I enjoy reading opinions by Eleventh Circuit Judge, Ed Carnes. And Brewster v. Hetzel may be my new favorite. It’s a rare habeas case out of Alabama (or anywhere) where the habeas petitioner wins. And the subject matter is a deadlocked jury and the lengths a trial court went to flip the holdouts for acquittal. Judge Carnes begins with a history lesson. At one time juries could be deprived of food and water until the holdouts caved. And when that didn’t work, judge had other tricks up their sleeves.

And if jurors did not unanimously agree on one before the judges left town, Blackstone recounted, “the judges are not bound to wait for them, but may carry them round the circuit from town to town in a cart.” Id. at *376. They were hauled around in the cart “until a judgment ‘bounced out.’” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 780, 130 S. Ct. 1855, 1866 (2010) (Stevens, J., dissenting). Which is to say until the resolve bounced out of the holdout jurors.

The opinion gives a few other examples of judicial coercion of hung juries of the past before shifting to the facts at hand. “We no longer try to coerce holdout jurors to reach a verdict they cannot abide. Or at least most times we don’t. The jury that convicted our appellant, Sumnar Brewster, might feel some affinity with the juries of yesteryear.” After giving the jury four separate Allen charges, the jury heard that the lone holdout for acquittal was doing a crossword puzzle rather than continue being browbeat by the other eleven. At which point, the judge ordered all pens and reading materials removed. from the room. “Just 18 minutes after all reading materials were removed, Brewster’s jury dutifully — and we do mean dutifully — returned a guilty verdict.” (Court’s emphasis).

The opinion is informative, readable, and fun. Judge Carnes stands out as one of the best legal writers around. And the opinion in Brewster v. Hetzel is a good model for legal writers to emulate.

Yesterday, I spoke on my aversion for offices and love for working pretty much anywhere. Here are a few more details. This morning, I had calendar in Gwinnett County, Georgia, which is pretty far away from where I live. Since I was taking over for another lawyer, I had to file a document known as a substitution of counsel. It’s a document that lets the court know that a new lawyer is taking over the case. After the substitution is filed, previous counsel no longer receives court notices, orders, etc., and all of that starts coming to me. Halfway to court I realized that I hadn’t printed out this document. And the court doesn’t have e-filing in criminal cases, which meant a brief detour to an Office Depot print center before arriving at the courthouse.

Speaking of courthouses, there are 159 of them in Georgia. Depending on where the case is, you can either walk into a historic architectural wonder or something thoroughly modern. I don’t know what the word is for the Gwinnett County Courthouse. I call it the Mall of Justice.

You might also call it Spaceship Court. Once inside, it feels more like an airport than a mall. Each floor is kind of a long corridor with skylights and big windows on each end. The courtrooms themselves are completely windowless, which is a feature I’ve noticed in modern courthouses. Older courthouses (I was in one yesterday) tend to have darker more windowless hallways with big windows in the courtroom. But back to the airport motif, all the courtrooms in Gwinnett County are even numbered like gates in a terminal. Today, I was in courtroom 3C. Of course, in a criminal calendar the flights go no place good.

The waiting area has a nice shiny hallway, which is likely a perk of inmate labor. Just before court started, the deputies unlocked the courtroom. A great perk of being a lawyer is that we get good comfy seats in the courtroom most of the time. We are allowed to cross the bar and hang out in the jury box. You’d be surprised to know that jurors sit in jury boxes a small percentage of the time. The rest of the time, at routine calendars and motions days, the lawyers occupy the jury box. Seats for the general public are generally wooden pews. This jury box had a cool little metal bar at the bottom as a little foot prop. The seats also swivel and rock back and forth. I’ve had great stealthy cat naps in jury seats in my career while waiting out a civil calendar.

