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  • An epiphany re my inbox!

    Thanks to the Roadmap seminar on 7/21 in SM (highly recommended, btw) and a conversation with Randy Stokes (fellow GTDer of this board), I had an epiphany about working from zero in my email/voicemail inbox that I just have to share! I'm so excited!

    I was having problems keeping my inbox empty for a very simple reason. I was keeping emails as physical reminders of actions that needed to be taken, rather than putting those things on my lists.

    When I got new emails, when I didn't have time to actually DO whatever I imagined might be required after reading them, I would just not open them. (ahem. embarrassed smiley here). This led to a few problems!

    But, after the seminar on the 21st, I gave myself permission to open an email and process it by writing the NA on a list, without actually having to DO the next action right then. This has taken away (so far anyway) my resistence to opening emails.

    Now when I process emails, I open them, shoot a quick reply ("I received your email, and will address it as soon as I can"), archive it in the appropriate folder and put a NA on my lists in the appropriate place.

    Hurraaaaaaayyyy! Thanks David and Randy.

    It was worth the money and the time in the seminar for just that one epiphany.

  • #2
    I had the same problem prior to GTD. I would either not open emails or else open them and leave them in inbox limbo until I could (hopefully) get back to them. My inbox looked like a jumbled mess of undone and undoable junk. Like you, I experienced a few embarrasing moments over this bad habit.

    After absorbing David's emphasis on "working from zero base" I stopped that practice and count it among the top five or six major changes brought about by GTD. Now an unopened email just screams at me to "DO SOMETHING WITH ME!".

    I also have folders marked 'Review Weekly" and "Review Monthly", and it's amazing how many of those emails go straight to those two folders as soon as I read them (and acknowledge if necessary). They then sit patiently waiting for me to come back to them at the appropriate time since I made a good N/A choice (Defer) as soon as they arrived.

    Comment


    • #3
      I think that on the GTD Fast CD's David addresses this and recommends that unless you are away from your computer most of the time, you should skip writing the NA on your list... rather, just throw the email into an @Action folder. If you are @computer pretty ubiquitously, it's extra work to write the NA down.

      Does he still recommend the same practice?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by jkgrossi
        ... rather, just throw the email into an @Action folder. If you are @computer pretty ubiquitously, it's extra work to write the NA down.
        The artifact (an email) isn't a next action, though. It's probably got one that goes with it, but the email itself usually doesn't tell you what you need to do with it. If you just toss the emails that require responses into your @Action folder, each time you look at one of them, you have to figure out what the next action is for each email.

        It seems like you want a way to transmogrify the emails into next actions, so you can keep track of what you need to do with the emails in addition to the emails themselves. (The GTD outlook plugin tries to do something like this, but I found it awkward.)

        Comment


        • #5
          I agree with Eric. And I did try the @actions folder - it got seriously ignored, just like my inbox did. I prefer to spend the extra time, for items longer than 2 minutes, to type it onto a list. I'm a fast typer. Unless it's an item less than 2 minutes, you're going to have to put something on a list sometime, or else you're just using an electronic placeholder, which you'll have to process and put on a list at the weekly review. Maybe it works for some people, just not for me.

          With Outlook, you can just drag the email over to your tasks icon, and it will open a new task with the email text in the body of it. This is very fast and easy, and sometimes the appropriate way to handle the email, rather than starting it as a new task. Sometimes not though, it depends.

          Our voicemails show up as little emails from "Call Express", with litte tape machine type buttons (play, stop, etc.) I just open the email/vmail, set it playing, hit ctrl-shift K to open a new task on top, and type while the email plays. Works great so far.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by jkgrossi
            I think that on the GTD Fast CD's David addresses this and recommends that unless you are away from your computer most of the time, you should skip writing the NA on your list... rather, just throw the email into an @Action folder. If you are @computer pretty ubiquitously, it's extra work to write the NA down.

            Does he still recommend the same practice?
            Are you sure? I don't have the Fast CDs, but I thought there used to be advice on handling email in the Tips & Tools section. In any case, that's not how I understood the advice on handling email.

            It is always extra work to write down any NA. But if you don't, you will not have them all in one trusted system, right?

