Monday, February 24, 2014


Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had several days out of the office preparing for the arrival of and then enjoying my new son. Additionally, I’ve been working in a satellite office without internet connectivity. While I’ve tried to stay on top of my email on my phone, checking, and more importantly, deleting emails have taken a backseat to changing diapers.

As a result, I sit looking at an email inbox with 804 items in it, most read, but some not. I feel anxious frustrated by it. Some of you will say, “what’s the big deal? I’ve got 5 times that number in my inbox and not all of them are marked as read.”

I’m anxious about it because that is the biggest that number has been in more than three years. Typically, if I have more than 20 items in my inbox, I start getting antsy. To have 804 is downright scary for me.

See, email can quickly overwhelm us. We sign up for so many listservs and get a lot of unsolicited email, that the important stuff can get buried. Emails about court deadlines are sandwiched between that bar newsletter you keep meaning to get to and the reminder that the office potluck is on Thursday. Every moment we devote to reading the garbage and wading through it to find the important stuff takes away from actually doing real work.

A couple years ago, I read about inbox zero, and I try to adhere to some of it’s principles. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I encourage you to check it out here. I use a modified form that works for me.

I try to touch any given email only once if at all possible. If I skim the email and it is nothing I'm interested in, I hit the delete key right then. Why keep garbage? I am confident that 85% of the items in my inbox fall into this category. I'm ruthless with the delete key. If it was truly something important, there will likely be a follow up email, and I can always retrieve it from the trash can later if necessary.

If the email is something I can respond to in two minutes or less, I respond to it immediately and put it in the appropriate folder, if one exists. Best to get these tasks out of the way immediately.

If upon skimming the email there is no clear call for action, but it is something that I want to maybe read later, I move it to a folder I have labeled "Rainy Day Reading". This is for things I find interesting but aren't at the top of my priority list. More importantly, I have an auto delete policy in place. Anything in the folder that is more than 30 days old is automatically deleted. If I haven't gotten to it in 30 days, it must not have been that interesting. A lot of emails not immediately deleted wind up in this folder. And it is amazing how few are actually read later and just get deleted automatically.

Now we are down to that 5% of emails that I actually have to do something with. If they can't be done in two minutes and it is not so urgent that I have to stop what I'm doing now, they get flagged and I assign a due date for them. This way they show up in my Outlook task list. Then, they get moved to the "To Do" folder.

This doesn't have to be a time consuming process. I will set myself a time limit of 20 minutes this afternoon to clear out my inbox. This will be more than enough time to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff. Knowing I can't linger on emails helps me to be more liberal with the delete key, which really is the appropriate response for most email.

In this way, my inbox remains empty. I try to empty it before the end of every day, and am going to get back on that horse. If you've never experienced it, seeing an empty inbox is very satisfying. I also find that I am less stressed as a result. 

I highly encourage you to get your email under control. Whatever system you use, you will find the rewards to be great. And you will be happy that email no longer rules your day.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


A while back, a colleague of mine asked how they could print envelopes with the POSTNET barcode on them. It turns out that Microsoft Word doesn't make this a simple process. So, I decided to write a macro to do this for them. I thought I would share it.

I've pasted the macro VBA code in blue below for you to copy into your own macro module. To use the macro, highlight the recipient's address in your document and run the macro. It will then ask you to type in the zip code. It will then print both your letter and an envelope with the POSTNET barcode on it.

As a note, please remember that I am an attorney and am entirely self-trained when it comes to programming. So if you see the code and cringe, I'd welcome any feedback on how it could be improved.

Sub BarCode()

' Joshua Goodwin
' 4/16/2012
' Adds an envelope and POSTNET barcode to document

'  Define and fill Variables

    Dim strAddress
    Dim strZipCode As String

    strAddress = Selection.Text
    strZipCode = InputBox("What is the Zip Code?")