When I was in Brooks County, Georgia, a few weeks ago, the jury box was made up of wicker chairs that swiveled and rocked and made me crave a mint julep. Most counties what have modern courthouses also retain the old courthouse on the town square as a place for wedding receptions or pottery classes and the like. Gwinnett is a perfect example. After court, I needed to run to an Apple Store to get something fixed. On my way out of town and out toward the mall, I passed the historic Gwinnett County Courhouse.

Most of the courthouses I work in are exactly like this building. And the older buildings are way more fun. Before they renovated the Pike County Courthouse, a big chunk of the ceiling once fell on me while I was arguing. In a novel, such an event would be symbolic of something ominous. And here’s fun fact, it was on this courthouse square that Larry Flynt, the founder of Hustler, was shot on the way back from lunch during a hearing on an obscenity case. And while I waited for an opening at the Apple store to have a person look at my tech, I took out the mobile office and knocked out some work on a case for next week.

I’m trying to cut back on my coffee intake. So, I opted for an overpriced mineral water while I waited. And this is what a day of working on the go is like. Many days will often go by where I don’t even see my office. But there’s always adventure to be had in some courthouse, old or new or in the pdf pages I read on a tablet or with the person on the other end of a call I’m returning.

This week, I became involved in an appeal much later than I typically do. The Court of Appeals had already made its decision, and I drafted a motion for reconsideration for my new co-counsel. Typically, when I draft a motion for reconsiderayion, I am getting my ducks in a row for a petition for certiorari or I am trying to throw a hail mary pass for a devestated client. My typical motion for new reconsideration is a couple of pages in length and written in the style of a trial motion, with numbered paragraphs. Never before have I been asked to enter a case at the MFR stage. Since this was my sole mission, I wanted to add even more value to the process. And so I went to the first place we should all go if we want to up our game in a particular court — the rules of that court as they relate to the subject at hand. It turns out that the MFR stage offers us quite a few options.

In the Georgia Court of Appeals, you go to Rule 37 to learn all about how to prepare an MFR. In short, there are opportunities and ways to get in trouble. Let’s start with the ways you can get in trouble

Ways to get in trouble

  • You must file your MFR within 10 days of the decision by 4:30 p.m. Ordinarily, you can e-file things with the COA until 11:59 and you get credit for the day of filing, even if the clerk doesn’t docket your brief until they open the next day. If you file your MFR at 4:31 p.m. on day 10, the Clerk of Court will docket your MFR as if filed on day 11. And if you file your MFR on day 11, bad things may happen to it.
  • The clerk of court can shorten your 10 days. I’ve never seen it happen. But it potentially could at the end of a term.


  • Let’s talk about the standard for granting a MFR. According to Rule 37(e), “a reconsideration shall be granted on motion only when it appears that the Court overlooked a material fact in the record, a statute, or a decision which is controlling as authority and which would require a different judgment from that rendered, or has erroneoulsy construed or misapplied a provision of law or controlling authority.” I read 37(e) as a fairly liberal standard. With that said, a MFR should be narrow, short, and targeted. You are telling three COA judges that they made a bad mistake. So, tread lightly.
  • Blame yourself. Typically, when I write an MFR I blame myself for the adverse decision in the way I briefed the matter — essentially “I was likely unclear in the way I wrote. So, this is all my fault. Better advocacy would have taken you to the right result.”
  • You have some space to write. Rule 37(a) refers us over to Rule 24, which is the section that deals with the physical preparation of briefs. So, your MFR can literally be a brief. The only limitation imposed is that your MFR is limited to 4,200 words, or about 7–8 pages of text using a 14-point font and double spacing.
  • If you draft an MFR in the form of a brief at 4,200 words and cover the topic, you will probably file the best brief you have ever written. You may even wish that your original brief had looked like this brief. Had the brief been this clear and succinct, your opponent might be writing an MFR right now.

I make no comment about whether the strategy here is a winning one. You are likely still throwing a hail mary pass in any event. I offer these comments as a lawyer who entered the game just to throw the pass. The ball is in the air as I write these words.