            If it's OK to skip writing down actions that come from emails on my list, then can I also skip writing down actions that come from paper mail, and just put the mail itself in an "Action" pile? That seems like the old strategy I had before reading GTD that let's just say did not work well for me.

            I understood the @Actions email folder to be an action support folder. The action is written down on NA lists. If the email is needed when you decide to do the action, you can find it easily because it's in its action support email folder.

            So the Inbox would contain only emails I have not yet processed into my one trusted system. @Action contains emails I need to refer to when I do the action I recorded in my system. Other email reference folders contain email that I may or may not refer to in the distant future, emails not associated with any of my NAs.

            At least this is how I understood the recommendations I read on handling email. They made a lot of sense to me and kicked my butt into processing over 6,000 emails (or was it 8,000) that were in my Inbox.

            Even so, the recommendations are somewhat tool-specific. I have recently been using Gmail a lot. It is a great, great tool but has to be used differently. The recommendation to process email and put any NAs into the system is even more important since the Gmail Inbox is never going to be empty. In fact, it's just gonna keep growing. And there is no such thing as filing in the traditional sense.

            Comment


            • #7
              I use Outlook and simply drag the email to the tasks folder and add the appropriate category...@Calls, etc. If necessary, I change the subject line to reflect the appropriate action, though it being in @Calls and the body of the message usually triggers my mind on what needs doing.

              Comment


              • #8
                Taming Your Email

                Originally posted by andersons
                Are you sure? I don't have the Fast CDs, but I thought there used to be advice on handling email in the Tips & Tools section. In any case, that's not how I understood the advice on handling email.
                This article on Taming Your Email is the same information that was in the Tips & Tools article.

                Carolyn

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by andersons
                  Even so, the recommendations are somewhat tool-specific. I have recently been using Gmail a lot. It is a great, great tool but has to be used differently. The recommendation to process email and put any NAs into the system is even more important since the Gmail Inbox is never going to be empty. In fact, it's just gonna keep growing. And there is no such thing as filing in the traditional sense.
                  Maybe I misunderstood something, but why your Gmail Inbox is never going to be empty? I empty it once a day, just click Select: "All" and then "Archive". Moreover, you can emulate "filling in the traditional sense" with labels, if you want to.

                  greyman.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thanks, Taxgeek. My email inboxes are my biggest GTD failure. I had shuttled emails off to a "@action" subfolder, but in essence was just creating a new inbox that had to be processed. I'm definitely going to try out your suggestion.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by greyman
                      Maybe I misunderstood something, but why your Gmail Inbox is never going to be empty? I empty it once a day, just click Select: "All" and then "Archive". Moreover, you can emulate "filling in the traditional sense" with labels, if you want to.
                      Gmail works differently from traditional email clients. Not just the interface, but the implementation is completely different. Yes, you can get it to act more like those traditional email tools by archiving and using labels like folders. But Gmail has rendered these habits nearly obsolete.

                      Sometimes 'best practices' evolve to handle the problems that result from the limitations of the tool. We become comfortable with those habits; they work well for us with our tools. But if the tool's capability changes, we forget that the habits are not the goal; they were a way to reach the goal. Better tools can be developed that can render the old habits obsolete.

                      The habit that doesn't change with any email (or any other input, whether paper, phone call, thought popping into the head, etc.) is the need to process. Decide what to do; if there's an action, put it in your one trusted system. This was one of the powerful things I am grateful to have learned from GTD. Without exaggeration, this advice changed my chaotic life.

                      However, it was useful but not absolutely necessary to 'get In to empty.' The real need is to process. Some of us -- like me -- were reading email, not deciding what to do about it, delaying answering it, and leaving it in the Inbox as a physical reminder that something must be done eventually. This is bad! (When I read DA's description of this problem, oh boy did I identify and realize just how right he was!)

                      So if we got In to empty by processing, filing, and deleting, that meant that anything in our Inbox by definition needed processing. Just like a physical Inbox. But with Gmail, anything Unread still needs processing and constitutes my virtual Inbox for email. The interface makes it easy to see, so emptying the Inbox is so longer necessary either for performance or to make it easy to see what I still need to process. I can ignore anything in blue; it's already been read and processed. I initially had a hard time not filing and not getting In to empty. I had worked to develop those habits and they had worked well for me. But with Gmail they are no longer necessary.

