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  • @review vs @todo

    I've just started trying to start implementing GTD and have set up a system in Outlook where I can move emails to a number of next action folders. This has helped me keep the number of emails in my Inbox down to a manageable number (usually less than 50 and I have been able to get it down to 0 at least once or twice a week). I've set up @todo, @review, and @waitingfor. I'm having trouble trying to create clear boundaries between what goes into the @todo and @review folders. In my mind, @todo are emails that I have to respond to, or contain some action I need to do that will take more than 2 minutes (but usually not much more than 10 - 15 minutes). I have tried to use the @review to keep emails that usually contain documents that I need to review (the only action needed for most of these is reviewing the document). The @todo items tend to have a higher urgency/priority compared to the @review items.

    Does this make sense? I'm having trouble staying caught up the @review emails and sometimes, once I start reviewing one of the @review emails, I realize that there are some important things in them that I wished I had reviewed earlier.

    Any suggestions.

  • #2
    Sounds like your @review contains e-mails that belong in in @todo (which many others call @action). Maybe try putting all your e-mails that require any action in @todo for a while? Even if the action is "read." That will help you distinguish between your "todo e-mails" and real "@review" e-mails, which should ideally be ones that are unlikely to spur another action and if they do, it's okay if that action isn't spurred until the item is read.

    Two examples from my own system:
    A) e-mail newsletter from my brokerage firm re: current crisis went into read.review. When I did finally read it, I decided I had an NA "call financial advisor" but it was A-OK that that NA didn't come up until after I'd read the newsletter.

    B) Long e-mail detailing requirements for a fellowship I want to apply for. Since "Apply for Fellowship X" is an active project for me, the e-mail got tagged "@Action" to be read as soon as I had the time and energy.

    It takes a while for your mind to get comfortable that you've made the right decision about whether or not something really is read.review, so maybe in the interim, make them all @todo, whether the next action associated with them is "read" or "reply."

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    • #3
      Originally posted by dbloomfield1 View Post
      Does this make sense? I'm having trouble staying caught up the @review emails and sometimes, once I start reviewing one of the @review emails, I realize that there are some important things in them that I wished I had reviewed earlier.
      I have a similar system, and do occasionally find @review items that should have been reviewed earlier, but I can generally live with the consequences .

      You might try asking yourself, "how often do I need to drive my @review items to zero?" ... weekly, biweekly, etc., and then create a time specific next action to be sure that this gets done on the appropriate schedule.

      - Don

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      • #4
        If an email isn't clearly something I can delete or file as reference, I move it to my @Action folder; so there's no reason to leave anything in the inbox. Once it's moved to @Action, regardless of the content, the next action on each message is to read it. Once I've identified the next actions in an email, I enter it on the appropriate action list, outside of the email client. I prefer not to use email headers as next action cues, since an email can have more than one next action required (and I use Gmail rather than Outlook, making it less convenient to retitle headers). If needed, I'll create a project label (which would be a folder in Outlook) for the email.

        You may interpret "@review" differently, but for me it has a connotation of falling in a gray area between action and reference. I prefer having a hard edge that says, "Your next action is to read this email" (@Action) or "No action is required on this email, but it's here if you need it" (Archive). Those hard edges force me to make up my mind whether I'm going to read it or reference it.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Andre Kibbe View Post
          (...) Once I've identified the next actions in an email, I enter it on the appropriate action list, outside of the email client. I prefer not to use email headers as next action cues, since an email can have more than one next action required (and I use Gmail rather than Outlook, making it less convenient to retitle headers). If needed, I'll create a project label (which would be a folder in Outlook) for the email.

          You may interpret "@review" differently, but for me it has a connotation of falling in a gray area between action and reference. I prefer having a hard edge that says, "Your next action is to read this email" (@Action) or "No action is required on this email, but it's here if you need it" (Archive). Those hard edges force me to make up my mind whether I'm going to read it or reference it.
          Completely agreed. I treat all email as reference once I have extracted all actionables out of it. Another thing that happens otherwise is one has to reinterpret the mail marked as actionable to figure out the action(s) while acting, which is one big source of resistance.

          Another suggestion is that even if reading a document is time-taking, please browse through it very fast, to be comfortable with what you expect in the document when you actually read it carefully. Also ask the question: Why should I read this document? Mention this purpose in the action so that when you gloss over this action amongst others, you will get a feel of the priority.

          You can even further split the reading: Mark sections which are relevant, or should be read with priority because there might be urgent actions associated, and add separate actions to your actions list mentioning purpose of reading each section. Some of the sections might even go in someday/maybe!

          How finely you do all this depends upon your comfort level. Depends upon whether you have the nagging feeling that this document X might have time-bombs in it.

          And I feel that there are limits as to how much of this information you can store in the email storage system itself, so I prefer to just call it a reference, and only my lists are appropriate for me to park actionables.

          Regards,
          Abhay

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          • #6
            I've given up on having separate @Action and @Read/Review folders for email. Why? Well, the reading is just another kind of action - it's something that I'm required to do with the email before I bin it or file it.

            I suspect that one problem might be that you're using the folders themselves as your context lists. This is a bad idea for a few reasons. Firstly, it means you've got two more places to look when you're looking for something to do. Have as few buckets as you can get away with, and I suggest you can get away with just one @Action bucket.

            Secondly, an email is a poor Next Action trigger/marker. The title usually doesn't tell you what to do with the email, so you have to re-read and re-decide each time you go into the folder. That's wasting time and energy.

            Thirdly, if you're using those two folders as context lists, you're scattering your lists all about the place, which means you're not making the best decisions on what to do in the moment. Just because a project or Next Action arrives as an email, doesn't mean that email is the best/only way to deal with it. In fact, a lot of the time you're going to be doing something else anyway.

            So you've got two email folders, which contain a fair variety of tasks/NAs, plus whatever context lists you're keeping either on paper or electronically. That's almost a guarantee that something will drop off the radar sooner or later.

            I'd extract the NAs from the emails and put them on the lists, and just keep all the actionable emails in one holding pen so you can find them when you decide to do the actions they cue. Make your decisions based on the actions required, not on how they appeared on your radar screen.

            One other tip: in the past, I've gone through phases where I've dated every NA when I write it on the list. That way, I can see when things are getting a bit stale. As The David says, it's a tiny bit of effort that pays off hugely the few times you need it.

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