abreast and responsive, you regain COMMAND of your day.  Maybe it’s every 15 minutes at first; maybe it’s every 20.  Some days are more hectic than others. Some days you’re on an airplane or attending to a sick child.  The reality is that there are myriad reasons why you don’t see every e-mail the instant it hits your Inbox.  All I’m encouraging you to do is to exercise that command all the time.

As for expectations, the reality is that senders expect what you set for them.  For new clients, etc.,  you can let them know that you check your e-mail regularly throughout the day and will get back to them as soon as is reasonably possible. Moreover, you can encourage them to call you if it’s truly urgent.  The issue here is what are you willing to live with and then setting everyone else’s expectations accordingly.  And, in case you think I’m out of touch or somewhat crass here, please understand that I process between 150-200 emails per day and run two companies.  I’m very aware of the expectations of my senders and I work diligently to align their needs and my abilities.

Question #8: Is QuietSpacing® just a method or is there also an Outllook Add On?

QuietSpacing® is just a method.  It uses native Outlook functionality, so there’s no technology to purchase or maintenance payments to make!  Moreover, because there’s no corresponding technology, the method can be adopted by individuals and groups within large organizations without running afoul of IT policies and procedures.

Question #9: As a billing lawyer, wouldn’t you be losing time by batching e-mails and not billing the time it takes for initial review and action?

In my opinion, reviewing and acting on e-mail is a billable activity irrespective of whether it is processed individually or in batches.  It’s the same as postal mail in that regard.

Question #10: How long do you keep drafts?

The Drafts folder in my Outlook is where I save e-mails that contain descriptive language I use repeatedly in providing prospects and clients an idea of what I do or for submitting proposals.  I could save these in specific Reference folders if I wanted to, but, frankly, I’ve just been lazy in this regard!

Question #11: Please demonstrate that drag and drop?

The drag and drop feature in Outlook is better demonstrated than explained, but here’s a quick tutorial:  Click (and hold) on an e-mail and drag it over the Calendar icon, then let go.  A new Appointment will pop up and the entire contents of that e-mail will appear in the comment area of the Appointment.  The only thing left for you to do is adjust the Subject line of the Appointment so that it’s clear to you and set the Start and End times.  Voila!

Note: This can be done with Tasks too.

Question #12: Is there a particular book or product that Paul Burton sells?

Why YES!  There is both an implementation guide and a DVD that covers all aspects of the QuietSpacing® method and its implementation.  Copies can be purchased online at http://www.quietspacing.com/book/.

Don’t hesitate to shoot me any additional questions you have regarding Power Processing Your E-mail or QuietSpacing® in general.

Good luck!

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