                      With traditional email clients, we also had to have good practices for 1) filing and 2) deleting. The real purpose of filing was to be able to find stuff again when we need it. The purpose of deleting was to make it easier to find the more important stuff and to free up space.

                      Gmail is designed so that emails are easy and fast to find without filing. And with 2G of storage, freeing up space is not much of an issue. The purpose for filing and deleting no longer apply.

                      The folder interface for filing email (and everything else digital) has severe limitations, especially for large numbers of emails: hierarchies don't scale well, either for computer performance or for human memory.

                      It is going to be hard to move past the folder paradigm and interface. We've been using it forever. But the folder interface for digital data is going away. It's too slow and cumbersome for large amounts of data. The new Windows Vista is will index files and search fast just as Google has been doing for the web (about time, too!).

                      If you're interested in reading an incredibly smart person's analysis of interface limitations, check out the The Anti-Mac Interface.

                      Now if only someone could come up with a way to eliminate the need for paper filing. The Gmail equivalent for paper would be a Superman assistant who could search mountains of paper to find the one you need in about 2 seconds.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ericlechner
                        The artifact (an email) isn't a next action, though. It's probably got one that goes with it, but the email itself usually doesn't tell you what you need to do with it. If you just toss the emails that require responses into your @Action folder, each time you look at one of them, you have to figure out what the next action is for each email.

                        It seems like you want a way to transmogrify the emails into next actions, so you can keep track of what you need to do with the emails in addition to the emails themselves. (The GTD outlook plugin tries to do something like this, but I found it awkward.)
                        I know... I'm just relaying what David recommended in the CD program...

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by andersons
                          Are you sure? I don't have the Fast CDs, but I thought there used to be advice on handling email in the Tips & Tools section. In any case, that's not how I understood the advice on handling email.

                          It is always extra work to write down any NA. But if you don't, you will not have them all in one trusted system, right?

                          If it's OK to skip writing down actions that come from emails on my list, then can I also skip writing down actions that come from paper mail, and just put the mail itself in an "Action" pile? That seems like the old strategy I had before reading GTD that let's just say did not work well for me.

                          I understood the @Actions email folder to be an action support folder. The action is written down on NA lists. If the email is needed when you decide to do the action, you can find it easily because it's in its action support email folder.

                          So the Inbox would contain only emails I have not yet processed into my one trusted system. @Action contains emails I need to refer to when I do the action I recorded in my system. Other email reference folders contain email that I may or may not refer to in the distant future, emails not associated with any of my NAs.

                          At least this is how I understood the recommendations I read on handling email. They made a lot of sense to me and kicked my butt into processing over 6,000 emails (or was it 8,000) that were in my Inbox.

                          Even so, the recommendations are somewhat tool-specific. I have recently been using Gmail a lot. It is a great, great tool but has to be used differently. The recommendation to process email and put any NAs into the system is even more important since the Gmail Inbox is never going to be empty. In fact, it's just gonna keep growing. And there is no such thing as filing in the traditional sense.
                          Pretty sure... I just listened to them again last week.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by jkgrossi
                            Pretty sure... I just listened to them again last week.
                            I assume DA was talking about using Outlook for email. (Does everybody use it?) I see in another post that emails can be tasks in Outlook. So I guess if all your tasks are in Outlook and emails can be tasks, they would be in one system. That's pretty cool.

                            I use an arcane email client, Pine, and having actions in an @Actions folder in Pine is just horrible. Even having action support in @ActionSupport folder was horrible.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by andersons
                              I assume DA was talking about using Outlook for email. (Does everybody use it?)
                              Hardly. I'll bet there's some Notes and Eudora users reading this.

                              My arcane email client is Pegasus. When I first started GTD, I was really good at emptying my Inbox and dropping emails into my Action folder. Only recently have I trained myself to actually deal with those emails. As for identifying the NA, usually it's writing back. If there's some research I have to do first, generally I do it without recording it in the system. And yes, that means holding stuff in my head for a while, but it works. I suppose if it was really complicated I might set up a mini-project and make the outcome "I have answered so-and-so's question."

                              FWIW
                              Pam

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