Last weekend, I chaired a two-day seminar on appellate and habeas practice. GACDL hosted the seminar at my alma mater, the Georgia State University College of Law. I’m jealous of their new building. We didn’t exactly have it tough at the old Urban Life Building, but the new kids are lucky to be in such a cool space. As for the seminar, I took good notes and plan to steal from our speakers for the next several posts.

The theft starts right now with this incredible one-liner from Justice Nels Peterson from the Supreme Court of Georgia. Here’s what he said about the difference between an appeal and a cert petition:

“The appeal is for your client. The cert. petition is for the public.” To quote Rule 40, “a petition for the writ will be granted only in cases of great concern, gravity, or importance to the public.”

This pithy statement has been the subject of many a discussion with lawyers who have reached out for advice on how to do a cert. petition. It is not much of a stretch to say to lawyers that the Court doesn’t particularly care about their client. When it comes to cert, the law is all that matters. The pitch on cert. is to the potential precedent not the client’s sense of injustice.


I frequently receive calls from law students or lawyers looking to become appellate lawyers. And I find myself having lunch with people and discussing how I started out. What I am writing here is what I typically say on those calls or at those lunches.

I have a background that suited me for appellate practice. Though, at the time, I had no idea that I was preparing myself for appellate practice. I came to college wanting to be a lawyer. Only, as I excelled in college classes, I wanted to become a professor instead. I chose as my major the typical cookie cutter pre-law route of political science. But political science ultimately became a minor. And I double-majored in English and Religion. So, I changed my mind about law school and decided to attend a seminary (my aim was to go from the M.Div. to a Ph.D. program and ultimately become a religion professor). And as seminary neared its completion, I decided to go to law school, which is what I wanted to do when I started college in the first place.

I entered law school three years older than most 1Ls and with a depth of research and writing experience. It never occurred to me that I would do appellate law after law school. In fact, I never even did moot court. I was a mock trial guy. And I was fairly convinced that I would go on to be a criminal trial attorney. And why was that? I wanted to be in the courtroom, and I knew that criminal practice would place me there early and often.

During my 3L year, I came to work for a criminal defense attorney. And on the days I was with him, we’d go from court to court together. His paralegal would lay out his day’s agenda in a little printout atop some gray files. And off we’d go in his little Porsche. As we went from place to place, he’d smoke tiny cigars. Eventually, all of my clothes, papers, and even my apartment came to smell like those tiny cigars. After court, we’d end up at a bar where he and his investigator would down Gin and Tonics. It was like living in a Michael Connelly novel.

After I had been with him a few months, I took a file on a rape case he was defending and prepared it for trial. I spent an entire weekend calling every witness on the State’s witness list, conducting interviews and preparing summaries what their testimony would. I printed these out, and I put them in individual files. Along the way, I found out that the victim had not actually made an outcry to the person the State would call as its outcry witness. They called the victim at trial and she doubled down on her claim that she’s outcried to the person. And the lawyer I worked for spent about 25 minutes of cross-examination really committing her to that story. The outcry witness was then called and she said on the stand what she’d said in my interview. The victim had never made an outcry to her. The jury acquitted in about 15 minutes. What I learned from this was that criminal cases are often won by calling witnesses, listening to them, and preparing detailed reports more so than big television moments. Yes, I was a big part of a trial win, but my contribution to the case felt like a graduate school research project more so than it felt like something from an episode of Law and Order. It was pretty clear that the DA hadn’t interviewed any of the witnesses. She tried the case just from the discovery file. If you outwork your opponent, you will likely beat your opponent. And lawyers don’t really have the time to do what I did in the case. I learned that it is pretty easy to gain the edge in law.

