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Outlook Email processing--what to do when cannot quickly define next action?

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  • Outlook Email processing--what to do when cannot quickly define next action?

    I'm new to GTD but have been reading/watching webinars for the last week...
    The one item that isn't clear to me yet is how to handle/process emails when the next action itself will take time to sort out. Does anyone have an approach for these? My apologies if i'm starting a thread where one already exists...i searched but couldn't find one specifically on this topic...

    Thanks,
    Bill

  • #2
    It can be tricky.

    The very first step in the process is "What is this?" which sometimes is easy and sometimes leads to a lot of swearing.

    Probably the cleanest way to handle this within GTD is to create a Next Action: "Figure out what this email actually IS" and proceed from there. Don't be surprised if one email contains a whole lot of things: some for Reference, some Waiting Fors, some Next Actions... it's not as unusual as perhaps it should be.



    Cheers,
    Roger

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by wjrosie View Post
      The one item that isn't clear to me yet is how to handle/process emails when the next action itself will take time to sort out. Does anyone have an approach for these?
      I don't use Outlook but I do get some e-mail where even just figuring out whether an item is actionable can take a while and then figuring out the next action gan take as long as half an hour. I am struggling with e-mail processing in general but the biggest help for me is that once I go in and start processing e-mail I just stick with those long ones until they are done.

      Comment


      • #4
        Multiple actions from an email...

        Thanks...great suggestion.
        For those emails that require "multiple" follow-ups?--e.g. waiting for, next action, etc. do you copy/past/move them into several areas?


        Originally posted by Roger View Post
        It can be tricky.

        The very first step in the process is "What is this?" which sometimes is easy and sometimes leads to a lot of swearing.

        Probably the cleanest way to handle this within GTD is to create a Next Action: "Figure out what this email actually IS" and proceed from there. Don't be surprised if one email contains a whole lot of things: some for Reference, some Waiting Fors, some Next Actions... it's not as unusual as perhaps it should be.



        Cheers,
        Roger

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by wjrosie View Post
          For those emails that require "multiple" follow-ups?--e.g. waiting for, next action, etc. do you copy/past/move them into several areas?
          For me (personally) an email is just a piece of "original text", and the actions I write down are not physically connected in any way whatsoever to that "original text". Nothing to copy, not even if the email results in exactly one task. I phrase the resulting actions in a way that I will understand later, and which does not require me to re-read anything unnecessarily.

          (Occasionally I do paste a link etc, for sure, but my workflow does not in any way depend on any such practice. I can always find my emails later if I need them. They will stay filed "forever" in my reference system.)

          Comment


          • #6
            Hi Bill,

            I'm glad you took the initiative to post your questions here. That's what these forums are for.

            I'm not sure about your expertise in Outlook, but you can turn an email into a task in Outlook and put the next action in the Task Subject heading. You can also simply use the @Action/@Waiting For folder setup. Check out the "GTD and Outlook" webinar, and/or the "Managing Email" webinar for further reference.

            Comment


            • #7
              Outlook follow-up

              Originally posted by Folke View Post
              For me (personally) an email is just a piece of "original text", and the actions I write down are not physically connected in any way whatsoever to that "original text". Nothing to copy, not even if the email results in exactly one task. I phrase the resulting actions in a way that I will understand later, and which does not require me to re-read anything unnecessarily.

              (Occasionally I do paste a link etc, for sure, but my workflow does not in any way depend on any such practice. I can always find my emails later if I need them. They will stay filed "forever" in my reference system.)

              Thanks Folke. Really interesting suggestion. In the actions you record, do you note where you filed the original email or is your reference system that good that you always know? i'm not confident that i would be able to know exactly where it is--and sometimes i like to respond to the originating email so i was planning on including that email with the task.

              Thanks.
              Bill

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by wjrosie View Post
                In the actions you record, do you note where you filed the original email or is your reference system that good that you always know?
                I am an old dinosaur who learned the hard way how to archive reference stuff long before email even existed

                And I still keep reference stuff entirely separate because I do not want to be dependent on any particular todo app to manage this for the longer term. And I keep it organized in a different way, anyway - more by "topic" than by what I need to get done next (goals, projects etc; which are generally more short-lived animals). I file emails with the same kind of "philosophy" that I use for traditional paper-mail correspondence, but I do it entirely electronically (no paper hardcopy).

                So, yes, I can always find my emails. But even so, I sometimes find it convenient to paste a text snippet from, or a link to, the email into my tasks/projects, or even forward the whole email to my app. For example, and as you say, I may choose such an approach if I am going to send an email reply to that email or call some names and numbers listed within it and realize that it will not be entirely obvious at that time how I filed it. But I usually do not find it worthwhile to bother with this.

