Mastering Email Chaos: A 5-Step Strategy to Tame Your Inbox

We all hate email.

Do you know why modern email is the way it is?  

It can get WAY more complicated than this, but basically IBM built a server for internal use in the 1970s and then sold it to clients in the 1980s and viola.

No fancy study about best practices.  And really no major updates in 50 years (now forward this to 10 people or Bloody Mary will haunt you)…

But it's truly fascinating to me that something all of us do every day so many times is still such a crummy system.

For all my coaching clients I have them bust out the time stone and we do a time audit.  And while I go through it with them in detail and we make a customized plan for everyone based upon their time audit...

No one has EVER said they spend less time on their email than they want to.  Nor has anyone said they love sitting down and going through email.

So I think it's fair to say we ALL hate email.  It's a to do list you don't control.  And it's free so spam, spam, spam (and history lesson 2 - if you want to know why spam is spam...thank Monty Python 

SO here is my 5 question process for what to do with every email for you to copy/steal/use.

First caveat - my email is checked by my assistant first.  They have a 45 page SOP that governs their job.  Not ALL of it is email, but I took the section about what to do when an email comes in and broke it down into these basic questions.

IDEALLY you have your Khaji Da (Blue Beetle)/Jarvis/Robin (or maybe this is an Alfred task) go through this first...but either way, I think these can help you because I KNOW they helped me.

Question 1 - Can I delete this?

Just delete every email...if it's THAT important they will follow up.  Kidding...but only sort of.

The first question I ask myself (or have my assistant ask) is can THIS email just be deleted.  And a lot of times the answer is yes.

Things like:

Sales emails (but I also block the person so I don't get their follow ups and report them as spam so hopefully YOU don't get their follow ups either).

Confirmations of things we did somewhere else (like booking link confirmations or confirming you got my confirmation email)

Automatic Replies...just toss them to Oscar the Grouch and his trashcan.

Question 2 - Can I Filter This?

The next question is how I can use automation to help with email and a LOT of it is filtering.

If you get emails that you want to always go to the same place...try a filter.

For me, all receipts get filtered into a folder.

All leads from a lawyer referral service get filtered to my intake team.

All newsletters I like and want to read get filtered to a folder for me to read them when I have time (and because I'm extra...I have time calendared to read them)

Hopefully you do the same with THIS newsletter, because...

all newsletter I get that I don't like and don't want to read just get filtered to trash or unsubscribed from.

Which if that's me, no worries, save yourself the time if you're not getting value from this.

Question 3 - Can I just do this?

As David Allen says in Getting Things Done, anything you can do in 2 minutes or less, just do it.

Is it a HARO email that would be good for me to get quoted in?  Then I can just reply to it now.

Do I just need to calendar the event in this email (or sign up and then calendar it)?  Done.

Can I just fill out a booking link to meet with this person?  Found time (usually 2-3 weeks away...but still)

Can I just file this email to find later?  Tickets to events, hotel confirmations, etc.  This is slightly different from above because I might not get enough tickets from this email or book enough hotels from this company to just filter these.

Is it something I just need to sign?  (if it's a physical signature I will either A) not do it or B) forward it to a staff member to print and leave on my desk)

Yes, I have truly NOT done things or worked with someone or joined a group because it required a physical signature...well technically because it was the kind of place that still needed that in 2024, but still...

Also, sometimes I will get an email asking me for something and just saying "NO" means it's done (or I don't have to do anything more on it).  No is a complete sentence and don't underestimate the benefit of turning down a speaking engagement, not signing up for something at your kids' school, or whatever else you THINK you need to do, but don't REALLY need to do (or WANT to do).

To be totally candid, I can say this between sending 15 emails to my kid's school begging for donated items for our silent auction because my son's public school hopes to raise $20,000 from it...I don't ALWAYS practice what I preach but I ALWAYS (and immediately) regret it when I don't listen to me.

Question 4 - Am I the RIGHT Person for This Email?

The Ninja Turtles don't fight crime in Metropolis.

Doc Brown doesn't help Indiana Jones find the Holy Grail.

Jordan doesn't answer every email sent to him when someone else is a better fit for it. (yes, it was weird to write about myself in third person)

Is it something I need to reply to?

Did it go to more than just me?  If so, I probably don't need to reply to it.

If it's a tech issue, just forward it to my IT guy.

If it's a building issue, just forward it to the landlord.

If it's a new lead it gets forwarded to my intake team.

If it's case related, it gets forwarded to our head paralegal with the following email.

"Hi ___,

I copied Lianet on this email, but moving forward can you please send all emails like this to her directly at (her email).

That will make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible, get you any replies or requests sooner and removes the chance that your important case updates get lost (by me, I’m the problem!)

Thanks so much!”

That being said, sometimes it's faster for me (or my assistant) to just answer an email rather than forwarding it to someone else...that's why this is question 4.

Question 5 - Is this Going to Take Time to Handle?

So now that we deleted a bunch of stuff, filtered some of it, handled the easy stuff, and forwarded a batch of what's left...NOW and only now can we really dive into the email that drives us all nuts.

The stuff that we have to do and that takes time.

In these cases, my assistant is going to reply back setting the expectation of when I will handle this (and giving me a buffer to ALWAYS get it done early) and then move the email to a folder for me to respond to it and/or schedule time on my calendar for me to do it.

For anything put on my calendar they will attach everything I need to handle the task that is contained in that email (review this long document, do a dry run of this presentation, etc) on my calendar so it is all right there.

And yes, email still sucks...but it sucks LESS now.

Pro-tip for those of you still reading!

Just like email you get is a to-do list you cannot control...emails you send are usually just a task list for someone else.

SO, I created a "waiting on" folder.  Here my assistant moves every email I sent in which we are waiting on someone else to do something.

Then every Tuesday and Friday she follows up on all those emails haven't been addressed yet.  (or where they didn't give us a deadline to get something back to me by).

And that my friends, is this week's newsletter because while I do not need to get back to my email...I am going to another meeting.

Next week we are going discuss about Navigating the Uncontrollable: A Serenity-Infused Guide to Law Firm Success. Have a wonderful weekend and may this email be the email that helps you avoid hating all the other emails...kind of like how the Clone Wars television show makes me like the Star Wars prequels more.

Upgrade Your Life.

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