Then something else happened. I learned that the lawyer was doing appellate cases. But he was farming out the appellate work to a former associate of his who had retired to the mountains. The lawyer was handwriting the appellate briefs and mailing them to my boss’s paralegal. And she was typing up the briefs. The writing was pretty terrible, and the lawyer I was working for wasn’t doing very well when it cases to appeals. Shortly afterward, while we were on a tour of Atlanta and as I was buzzed from cigarillo smoke yet again, I asked my boss if I could try my hand at an appellate brief before he sent it out to the mountain man. My boss agreed.

The brief I wrote was on behalf of a guy named Thomas Graham. As I read through the transcript, I noticed something missing. The prosecutor had failed to establish venue in the county where the case was being tried. Back in the early 2000s, there was an absolute loophole in the law. The prosecutor had to ask a witness, “In what county did these events take place?” Only, in this case, the State had failed to check that box. And Mr. Graham had been convicted of murder. I worked hard on that case and ultimately my brief won the day in the Supreme Court of Georgia. And I went on a little streak of wins. I would write these briefs, my boss would review and sign them, and they’d go off to the Court. And we’d win. The law office bought me a laptop of my own. And when I was hanging out in the courtroom with the lawyer, I’d work on cases off in some corner. This was the era just before WiFi was a thing. And I remember having all of the Georgia cases on a set of DVDs. But things got done. When I became tired of working in the office, I’d take the laptop and go someplace else to work. Appellate practice, I was learning, was portable. I do not know ultimately what became of the mountain man. But I know that he was out of the appellate business with this one firm. And I, as a 3L was this little firm’s emerging appellate division. And as our days of touring Atlanta-area courtrooms would wind down, I’d be stuck at some bar. And off to a booth I’d go to work on appellate briefs as I listened to late afternoon bar banter in the background. I was having the most fun of my life. And I soon learned the value of not being stuck off somewhere without your own wheels and without a way to get work done.

After I passed the bar, I stayed on as an associate in the firm. And my first solo break came. A man named Billy Collier hired me to be his appellate lawyer. He was an older man who had gotten into a bar fight in Columbus, Georgia, in a small juke joint called the Pop-A-Top Bar. My client came out of the fight better than his opponent. And he was convicted of aggravated assault and given a lengthy sentence to serve in prison. I recall meeting him at the Jackson, Georgia, Diagnostic Center. He was an elderly gentleman in big heavy cuffs and ankle shackles. And I vowed to myself that I would win his case. And I ultimately did — on prosecutorial misconduct.

It took a while, years even, to consider myself an appellate lawyer. But I think I backed myself into a career for which I was uniquely suited. Had I stayed on the political science track and gone straight to law school, I probably would not have been as ready. But what I found was a way to practice law that was sort of like being a graduate student or college professor. Had I gone on with my Ph.D. Plans, I might be in some cold climate teaching in a community college right now. And my work would be great, but I wouldn’t have overturned criminal convictions, which became sort of a guilty pleasure.

I also became active in GACDL (I’m now the President of it). One night, after a GACDL function, I gave a circuit public defender a lift home. And, over the course of that car ride, I was asked if I’d be interested in taking on their conflict appeals. This conversation led to a steady stream of appointed criminal appellate work. And through this, I started getting more active in the appellate courts. From there, things took off even more.

I still try cases. And when I do, it’s always fun. But appellate law is where it’s at for me. I think these are the lessons from my story.

  • Before you can do appellate law, you should be suited for it. I think years of research and writing helped. Also, I chose majors where I read text after text. If you want to do appellate law, a deep background in reading and writing helps a great deal.
  •  There is some level of serendipity involved in getting started. I landed in a little practice that had a heavy caseload of appellate cases and a need for someone to step up.
  • I had to be willing to do it all fairly cheap. There was no substitute for doing a bunch of appellate cases. And I took all of those cases and worked them hard.
  • If you’re a good writer, a fast reader, and thorough, you will certainly have an unfair advantage over other lawyers. I hate to say this, but good writers are rare in law school and just as rare in the practice of law. Also, most lawyers would rather do anything but write a brief. If you’re willing to work, there are opportunities.
  • You don’t have to be awkward, quirky, or anti-social to be a great appellate lawyer. I am very comfortable in a courtroom, at a party, or in a plea negotiation. But I happen to love appellate law. Emotional/social intelligence is just as important in appellate law as it is in other kinds of litigation. And most appellate lawyers are not at all the stereotype.

