As email communication and electronic document exchange become increasingly popular, keeping it all organized and accessible can often be a challenge. One of the biggest questions firms ask when moving into a Document Management System is deciding where their emails should be saved.
In an ideal world, all email communications would be saved in your document management system (DMS). But this rarely happens. In this article, I’ll share some of the hard truths I’ve come to learn about real-world email management, along with some best practices that will help you get as close as possible to obtaining email utopia while ensuring the integrity of your DMS and intellectual property.
Hard Truth No. 1 – An inbox with thousands of emails is not being leveraged to its potential. Think about how often you need to forward an email. How often you search your inbox for a record. Have you have had to request something be resent? This is a waste of time and resources.
Hard Truth No. 2 – No matter what DMS you have, you need to maintain a clean inbox and save client-specific emails in a central location. This ensures your emails and attachments are accessible, backed up, and in the proper place.
Hard Truth No. 3 – Most people don’t want to move their email out of Outlook. I get it. It can be aggravating when you can’t simply go into Outlook and access your email. Also, depending on your system and mobile access capabilities, this may not always be practical.
So what can be done? Below are some options your firm can take to better manage email and maximize the use of your Document Management System. Remember, The overall goal is to ensure your firm’s documents stay organized, safe, and accessible.
(Real-World) Best Practices to Make it all Work
- Copy your emails to the DMS. This will leave a copy in your Outlook which you can access later from a mobile device or your Outlook Web Application. Copying files may take up more space, but space is cheap. This will allow email to live on your mobile device, Outlook, and your DMS at the same time for you at access anywhere.
- Have your Outlook folder structure mirror you DMS structure. Life will be easier with one organization schema to remember. It will help you maintain a clean inbox by simply dragging documents out of the “Inbox” folder and into a subfolder. This will improve the speed of your Outlook searches, not to mention put less work on your smartphone and extend battery life since there will be less to sync.
- Utilize Outlook features to stay organized. As mentioned above, organize emails using subfolders. Use categories to label important emails. Use tasks, email rules, and flags to help you remember what to do.
- Rename the subject of an email when copying to your DMS if needed. Since your emails will be shared, it’s important that they have a name that makes sense to others. So “RE:RE:RE:Questions?” is not a good name. Typically when copying, the DMS will use the subject as the document name. However, email subjects, as shown, can be woefully inadequate. Make sure when copying to the DMS that you rename the email to something that concisely summarizes the nature of the email discussion.
- If your DMS allows versioning, version your email. This way as the email chain grows, you can add the new “links” as different versions. This will prevent you from creating duplicate email records that are actually part of the same conversation. It may also save time during the saving process.
- If your firm agrees not to copy or move EVERY email into your DMS, then make sure firm members know what needs to be saved into your DMS. This should include emails with contact information, important dates, resolutions, referrals, case information – just about any professional email that is sent to or from a client. This is why I argue that all email should be in your Document Management System. But this is a guide for an imperfect world, so make sure firm members clearly understand which emails should be saved into your DMS.
I realize that there is no email utopia, but hopefully these tips will help simplify your life and allow your firm to maximize intellectual property. Now you must begin the task of organizing your inbox with 10,000+ emails. Remember, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”