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By Wendy Meadows
Email and our in-boxes can be the bane of our existence. I think we can all admit that we have fallen prey to the following morning “exercise”: make a cup of coffee, sit down at desk, open Outlook, start ticking off emails 1 by 1, and before you know it, it’s lunchtime. You have a settlement conference at 1:30 and you need to get a quick bite to eat before you leave and you never actually tackled the tasks you wanted to do that morning. You feel stressed, behind, and like you have nothing to show for your morning.
Or perhaps, this happens. You hit the alarm on your phone to turn off. You bring your phone into bed to check the time, see a full email box, go right for the one from your most difficult client or opposing counsel because you are dying to know how they responded, and your blood pressure is up before your feet are even on the floor.
I am guessing you are either nodding along with me or you have developed a system to stave off some of the issues you see here. Consider this inquiry (which is borrowed from experts in time management): Are you the CEO of your business or is everyone else? Who should be in charge of the way and how you practice law? You? Or all of your clients and everyone else?
I assume you see where I am going. Why on earth are we going to let everyone else decide in what manner we are going to practice law on any given day?
Here are 5 tips you can implement now to protect your day, your practice, and your mental health:
Take care of yourself first in the morning. That might mean any of the following: get in your workout, eat breakfast with your family, spend time with a devotional, read the paper, meditate, read a book, walk the dog, savor your coffee in silence. Anything but check your email. Wait.
- When you sit down at your desk in the morning, jot down 3 things you want and need to get done. Do those before opening your Outlook.
- Caveat: if you are worried you have an email that relates to one of those tasks, open Outlook, do a search, and only open emails directly related. Only once you are done with your 3 tasks, you may then open Outlook and go to town.
- Turn off all of your Outlook “dings” on your computer, phone, and smart watch. You do not need to be audibly assaulted every time you get an email.
- If you are going to be in court or in meetings all day and know you cannot respond, turn on your auto reply. You don’t need to make it fancy and you don’t need to tell everyone your reason or just how complicated and convoluted your day will be, but you can relieve some of the e-mail pressure and “guilt” this way to avoid checking email when you know your attention is required elsewhere.
- After lunch, repeat Step 2. What do you need to accomplish? Do those things first. Then, you can go back to that in-box.
A note about systems. No matter what you have in place and no matter what your intentions are, your systems will sometimes go out the window. That is okay. You don’t need to beat yourself up and you don’t need to be perfect every day. However, once you can figure out the first step, recognize where you can do better, and have a plan to succeed, you are halfway there!
I would love to hear from you if you have any other special systems you put in place so you are the ruler of your inbox! Please e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I always enjoy hearing from you (after I get done my 3 things!).