And remember that part of my story where I wanted to be a professor?It turns out that I’m doing that now. I teach regularly at a law school in an indigent habeas clinic. And I also teach Georgia Appellate Practice and Procedure. So, I’m now practicing appellate law and teaching!

So, there is my story. I hope that there are some lessons in there that will help an aspiring lawyer who is interested in doing appellate law. Also, if you want to ask me to lunch or call to ask for advice, please fire away! I happen to like lunch and talking about all of these topics.

One of my favorite bloggers on trial advocacy is Mark Bennett. Mark has written a series of great posts at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield’s blog on the topic of opening statements.

Mark offers 11 rules for better opening statements. One tip is to limit your opening statement to fifteen minutes. From experience, this is a solid tip. The rest of his rules could be summarized in a single sentence. Your opening should tell a story. Stories are all the rage in trial advocacy these days. If you have been to a CLE on trials. You have heard about story and why openings should be more like a story and less like a lawyerly presentation. The reason is simple. Jurors and judges love stories. Stories are more persuasive than speeches. Stories draw is in.

I have become frustrated with all of this talk of story. I was convinced, years ago, that storytelling is important for opening statements, for briefs, and even for simple motions. But CLE programming is light on nuts and bolts instruction on how to tell a good story. And that was why I was excited to learn about Pixar’s online class on storytelling offered through Kahn Academy. The class is excellently done, with great videos (each one tells a story) and activities to work on to get better at story telling. The video series is not aimed at lawyers, but it is exactly the storytelling 101 I’ve been looking for. I cannot give a comprehensive recommendation here because I am at the beginning of the lesson.

And, in case you aren’t aware of Pixar— Pixar is the company that perfected computer animation in the 1990s with Toy Story and with other great films. I have long been a fan of their work. They have not just made some of the best animated films of the past century, but some of the best films, period. Their success lies not just in technological achievement — though they have done some remarkable stuff — but in the craft of storytelling. Here are some screenshots of the table of contents for the series.


If you have been told that you need to embrace storytelling but you aren’t sure what to do, I hope that this will be a good resource for you. And how cool is Kahn Academy? It has been a go-to place for my children to supplement their school instruction for quite some time. But I had no idea that there was such great stuff on there for adults.

27th October 1960:  A Munich secretary simultaneously typing and making a phone call with the aid of the Beoton telephone amplifier.  (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Chad Burton has given up his laptop and his iPad and now works exclusively from his iPhone. He manages software and consulting firm for lawyers with it. On a recent podcast, two lawyers discussed whether they could travel with just a phone and still get their work done. The debate for them came down to whether they needed a tablet and phone or just a phone. I noticed that the computer was not really a part of the discussion.

The interesting insight is that I took away from both pieces is that older lawyers may have an edge when it comes to working with minimal technology. Older lawyers developed the skills to compose by voice. And now, between Siri and Dragon Anywhere, lawyers with dictation skills can get work done without much infrastructure.

Long ago, when I was a high school student working at a law firm (1988), I can remember that the paralegals had computers but lawyers didn’t. The lawyers composed into a dictaphone or a microcassette recorder. And the paralegals typed it all up. When I was in law school and working in various law offices, the lawyers and paralegals both had computers. And I had my choice. I could type everything myself, and I could dictate. I had a foot in both worlds. It is a rare office now where lawyers dictate for others to transcribe. Though dictation is alive and well in medicine.

Now, things have both advanced and come full circle. It is possible to compose by dictating but without the need for staff. The software on a smartphone does the work of the 1988-era paralegal. But for a generation of lawyers trained to compose on the keyboard, dictation is a skill not yet learned.

