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Digging through the email sludge

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  • Digging through the email sludge

    I don't know about anyone else, but I have a persistent problem with managing my email. Paperwork happens reasonably well, modulo my other issues, but email tends to get like the sludge at the bottom of the water tank: thick, foetid, and nasty to wade through.

    The only way I've found to get even half-way to dealing with it is by using some of Merlin Mann's tips on 43 Folders. In particular, the dashes: I'll do the (10 + 2) * 5 in the morning, spending an hour or two dashing through (or part-way through) some tasks, and email is always on this list. He's also got some great advice about getting to zero, which I keep having a go at, but email is still the bane of my GTD life. I dread dealing with email as I'd dread cleaning the drains.

    Does anyone else have email issues? Better still, does anyone have any clever tips for dealing with the beast? Is it that these emails are all really projects, and I'm not treating them as such? Or is it just that I have a lot of things to do that I get wussy about?

  • #2
    Here's what I do

    Two things work for me - make sure to process EVERY email and have a discrete way to file them outside of your IN BOX. The most important thing for me is to distinguish emails that are actionable, part of a project, something I've committed to read and things I might want to read.

    I use three top-level folders:

    Action
    Read (FYI)
    Reference

    Underneath I have several sub-folders. For example:
    (under Projects I have a sub-folder for each Project)

    Action
    - @Action
    - @Read
    - Projects
    - Someday/Maybe

    Read
    - CBS MarketWatch
    - WSJ.com

    Reference
    - simple A-Z system for emails

    For example, there are some WSJ.com emails that I really want to read but many are there just in case I might want to read them. I want those emails separate and distinct from each other - @Read vs. Read/WSJ.com

    This way I can get my IN Box to zero, keep clean edges between actionable and non-actionable things and easily find if I need to. I expect that as desktop searching gets better I'll use fewer and fewer folders but we're not there yet.

    Good luck!
    Mark

    Comment


    • #3
      Processing of all inboxes (not only emails) takes approximatelly 45 minutes daily. I do it before leaving my office. I open email agent. Process each email: - open the first on the top, - read through, - any action? if yes do it or forward to delegatee or move it as attachment to calendar or next action list; if no - save for reference or delete. One email usually takes 10-30 seconds to process. So I go through all of them. Till zero.

      Comment


      • #4
        Get a bulldozer

        Here are some email tips that I've found usefull.

        I usually recieve about 100-200 emails per day and spend an hour to two hours processing them.

        1. If you are a pack rat (like I am) and have saved your own skin more than a few times by finding that email you recieved two years ago... immediately (don't even finish reading this post) go to your e-mail client and create a rule that will store a copy of EVERY incoming and outgoing email message in a single offline location. In Outlook this is easy enough to do as an off-line .pst file. Put everything in one folder. No tags, no labels, no muss, no fuss. Any decent modern e-mail client should allow you to do this.

        2. Now that you know you have an archival copy if you ever need it you are free to "Delete with Extreme Predjudice". In doubt. Delete. If it is important enough they'll send another email or call you.

        3. Why be bothered with pressing that delete key so often. Set up rules to automatically delete incoming messages (once they've been copied to your archive folder). Only on the cc line? AUTO DELETE. If they wanted you to do anything you should be on the to line. Flagged FYI? AUTO DELETE (okay maybe also first copy to a Read/Review folder, but then definitely get it out of your inbox). Email from bozo@fiveclownsconsulting.com? AUTO DELETE.

        Inbox getting spammed with a long verbose conversation with a bunch of people flaming on about stuff you have no interest in, yet somehow you got on the to line and everybody is "keeping you in the loop", you guessed it, AUTO DELETE.

        No subject line? AUTO DELETE.

        High Priority Message from your boss AUTO DEL... okay maybe not that one...

        4. Filing Email. I don't bother. It all goes into the single archive file and if I need it I can find it. I basically use the rest of the GTD Workflow.

        5. Inbasketry is a hard edge. If you don't do it today your system will blow up. It goes on the calendar. At least an hour (until you are certain you can process it in less time), every day, no exceptions.

        6. Don't let it get out of control. I find a mental block at about 30 emails. If my inbox gets above 30 I have to process e-mail at the next available discretionary time or I feel I won't be able to get to zero base during my next scheduled block for inbasketry.

        7. Empty every day. Start tomorrow with a clean slate.

        8. Cultivate good email habits. Use a meaningful subject line. Keep emails to one screen. If you get a list of five questions in a single email try to answer all five in the response. (I'm amazed at how many people will respond to the first question in a list of several and think they are done?) It shouldn't take five emails back and forth to get five questions answered. Think before you hit send.

        9. Don't use email for inappropriate discussions. "Hey are you in the office, can I call you?" should either be IM'd or just call. Your hands are not chained to the keyboard; it is actually possible to reach over to the phone and make a call.

