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  • Email processing help

    Hello!

    I'm relatively new to GTD, I've been implementing it for only a few months. But already GTD has been so incredibly useful to me. I'm relatively young and graduated from college about 3 years ago, and have joined my father's company. The adjustment to work life and managing my work was very difficult for me, and GTD has been instrumental in helping me get on track and feel like I might be able to run this company after all!

    Our company helps US businesses source and produce products overseas. As a result, our business processes and communication rely almost completely on email with overseas partners. We send and receive tons of email a day, and often a day's work will be spent completely on email or email support like documents, scans, etc. that must be emailed. Needless to say, our email volume and use is intense.

    I know that as per GTD, email is supposed to be treated like any other input, and I do understand this. My inbox is at 0. However, sometimes I find myself having trouble doing the "what's the outcome, next action, project, etc." processing for every email. Often, an email will be about many different projects or outcomes, and many next actions can spawn from an email. Also, sometimes I see an email and start to respond and only realize hours later that there was a project or next action in there that I forgot to add to my list.

    It's a little hard to explain my difficulty. I guess I'm worried that I'm not really processing each email to completion, that there's something hanging around that needed to be done with/from that email that I forgot to add to my list or properly assess. With other inputs in my life, I find it pretty easy to define it and move on. But I find email a little tricky. Things seem to blend together, it's tough to define boundaries and projects with so many things up in the air.

    Perhaps it's a matter of discipline and I'll get the hang of it. But if anyone has any input about this, I would really appreciate it.

    Thanks!

  • #2
    I don't know if this will help you, but when I get a complex email that contains a number of items that I have to follow up on, I find it helpful to print it out on paper and mark it up with a pen, circling each separate item that requires an action from me. After that, it is easier to get it into my system without missing anything. It might even be helpful to print multiple copies if I need a copy for the "Project A" folder and a copy for the "Project D" folder, etc.

    Most of my email is managed as an electronic item within my email program, but that only works really well when each email represents a small discrete action on my part. Complex email is better printed on paper for me.

    Good luck.

    [Edit: By the way, this problem with complex email is a good reason to keep your sent email simple. One request or at most one topic per email. Use list formatting to make individual items obvious. Send multiple email messages if necessary.

    I can't tell you how many times I have sent a message with 2 or 3 questions and get a reply with only one answer.]
    Last edited by Barry; 05-09-2007, 01:29 PM.

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    • #3
      I think Barry's answers are right on. First, figuring out the (possibly multiple) actions and their (possibly multiple) projects stemming from one email is *work*, often because people mix too much in one message. You may be able to change the culture a bit, either directly by coming up with an email policy, or indirectly via modeling.

      If things are moving quickly, it does help to group by subject (if possible) so that you can see later follow-on or correction emails relating to an earlier one. Also, note that some email programs (such as Outlook) let you rename subjects when replying. I use something like:

      "new subject (was: old subject)"

      Good luck!

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      • #4
        Please don't send three emails when one will do.

        Originally posted by Barry View Post
        [Edit: By the way, this problem with complex email is a good reason to keep your sent email simple. One request or at most one topic per email. Use list formatting to make individual items obvious. Send multiple email messages if necessary.

        I can't tell you how many times I have sent a message with 2 or 3 questions and get a reply with only one answer.]
        I can certainly identify with the problem of no more than one topic per email, but I can't agree that three questions on the same topic each in a separate email are better than a single email with three questions.

        I understand where you are coming from as I routinely have the same challenge. Those of us approaching 100-300 actionable emails a day would much rather get a single email than three. Volume is not the answer.

        The real answer is take the time to actually think about your email before you send it and when you process it. That may mean doing three 2-minute actions and creating a couple of next actions from one email. You should be able to do this from some hard copy meeting notes. Doing so from email shouldn't be anymore difficult, particularly if you print it out...

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