                Comment


                • #9
                  More outlook...

                  Originally posted by Folke View Post
                  I am an old dinosaur who learned the hard way how to archive reference stuff long before email even existed

                  And I still keep reference stuff entirely separate because I do not want to be dependent on any particular todo app to manage this for the longer term. And I keep it organized in a different way, anyway - more by "topic" than by what I need to get done next (goals, projects etc; which are generally more short-lived animals). I file emails with the same kind of "philosophy" that I use for traditional paper-mail correspondence, but I do it entirely electronically (no paper hardcopy).

                  So, yes, I can always find my emails. But even so, I sometimes find it convenient to paste a text snippet from, or a link to, the email into my tasks/projects, or even forward the whole email to my app. For example, and as you say, I may choose such an approach if I am going to send an email reply to that email or call some names and numbers listed within it and realize that it will not be entirely obvious at that time how I filed it. But I usually do not find it worthwhile to bother with this.
                  Thanks Folke. Truly appreciate your insights. Do you file your tasks/next actions by topic as well or do you follow the general categories for those (vs. your emails which you file by topic--and i have begun doing that as well).

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by wjrosie View Post
                    Do you file your tasks/next actions by topic as well or do you follow the general categories for those
                    In my todo app I keep everything organized in the way these apps are normally built, where every task is classified in several ways - with the GTD category (Next, Someday etc) as one dimension and a "project hierarchy" as another dimension, and context as a third dimension.

                    The app I am using now (Doit) has four hierarchical levels, called Goals, Projects, Tasks, and Subtasks. All of these are "do-related" - they all represent big or small steps for me to take, whereas my reference needs are not at all primarily concerned with how I had defined these steps at the time I took them, but more according to what subject matter and/or what company/person it is related to. One important purpose of the reference material is to provide me with a trackable record of interactions (correspondence logs etc) in the event of future disputes.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by wjrosie View Post
                      In the actions you record, do you note where you filed the original email or is your reference system that good that you always know? i'm not confident that i would be able to know exactly where it is--and sometimes i like to respond to the originating email so i was planning on including that email with the task.
                      What has worked well for me is to just attach the e-mail to the task item itself; and if the e-mail causes me to generate multiple tasks, I can attach a copy of it to each of the tasks if I so choose.

                      I have defined a "Quick Step" in Outlook for this, so if I just press Ctrl+Shift+4, it will instantly create a new task with the current e-mail attached. If I then don't need the e-mail for anything else, I hit Ctrl+Shift+9 to send it to my Archive folder.

                      Of course this uses a little more storage space because you'll have a few extra copies of some of your e-mails around, but as long as you aren't attaching gigantic messages to tasks it should be negligible.

                      Generally when I get to opening the task to act on it, I will re-open the attached e-mail and use Outlook's "related" function to see if there have been any additional follow-ups on the thread -- this helps keep me from wasting time, and/or making a fool of myself, responding to things that have already been resolved or that have had new information provided. And, it also satisfies your desire to be able to quickly respond to the original e-mail (or any other in the thread) if you wish.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Use a project focus (instead of just a task focus)

                        Over the New Years break I spent some time reviewing GTD for Outlook (which I have been using for the past year or so) and also the option of using Evernote for project and task management. I decided on the latter, after listening to most of the Podcasts and downloading the guide on GTD for Evernote. So, I now make my emails into actionable tasks by clipping them into Next Action folders (Agenda, Calls, Computer, Home, Errands, etc.), and if an email has multiple tasks, I might make it into a Project. To do that, I would capture of few of the items than need to be done related to the email, and dump any actionable tasks into the Next Actions folder. I don't worry about losing the other steps related to that email, as I will capture it when I review all projects in my Weekly Review.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by wjrosie View Post
                          Thanks Folke. Really interesting suggestion. In the actions you record, do you note where you filed the original email or is your reference system that good that you always know? i'm not confident that i would be able to know exactly where it is--and sometimes i like to respond to the originating email so i was planning on including that email with the task.
                          In my case, absolutely every mail is either deleted or put in a single unsorted archive for the year--I do no other email sorting. If I think that I may want the email that triggered the action, I may add a note to the action, something like "Email from JSmith 1/12/2014" or, if JSmith tends to pelt me with emails, "Email from JSmith, 'Vacation Issue', 1/12/2014." Then I can search for the email when I need it.

                          Edited to add: Re the original question, if I'm at a loss on an email, I may enter an action, "Figure out what to do about email from JSmith, 'vacation issue', 1/12/2014." And I still put it in the archive, even though that action is still open.

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