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  • GTD email management + 3

    For those of you who just received the email about getting David's tips for managing email, I would like to offer the following three suggestions. I have been teaching this modified version for six years, and it has been working very well. As David says, "as simple as possible, but no simpler".

    1) Instead of having a single "Action" folder, create the following subfolders within the "Action" folder. Keep nothing in the "Action" folder, but rather keep all your actionable emails in the subfolders.

    ACTION
    1 Monday
    2 Tuesday
    3 Wednesday
    4 Thursday
    5 Friday

    Add Saturday and Sunday if you choose. Keep your daily folder open, not your inbox, and at the end of each day it should be empty. All actionable emails should either have been done or moved to a different day.

    2) Check your Waiting For folder first thing in the morning. A quick review stops the nagging in your mind, and for any that you followup on, the person will have time to get back to you that day.

    3) If you are cleaning out your inbox for the first time, create a folder called "Backlog", pick a date where the bulk of the emails are now irrelevant (say, two months ago), and move all those older than that into the backlog folder. They are not lost, but now you can spend your time wisely by processing the rest of the last two months to empty. That way, you can actually get to the place where you experience a completely empty inbox, with all your actionable emails in your daily folders, with no distractions of reference, someday/maybe, waiting for, and all the rest. It is a great feeling, and experiencing it once will make you want to keep it that way. However, processing 10,000 emails in your inbox is awful, and probably not worth the time for most of them (old, outdated, no longer relevant). If you feel motivated to do them later, slowly clean out your backlog folder. If you haven't visited it in six months, considering tossing or archiving the whole folder.

    Other than that, set up your email as David describes. Setting up your email is the single fastest and easiest way to experience the clear head that GTD promises. It is a self-contained microcosm of the GTD system that introduces you to the terms and process. That's why I teach it. Most people can be up and running in under ten minutes, and have a completely empty inbox over a lunch hour or two.

    Try it. You'll love it.
    Attached Files

  • #2
    Thanks for your suggestion, I think I might give that approach a try.

    What is the difference in your system between Project Support and Reference?

    Comment


    • #3
      As David says, "as simple as possible, but no simpler".

      Somehow this bugs me - if it's as simple as possible, how COULD it be simpler?

      Sorry - it's Friday...

      Comment


      • #4
        Thanks for the tips!

        I would appreciate an explanation, though. Don't you all keep separate lists of Actions, Waiting Fors, etc. outside of your email? If so, why don't you transcribe the appropriate information from emails into that outside system? Why keep two separate systems, one in email and one outside email?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Brent View Post
          Thanks for the tips!

          I would appreciate an explanation, though. Don't you all keep separate lists of Actions, Waiting Fors, etc. outside of your email? If so, why don't you transcribe the appropriate information from emails into that outside system? Why keep two separate systems, one in email and one outside email?
          I agree. I simply have one big "todo/reference" folder for every email that's currently in my external system. I don't use the "todo" folder as a reminder, but rather simply as a holding place for any emails I'll need to come back to. After the relevant task is done, I move the email to "archive."

          IMHO, duplicating an external system in email creates potentially confusing redundancy, making it harder to find an email when you need it and decreasing trust that either system is current or up-to-date.

          If, however, your system is your email program, then the method above makes sense.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by br4978 View Post
            Somehow this bugs me - if it's as simple as possible, how COULD it be simpler?

            Sorry - it's Friday...
            Easy to explain. Having one actions list is simpler than having context lists. However, it is more effective to have them split up once you get more than a handful of actions. Having one actions folder for email is the same thing. After you accumulate more than a handful, then it starts to repel and become less effective. You need your bucket to be more complex (subfolders) to make it simpler to work.

            As simple as possible, but no simpler. The simplicity/complexity should match the information being stored.

            Comment


            • #7
              Thank you Scott! I really like this idea and it provides perspective on my own system.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by rangi500 View Post
                Thanks for your suggestion, I think I might give that approach a try.

                What is the difference in your system between Project Support and Reference?
                There is no hard line, but I always get this question. It only really seems to resolve itself once people start filing their folders. Funny, but I have never had any questions from anyone after they have started filing.

                A couple points might help:

                1) Project Support is technically Reference as well. I just tend to keep a folder for each active project in Projects, and all the rest go into Reference. Reference is more for things like Benefits notices, online receipts, basically anything you want to keep that has no direct action.

                2) The key is that neither of these folders should contain any emails that require action. Those should be kept in the daily folders. Once they are done, you can move them to a Project or Reference folder if you want to keep them. This is a tough behavior for most people. They usually want to have all their emails for each project in each project folder. This is actually much less efficient, because then when it's time to do something, you have to look through ALL your project folders to make sure you have seen all the actions. Not only that, but you have to find them again within each folder amidst all the other waiting for, reference, completed, and duplicate emails associated with the project. That's the problem with keeping them all in your inbox to begin with, and it only gets worse when you distribute them over multiple project folders. When all the actions are in one folder, you can better prioritize and do without distractions.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by madalu View Post
                  I agree. I simply have one big "todo/reference" folder for every email that's currently in my external system. I don't use the "todo" folder as a reminder, but rather simply as a holding place for any emails I'll need to come back to. After the relevant task is done, I move the email to "archive."

                  IMHO, duplicating an external system in email creates potentially confusing redundancy, making it harder to find an email when you need it and decreasing trust that either system is current or up-to-date.

                  If, however, your system is your email program, then the method above makes sense.
                  Guess I needed to be a little clearer. This is only for managing my email. I also have my GTD binder where I keep everything else. If the email generates something that isn't best handled via email, then I will transfer the next action to my binder. Otherwise, I keep it in the email. That's also how David manages it. I think he even transfers all actionable emails to his main lists.

                  When I wrote "Setting up your email is the single fastest and easiest way to experience the clear head that GTD promises", I didn't mean that setting up your email system is the way to manage ALL your lists. I meant that GTD email the easiest entry point for most people to experience what it feels like to have a clear head about part of their life. Email teaches emptying your inbox regularly, separating action from reference, the concept of Waiting For and Someday/Maybe, and a bunch of others GTD concepts without having to set your whole life up that way. I started teaching it because a lot more people were receptive to the idea of spending an hour setting up their GTD email than spending two whole days setting up their GTD life. Some go on to do the whole thing, but I'm not sure they would have if they had to take the leap all at once.

                  Hope this clears up the intent of my post.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thanks -- this gave me a needed kick in the pants

                    I was staring at my overloaded email in-box, feeling overwhelmed. Then I read this post. My motivation was sparked by the idea of putting everything in a backlog folder. So simple, but just seeing my in-box empty got me moving. I put 2007 emails in their own folder within Backlog and just started processing the 2008 emails. Thanks!

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bookworm View Post
                      I was staring at my overloaded email in-box, feeling overwhelmed. Then I read this post. My motivation was sparked by the idea of putting everything in a backlog folder. So simple, but just seeing my in-box empty got me moving. I put 2007 emails in their own folder within Backlog and just started processing the 2008 emails. Thanks!
                      Awesome. This is exactly the reason I added this step. They may just be emails, but they have weight. I have experienced the joy of seeing people walk down a hallway after they have gotten their inbox emptied for the first time a day or two after my class. They actually stand up straighter. How do I know? Because I confront them with "you got your inbox empty, didn't you?". They nod curiously, and ask me how I knew.

                      If you ever are in this situation, you will know it too. It's written all over their face and posture. Good luck, and enjoy your new sense of control.

                      Comment

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