The irony is that you could likely cut out a great deal of overhead in your office if you embraced some old-school legal skills that once required a large staff to support. And it may be dependence on desks and desktop computers that is driving up your costs.

girl-shouting-into-loadhailerI recently heard a new term. It is a term of art from a certain religious discipline. That term is “skillful speech.” The person who said it was Joseph Goldstein. He was a guest on on a podcast. He explained that speech often serves no useful purpose other than to announce your presence to another person. Or it can be speaking something other than the truth. And even when we tell the truth, it can be truth spoken in a way that advances no good cause, such as gossip. Or it can be truth delivered with an ill intent. A few mornings ago, I read up on the concept of skillful speech. In a review of one of Goldstein’s books, for instance, the concept is summarized as follows:

“Right speech”—speaking honestly and eschewing lies and gossip, divisive speech and idle chatter—is a crucial part of Buddhist ethics. Joseph invented a practice for himself in order to cultivate greater mindfulness about speech: for several months he refrained from speaking to anyone about a third person. This not only taught him that a large percentage of his conversation involved other people, but helped him notice that much of what he said included comments and judgments about other people. Stopping such speech for a while made his mind less critical toward others, but interestingly also less critical toward himself. Years later that practice continues to alert him when he begins to speak mindlessly about other people.

I decided to give it a try. A few hours later, I fell short of it in a disagreement I had with someone. And this all happened outside of the work context. And I began to wonder, if it is so difficult to speak skillfully in the personal context, how much more difficult is it to use speech skillfully in the litigation context.

In the work context, as a criminal defense attorney, I have begun wondering about the relevance of skillful speech. A good portion of my work is on the page. So, I have the benefit of taking my speech through multiple drafts. And, in the oral argument context, there is opportunity to anticipate questions that might arise. More difficult is the person who, as my children would say, “started it first.” When a person is aggressively unskillful in her speech to me, it can be a challenge to remain skillful in my response. Or when a judge or an opposing counsel speaks in an unkind manner to me, even when I don’t respond in kind in the moment, the real challenge comes in how I describe the event within my office. We often speak of it in terms of “venting” or having a sense of humor. Or we may relish the fact that we are good at it. Much of your social media feeds may consist of unskillful speech.

As I have reflected on it, skillful speech is perhaps most relevant in the work arena. After all, in this arena, I am paid professional in my speech. And as much as I work at what I say in a brief or a motion, I should work just as hard in how I speak to clients, the folks who work the courthouse door, opposing counsel, and the judge. In this area, I should strive to make all speech skillful speech.

Library with a book ladder and lampOn my way home from the office yesterday, I darkened the doors of a place I haven’t been in a while: the public library. When I was throwing some things out recently, I stumbled upon my old library card. The card sat in my car for a while. And today I used it. Anticipating upcoming travels, I thought I would allow amazon.com or Apple’s iBooks service to flounder without me for a few weeks and get a couple of library books.

How long had it been since I last visited a library? I’m not sure. But the librarian laughed when I presented my card and said that it had expired in 2009. 2009 was the year that I purchased my Kindle and began helping Amazon and Audible pay their mortgage. When I noted this to the librarian, she laughed at me again and said that I can check out ebooks and audio books through the library and put them on my Kindle. Yesterday, I picked up Sam Harris’ Waking Up.

This morning, I logged onto Georgia’s Library System. Within minutes, I was logged on to their ebook/audiobook borrowing section. And minutes after that, I was redirected to the Amazon site, where I clicked a couple of things and a library book was on my Kindle. I downloaded the biography of Elon Musk where I will hope to feel optimistic about the future of technology in America and The Garden of Beasts, where I anticipate I will find parallels to the modern American political climate.

I may be the last person to this party. If I am, don’t roll your eyes. Just take pity. If you still aren’t at the party, go and visit a public library. It turns out they’ve changed with the times.

