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How to best handle e-mail that represents a mini-project

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  • How to best handle e-mail that represents a mini-project

    I'm searching for some best practices in managing e-mail messages that not only take more that two minutes to dispatch, they take more than one action to dispatch (a mini-project with up to 5 next actions).

    David Allen outlines three options for organizing actionable e-mails within Outlook:
    1. Move e-mails to the @Action folder
    2. Drag the e-mails to Tasks
    3. Add an individual Task to @Computer list and move the e-mail to the @Action Support folder.
    For e-mails that require nothing more than a reply that will take longer than two minutes, I use the first option. For e-mails that represent a simple next action other than a reply (I sometimes e-mail myself a reminder that I need to do something) I use option two or three, depending on whether or not the original e-mail is needed as support material.

    But what about those e-mails that represent a mini-project? You can't simply reply to the e-mail; you need to perform one or more additional next actions to get the information you need to compose a reply (web surfing, telephoning, meeting, etc). Some possible options that come to mind for me include:
    1. Move the e-mail to @Action but generate next actions until you are able to dispatch it with one action (a reply or other action).
    2. Add "Handle e-mail re: x" to your Projects list, decide the next action you need to take and add it to the appropriate action list, and move the e-mail to @Action Support or a new project support folder.
    I'd like to know how others organize those types of e-mail. Also, do you use only one of the three techniques for organizing ALL of your e-mails, or do you use a mix of the three depending on the e-mail itself?

    I'd appreciate any information you're willing to share. Thanks!

  • #2
    I only use one approach to email. I treat my email inbox as nothing more than a communications tool; no different than if I was having a verbal conversation with someone.

    If an email shows up that I can respond to right away, I do it; depending on the context of the original email or my response, I may file it in a reference folder.

    If an email shows up that I need to do more work on, I record a next action (or project) for it, and file the email in a reference folder. When I record the project/action in my system, I also record some basic information about the email (who it was from, what date it was sent, subject, etc) so I can find it again later when it is time to reply.

    For me, it is just simpler to treat all incoming stuff the same way. That way, I don't have to check multiple places to see what can I work on next. This is what works for me; YMMV; yada, yada.

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    • #3
      What jknecht said. There's nothing special about email, it's just another form of input and/or support material. My NA and Project lists are the definitive reference for everything I need to do.

      Think about it. Does it matter whether your spouse asks you to trim the hedge via email, by leaving a note on the fridge, in person, or by phone? No. Regardless of how you got the assignment, to actually do it you're going to need to get out the hedge trimmers and head outside. So it's an @Home item.

      Katherine

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      • #4
        No extra loops

        I agree with jknecht and try to avoid any extra loops.

        When dealing with projects (big or small), I create a dated subfolder in my "Projects" folder and put in all related email. E.g., if answering your posting had been a project, the subfolder would have been "2007-11-02 Outline project email management for ellobogrande".

        After completion of a project, I simply drag & drop its respectve folder into my archive folder; in our example, that would result in "Archive\Projects.Completed\2007-11-02 Outline project email management for ellobogrande".

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        • #5
          A project is a project

          Originally posted by ellobogrande View Post
          1. Move the e-mail to @Action but generate next actions until you are able to dispatch it with one action (a reply or other action).
          2. Add "Handle e-mail re: x" to your Projects list, decide the next action you need to take and add it to the appropriate action list, and move the e-mail to @Action Support or a new project support folder.
          I'd like to know how others organize those types of e-mail. Also, do you use only one of the three techniques for organizing ALL of your e-mails, or do you use a mix of the three depending on the e-mail itself?
          I have been struggling with these, mini-projects, as you call them, myself. I think the solution is to handle them as normal projects. A project is a project, no matter how small or how many the next actions are.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by ellobogrande View Post
            e-mails that represent a mini-project? You can't simply reply to the e-mail; you need to perform one or more additional next actions
            A few comments:

            o This may be what you meant, but to clarify: A project should be *two* or more actions. If it's one, just add it to your actions list (move to @action; print move to @action_support, and enter task in external list system; drag to tasks).

            o If it's a project, add it to your projects list - use the tips others shared.

            However, if it's a small project (two or three *small* actions total) here's a cheat that's common: create a next action (wherever) that encodes all the steps. E.g.,
            "r/s [topic] -> call bob, schedule meeting"
            The arrow means "after I do this then".

            Hope that helps!

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