Can GTD help with too much email volume?

In my earlier blog post about getting your email inbox down to zero, GTD’er Gil asked the question, “So, what do you suggest when the problem seems to be the sheer quantity, not just mail management practices?”

There are two things I would look at:  Speed + Input

One angle to consider is to get really good and faster at processing.  Speed will be required when you’re getting tons of volume every day if you hope to get through it all without it consuming your entire day.

I think it’s also helpful to look at what you’re getting with a fresh eye, now and again.  Do you need to be getting everything you’re getting?

If you’re not sure, climb up the GTD Horizons of Focus, especially to the 20,000 level.  Is the input you’re collecting by email relevant to your current Areas of Focus and Responsibilities? If not, what can you renegotiate around any of that?  (There is an implicit agreement with the email you allow in.  Don’t allow in what you don’t want to give a piece of your attention to.)

For example:

  • Get off email groups that don’t relate to your job, personal life or current interests.
  • Even Junk takes time to process, so do what you can do eliminate mail that takes your attention that way. If unsubscribing is validating the email with the spammer, setup some smart mail rules for sending this stuff to a Junk or Trash folder.
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists that you don’t read anyway. Be honest with yourself on this. There’s a whole lot of value-add reading we all could be reading to improve our life, job, focus etc., that we don’t.
  • Setup a “nice to read” folder to quickly triage the newsstand type items that you could read, or not. Just be vigilant in cleaning it out, like you would magazines on your table, when they expire in relevance and interest.  Emails have a shelf life, so be careful with this one.

If you are a GTD Connect member, there’s a great 2-minute video from David Allen on dealing with email that talks about all this in a really succinct and humorous way.

For many years I did GTD classes for a high-tech company in Silicon Valley where their engineers were getting close to 800 emails a day. That kind of volume takes some mastery to stay on top of, for sure.  So I hear you Gil when it seems daunting to deal with the volume that comes in for you.  I hope these tips give you something to work with.