Can GTD help with too much email volume?

Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by GTD Times Staff

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.

7 Responses to “Can GTD help with too much email volume?”

  1. James says:

    I’m a GTD in hearth and soul, but as I got more effective in my work – I was entrusted with more responsibilities, and more e-mail that came with that, to such a point that I am now receiving hundres of e-mails a day.

    They are certainly not all relevant, but keeping my inbox zero became a difficult task once again.

    What I’ve implemented now is simple. I check my e-mail twice a day, for 30 minutes. No more, that’s it. Outside of those moments my Outlook is in Offline mode (I still use it for managing my to do list.

    And limiting my e-mail reading hours like this is having outstanding effects on my productivity, I wish I thought of it sooner!

    Sure, every now and then silly things happen – like I’m the only one who shows up for a cancelled meeting, or I’m a bit late to learn that a certain system is back up, but these are trade-offs I’m happy to make.

  2. Robbie says:

    Everyone thinks faster is the answer, but I get my email to zero by slowing down to where I only open and process each email 1 time. For each email I open, I decide what it is, what it means, and process it then and there. When people complain about volume and backlog, I suspect they are not *really* processing their email in GTD terms. They’re opening, not deciding, closing, and moving on to something else. Feels fast, but ultimately it’s slower. So take your time to process once, completely. That’s the way to be more efficient and save time.

  3. Josh Freeman says:

    I’ve been using SpamSieve to get rid of my junk mail. Sometimes hundreds of emails a day pass through my server’s inbox without me even seeing them. Every 2 days (or the task gets overwhelming) I scan the sender names in my Spam folder and delete everything but the 2-3 that (rarely) get in there accidentally, or that I actually want to see. Takes about a minute.

  4. Kelly Forrister says:

    Robbie–great way to put it and certainly the essence of what I was trying to get across. My earlier post explaining the 4D model is really the key in making those decisions quickly and FULLY to completion when they first show up–not weeks or months later when they’ve blown up and the person is complaining about being overwhelmed and declaring email bankruptcy.

  5. Mark Jantzen says:

    Agree with Robbie’s observations. In my experience that is best way to manage a high volume.

    At work I get about 100-300 email messages per day. About 2/3 (maybe more) fall into the “Read – FYI” category. The remaing ones seem to split between actionable, someday and a few in reference.

  6. John says:

    I receive a few newsletters that come either daily, weekly, or monthly. To process those emails I have created rules that move them to a folder named “@To Read”. I can then peruse this folder when I have time and read anything that looks interesting.

    I have also used colors in my email inbox to highlight emails that may be more important. I have rules that apply the color when the message arrives. I have different colors for projects that I am currently working on and for emails from my boss. This allows me to quickly process important emails if I only have a few minutes. I can come back later and process the remaining emails.

  7. Robbie again says:

    Thanks Kelly! GTD does help with speed, and I will get faster at handling my email. I only meant that I personally have to take it slow until I get the new habit in place. GTD Times has inspired me to slow down to learn a better way to handle email that will soon be faster.

Leave a Reply