        10. Keep actionable stuff on your action lists and not in your inbox. Get reference stuff out of your inbox and into your reference system. Incubate someday/maybe stuff. Delete everything else.

        Comment


        • #5
          Sort Emails by Name

          Somedays I can't get my work day started, so getting rid of junk emails helps me feel that I have a least accomplished something, even if it is mindless and doesn't make me a penny. It serves to get me going and clean out the in-box.

          I heavily use Outlook and G-Mail to filter, delete and sort my emails. Usually I sort incoming mail by date, but when the In-Box gets unruly, I sort by name. This way I can de-junk much faster by cleaning out several emails from the same person with one delete. David Allen mentions this trick quite a bit, but I usually have to remind myself to use it.

          I also educate anyone who sends me an email to identify their organization or purpose on the subject line. I give several examples of lousy subject lines that look close to what a spammer would send. For some reason, the local church that I attend can not figure out how to create a decent subject line. So I finally told the administration to educate anyone who sends out a church related email to include the church name, or their email files would end up in my Junk Mail "Purgeatory" along with all the Viagra emails. I think they are finally getting it since they are in the middle of a huge building campaign and don't want to loose potential donations or be referred to as "junk mail."

          Nancy
          Last edited by nancyrezmer; 04-02-2007, 09:06 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Mark Jantzen View Post
            I use three top-level folders:

            Action
            Read (FYI)
            Reference

            Underneath I have several sub-folders. For example:
            (under Projects I have a sub-folder for each Project)

            Action
            - @Action
            - @Read
            - Projects
            - Someday/Maybe

            Read
            - CBS MarketWatch
            - WSJ.com

            Reference
            - simple A-Z system for emails
            Gosh. I tried something like this, and felt pleased with myself for being so organised, but then I read Gina Trapani's Empty Your Inbox With The Trusted Trio blog post. I realised I was probably spending more time maintaining the structure than actually using it, so I've taken the plunge and gone for a version of her Trusted Trio. It's cut the maintenance down, at least, and made me a little more likely to follow up.

            But apropos of your system, is it in your mail application, or in your file system? And do you find you collect much in your Someday/Maybe file? Also, does your project file consist of project support emails for all your active projects, or something else?

            Originally posted by Mark Jantzen View Post
            For example, there are some WSJ.com emails that I really want to read but many are there just in case I might want to read them. I want those emails separate and distinct from each other - @Read vs. Read/WSJ.com
            Do you find that you do go back and read them, in time? Do you have irregular times when you get the opportunity to kick back and read your WSJ articles in a bunch, or are you just being hopeful?

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by jpm View Post
              1. If you are a pack rat (like I am) and have saved your own skin more than a few times by finding that email you recieved two years ago...
              Thankfully, I'm out of the industry where that matters.

              Originally posted by jpm View Post
              4. Filing Email. I don't bother. It all goes into the single archive file and if I need it I can find it. I basically use the rest of the GTD Workflow.
              I do this too, in combination with Mail Tags and Mail Act-On, and find it's substantially easier.

              Originally posted by jpm View Post
              5. Inbasketry is a hard edge. If you don't do it today your system will blow up. It goes on the calendar. At least an hour (until you are certain you can process it in less time), every day, no exceptions.
              I think this is my big blockage. I'm not seeing Inbox maintenance as a routine daily activity, rather as an "as and when I get around to it" sort of optional extra. Hmmm.

              Originally posted by jpm View Post
              10. Keep actionable stuff on your action lists and not in your inbox. Get reference stuff out of your inbox and into your reference system. Incubate someday/maybe stuff. Delete everything else.
              Nice wrap, with a big finish. You've given me something to think about (and dwell on my inadequacies. Drat )

              Many thanks.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by nancyrezmer View Post
                Somedays I can't get my work day started, so getting rid of junk emails helps me feel that I have a least accomplished something, even if it is mindless and doesn't make me a penny. It serves to get me going and clean out the in-box.
                Good thought. I'll have to get into that habit as a runup to real work, I think. Although mine's not so much junk, since I have Mail.app (Mac mail) which has an adaptive spam filter, I still accumulate Stuff that clogs my Inbox.

                Originally posted by nancyrezmer View Post
                Usually I sort incoming mail by date, but when the In-Box gets unruly, I sort by name. This way I can de-junk much faster by cleaning out several emails from the same person with one delete. David Allen mentions this trick quite a bit, but I usually have to remind myself to use it.
                Good trick: I must remind myself too.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Inbox Mastery

                  Great question ... check out the latest article on this topic on Zen Habits:

                  http://zenhabits.net/2007/04/inbox-m...fewer-inboxes/

                  Comment

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