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  • Rules for processing incoming emails... a good thing?

    For years I've set up rules to automatically segment incoming emails into folders to classify them, bring some to a higher priority, etc. But in the advent of wanting a zero inbox, and trying to limit how MANY different "inboxes" I have to look in, I'm feeling I should do away with automation like that, I have them all come into my top level Inbox so they have to be dealt with and not get buried. Does that ring true to anyone?

  • #2
    It rings true to me. I do not find multi-inbox features very useful since inbox processing is such an important part of GTD. I have separate personal and work email inboxes and I leave it at that. I also have inboxes in RTM and Evernote when I simply capture an idea, note or task very quickly and haven't yet processed it into a complete project, task, or support material. I am at "inbox zero" almost constantly (once a day at worst).

    This is not to say that inbox filtering cannot be useful in a GTD-driven environment, but I would be judicious with it and trust your processing habits to be a vital part of your system.

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    • #3
      I have one folder to which I automatically send some of my emails. The folder is called "Mostly unimportant". I automatically send emails from a couple of mailing lists, and some auto-generated emails that very seldom is interesting to this box. Sometimes I scan through the folder, but most of the time I just delete them all.

      The others emails end up in my inbox for normal GTD processing. I think the answer to your question is no. It is not a good thing to auto process incoming emails. The ones I filter out are those which I know for sure isn't important in any way.
      Last edited by toremor; 05-21-2011, 12:06 AM. Reason: Accidentaly hit submit...

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      • #4
        I don't automatically process emails. I think it's good to let the brain do what it's good at, which includes pattern-recognition and decision-making. As long as organising is a quick drag and drop, then little time is spent. Even with newsletters etc, I give the email a quick 2 second scan to check there's no landmines lurking in there.

        I never use the inbox of my GTD app as I use my email as my collector and want to get to the smallest number of collectors as possible. I already have a file folder called Collector and a browser bookmark folder called Collector. The idea is that collecting is always just a mouse click to perform. One day I'll learn some computer scripting language and get these funnelled into a single inbox.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by toremor View Post
          I have one folder to which I automatically send some of my emails. The folder is called "Mostly unimportant". I automatically send emails from a couple of mailing lists, and some auto-generated emails that very seldom is interesting to this box. Sometimes I scan through the folder, but most of the time I just delete them all.

          The others emails end up in my inbox for normal GTD processing. I think the answer to your question is no. It is not a good thing to auto process incoming emails. The ones I filter out are those which I know for sure isn't important in any way.
          Surely the title "Mostly Unimportant" is enough to send a shiver down the spine of any GTDer.

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          • #6
            Thank you all for confirming my suspicion. Having those subfolders lurking there and having one more collection point to go into was definitely defeating the idea of having one email inbox. By the end of this day I'll remove ALL filters so I see the true email volume I need to deal with.

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            • #7
              I use subfolders

              Originally posted by srbentley View Post
              I'm feeling I should do away with automation like that, I have them all come into my top level Inbox so they have to be dealt with and not get buried. Does that ring true to anyone?
              Not to me at all. While the majority of my e-mails come into a single main inbox from all 10 separate e-mail accounts I could not handle my list mail, advertising, order info and spam if they all came into my main inbox.

              I participate in several e-mail lists. Those e-mails go directly to a separate mailbox per list so I can easily decide when to read them. It also keeps threaded conversations together. Those lists are more recreational so I don't necessarily want their mail cluttering up my inbox and requiring processing daily. It's more efficient to batch the e-mails into one place and then deal with a bunch of them at once when I choose to do it.

              I also have a lot of automatic filters to put all the various advertising e-mail I get from places we buy from often into a single ads folder. I empty it out once a week or so, but it gives me a single place to go if I need or want to look for any on-line coupons. Since I don't know when I get the e-mail whether I'll use it before it expires I need a place to put it where I can find it easily and I sure don't want to leave that stuff cluttering up the inbox and it's not in the main reference system. Why spend the extra time sorting it by hand when I can let the machine do it and then only go look at them when I am purchasing something?

              Similarly I have all my netflix e-mails and all shipping confirmations go to a single Order Info folder. When items come in I move those e-mails to the Order Rcvd folder. Again it saves me time finding that specific class of stuff.

              I have a spam catcher that is fairly good but sadly due to the topics I often am corresponding about I get a significant amount of real mail caught as spam and spam mail flagged as real. So I regularly check the spam folder to catch those items.

              I can't imagine dealing with the volumes of mail I get regularly without some pre-sorting the computer does for me.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by srbentley View Post
                For years I've set up rules to automatically segment incoming emails into folders to classify them, bring some to a higher priority, etc. But in the advent of wanting a zero inbox, and trying to limit how MANY different "inboxes" I have to look in, I'm feeling I should do away with automation like that, I have them all come into my top level Inbox so they have to be dealt with and not get buried. Does that ring true to anyone?
                I use filtering sparingly. The only thing I am using this for right now is for notifications I get from our GTD LinkedIn group, which I moderate. I get an email any time someone posts to that space. It's not a high priority for me to check in on that space, other than to slaughter spam as I can. So all of those emails go into a folder called "-LinkedIn" which sorts between my "-Action Support" and "-Waiting For Support" email folders.