' print letter

 Application.PrintOut FileName:="", Range:=wdPrintAllDocument, Item:= _
        wdPrintDocumentWithMarkup, Copies:=1, Pages:="", PageType:= _
        wdPrintAllPages, Collate:=True, Background:=True, PrintToFile:=False, _
        PrintZoomColumn:=0, PrintZoomRow:=0, PrintZoomPaperWidth:=0, _
 ' Create envelope and add to document
    ActiveDocument.Envelope.Insert Address:=strAddress & "**"
 ' Find location to insert barcode
    Selection.MoveUntil cset:="**"
    Selection.MoveRight Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=2
 ' insert barcode

    Selection.Fields.Add Range:=Selection.Range, Type:=wdFieldEmpty, Text:= _
        "BARCODE  \u" & strZipCode, PreserveFormatting:=True
 ' Print envelope
 ' Delete envelope from document
    ActiveDocument.Undo (4)

End Sub

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


If you read Bryan Garner's articles in the ABA Journal or read any books on writing clearly, there are a number of recurring suggestions. Avoid the passive tense. Avoid adverbs. Avoid legalese or complex words when simple ones will do. Avoid overly long sentences. While I fall into the group that thinks these are good ideas, but not hard and fast rules, I do generally try to follow them in my legal writing.

The challenge, of course, is finding these issues in your writing. Microsoft Word's grammar checker is helpful, and it is what I often use as a first line tool. However, thanks to LifeHacker, I came across Hemingway today.

Hemingway identifies hard to read sentence, adverbs, words and phrases that could be simplified, and uses of passive voice. You can either draft directly in Hemingway or you can copy and past in what you have written. It will then highlight the problematic phrases.

The benefit of Hemingway is the visual aspect. Each type of problem is highlighted in a different color, making it easy to see where the problems are. I find this visual element to be much more user friendly than Microsoft Word's visual identification of problems - the green squiggly line that covers all grammar problems. Additionally, the ability to flag adverbs is something I don't believe Word is able to do.

However, Hemingway is limited to these five categories. With Word, you can check for jargon, the use - or non-use - of the serial comma (a must in my book), and numerous other stylistic issues. Additionally, the copying and pasting into Hemingway is undoubtedly more time consuming and likely to result in problems than just sticking with Word.

If you're looking to try something other than Word's grammar checker or really want a more visually understandable grammar assistant, then I would give Hemingway a try. Personally, I'm not sure it is going to be a regular tool in my toolbox.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Lately, I've been trying to set aside set periods of time to devote to tasks. For example, I might only want to spend 10 minutes reading blog posts on Feedly. To keep track of time, I could get a kitchen timer or pull out my phone. Or, I could just open a tab up in my chrome browser and in the address bar, type "Set a timer for 10 minutes". This will open up a countdown timer, and as long as I don't close the page, will sound an alarm after 10 minutes. 

Not earth shattering stuff, but sometimes these simple things are very convenient.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I'm back after a short break following the birth of my son. Everyone is healthy, and I'm excited to be back to blogging.

If your desktop computer has the capability of displaying two monitors, it is well worth your time to set it up. I keep my email client (Outlook) on the right monitor and work primarily on the left. In reviewing discovery, drafting briefs, etc., it is incredibly convenient to be able to put the document I am typing to on one screen and documents I'm reviewing on the other.

Unfortunately, your taskbar in Windows 7 will only show on your main monitor. If you have a program open on the secondary monitor, when you minimize it, it will show on the taskbar on the main monitor. Personally, I find this behavior annoying, as I would prefer to have a taskbar on both monitors.

Fortunately, there is a free solution to this problem: Dual Monitor Taskbar. This open source project will display a start button, taskbar, and notification area. It even includes the show desktop button. You can set it to auto-hide, just like the regular task bar. You can also set it to appear on any edge of the screen, even if it is not the same edge as the main taskbar. 

I have become so accustomed to using Dual Monitor Taskbar that I forget that it is not a part of the standard Windows 7 set up until I use someone else's computer. If you have Windows 7, I highly recommend installing this free program.