Missle CommandIf I allowed it to happen, I would do nothing but read and write emails all day. I have had days where this has happened. And I have had vacations days or family events where I spent all of my time reading and writing email. And, while I have improved at it, I am pretty sure that I am still fairly bad at email. I’ve tried more email apps for the phone that you could imagine. And I’ve tried every system you can think of to try to tackle email.

I took the best general idea for what to do with email in a talk by Merlin Mann in 2007 on the topic of Inbox Zero. His general idea is that your email inbox is a terrible to do list. It is a poor texting service. And if you aren’t careful, you’ll just collect emails that number in the thousands. It’s true because I have been there. If you reply to emails, then you are just going to generate more email particularly if the email exchange is with more than two people and you are trying to make arrangements for some sort of meeting or event. For Mann, the goal every day should be to reduce emails down to zero.

Opinions differ on whether you should try to respond to every email. With that said, here is an overview of my system for dealing with email. Again, I suspect I’m not good at email. But I’m trying to build a better system to handle it.

  • I batch my email with an aim to only process it at selected point of time during the day. Email is at its most evil when you see them while you are standing in line, while you are in a conversation with someone, while you are hanging out with your family, or when you are stopped at a red light. The worst is the angry email from someone that is hard to let go of. It’s best to get all emails in a batch at pre-set times per day. Right now, my service for handling all of that is Batched Inbox. Batched inbox holds your emails and delivers them all at once at times you select. If I open up any of my mail apps, I don’t see incoming emails until they all push through at once.
  • The Scheduling Can Be The Hard Part. I’ve tried every combination imaginable. I’ve tried three times a week, once an hour, twice a day and three times a day. Before I made a recent change, I had them all come in at 11 and at 4. It turns out that this these times did not work so well. 4 is when I’m thinking about winding down the day and getting some ready for when I get home. At 11, I might be engaged in a meeting or court. Then I end up trying to process to zero as quickly as possible. Also, the emails I responded to managed to yield a response or 5 before I leave the office. There’s also a flaw in Batched Inbox. All of the emails go to a folder called “BatchedInbox” that you can actually open. And when you go there and start looking, then Batched Inbox just becomes another inbox. When I respond to something twice during the work day, I sometimes get curious about what the replies might be. Then I’m sucked in.
  • The Other Trick is To Schedule Delivery. Another part of the system is to batch the outgoing emails so that they go at a time that I schedule. Boomerang does several things. But the best thing is that it allows you to schedule when you want the email to go out. Instead of pressing send, you press another button that schedules the email to go out.
  • If Something in the Email is an Action Item, Then Take it out of Email. Email is a bad inbox. It’s a poor substitute for memory. If you need to make some issue in an email into an action item, then write it down elsewhere and archive the email. If something needs to be scheduled, then put it on the calendar. Email is a terrible calendar.

With all of that said, here is what I am now doing. All emails are scheduled to come in at 3:00 a.m. Most emails that I send in response go out at 10:00 p.m. With this system, none of my outgoing emails are reaching a recipient during the work day. Which means that they cannot reply during the work day. And all of the incoming emails come in while I am asleep. There is some conventional wisdom against checking email in the morning. But I think that this wisdom can be defied if you know that this is the one time that you will process email and what you send out will not return until this time tomorrow. Also, I am not looking at it when the rest of the world is awake. Then I leave my house knowing that I don’t have to think about email until tomorrow and knowing that I have a bunch of emails cued up to launch after I’ve gone to bed tonight.

You may read this thinking that this system is rude or that I’m not being responsive. I find that quite the opposite is true. When I do process through email, I am focused on it. I am not swatting it away or playing missle command with it. And when I answer an email, I am calm. I am not being short with people because I just read an email from an angry person.

Again, I don’t think I’m good at email because I am not so sure that it’s possible to be good at it. It’s kind of a messed up thing. But I am always trying to systematize it and make that system better.