                Many people get enamored with filtering, thinking it will handle processing for them. But it's really just resorting the inbox.

                Use it sparingly and consciously is my advice.

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                • #9
                  I have a few. I limit these to items I would consider as 'read/review' type of stuff, or FYI only because I'm on a circulation list.
                  EG - IT issue notifications whenever there is a service outage, and it rarely affects me - those go in a separate folder.

                  I tend to check the 'unread items' folder in Outlook each day, and glance at all the subject lines, and process them if I have time, so if there is anything important in these automatically filed emails I'll see it that way.

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                  • #10
                    The one case where I use email rules is for emails to myself.

                    An example is my personal journal, which I write as an email with a fixed format subject line prefix. A rule moves these into my Journal folder. One day I'll learn some scripting and have them moved automatically into an encrypted document.

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                    • #11
                      Email filtering for emails that are optional

                      I see email filtering as having the most value when used like Oogie uses them for items that do not require an action. This way those folders are not really inboxes, they are more like temporary reference or optional reading. They are there if you want them but can be ignored or deleted without any consequence.

                      For example, I get mailings from places I occasionally order from like 1-800-PetMeds which I have no interest in reading. However, when I do get ready to order from them, if I have them in a folder, I can pop over there and see if I have a $10 off or free shipping coupon I can type in. This is also a good time to delete everything in that box and let it start over.

                      Similarly, I subscribe to the Lifehack Blog. Sending them to a folder automatically keeps them available if I have time and out of my way if I don't.

                      I think the key is to be careful about creating too many places that MUST be checked, while creating multiple places to store material that can be ignored without penalty is fine. If you set up extra inboxes for actionable items, then you have to have a way to ensure they are dealt with regularly.

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                      • #12
                        No, I'm not a Google employee, but I have to jump in here and say that doing all this stuff manually really painful and takes a LOT of time. I mention Google because I use Google Apps for Business and between their "Priority Inbox" and their new automatic "Bulk" filter, it's really amazing how clean my inbox is these days.

                        The bulk filter is amazing...it catches every advertisement, offer, etc and seems to never miss one or categorize incorrectly. That alone is a huge clutter buster to me.

                        Priority Inbox is huge too...especially when checking your email on an Android phone...

                        The new version of Yahoo Mail now incorporates "Other Inbox", which is basically another automated email labeler. I tried it, but it's nowhere near as nice as what Google has.

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                        • #13
                          As far as I'm concerned, as long as the filters cause emails to land in clearly defined places where everything that means that thing are in that place, and no more, and no less, filters are great.

                          I, too, use them for killing things like coupons and newsletters. I don't need Borders' coupons until I'm about to go to Borders, so those all go into a folder and don't hit my inbox. Newsletters go into an automatic read-review stack that I go through at my weekly review (I actually then dump them onto my e-reader.)

                          And like Steve, I've found Google's priority inbox to be a great help. No, it doesn't mean the end of processing. But I have the categories Important and Unread, @Action, Unread, and Everything Else. I check the "important and unread" section several times a day, as it tends to generate the "do it now" actions. Once a day, I check "Unread", which is often generating a lot of "read-review" and "reference" items and is simply a matter of labeling and archiving. Things that are longer than two-minute actions get an "@Action" tag and appear in their own category (which can be collapsed so that they're "out of the inbox").

                          I check my system by looking at "everything else--" if I've handled all the two-minute actions, labeled all the others, and dealt with reference and read-review appropriately, there should be nothing in that section.

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                          • #14
                            I've been wondering about this, because several years ago I setup filtering to give each client a separate email folder, as well as separate folders for other things like mailing lists. The good part is that it's easy to search a client's messages for past info. However, the problem is that it makes it too easy to ignore the folder for Annoying Client while staying right on top of the new stuff in the folder for Pleasant Client, or even the Family Members folder.

                            I think I'm going to do what people here talk about: use separate folders only for read/review type stuff, that really can be ignored indefinitely, and go back to a single inbox for everything that could be important.

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                            • #15
                              I participate in several e-mail lists. Those e-mails go directly to a separate mailbox per list so I can easily decide when to read them. It also keeps threaded conversations together. Those lists are more recreational so I don't necessarily want their mail cluttering up my inbox and requiring processing daily. It's more efficient to batch the e-mails into one place and then deal with a bunch of them at once when I choose to do it.
                              Last edited by John Forrister; 06-10-2011, 08:40 AM. Reason: advertising links

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