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  • Next actions - paper and electronic in Outlook

    I keep a paper based next action list but I also created a @NA mail folder in Outlook so that I can move emails that will take more than 2 minutes to process. This system has helped me enormously by keeping my inbox manageable - usually down to close to 0 weekly. The problem I'm having is that my @NA email folder is filling up with stuff that I have to do - and I'm not reminded of it when I look at my next action list. Seems to me that I don't have hard enough edges around these two next action list - some are on paper, some are buried in the email folder.

    Has anyone else had this problem? I'd be grateful for any tips on how folks have managed this type of situation in their system.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

    Dan

  • #2
    I have had a similar issue, where I have folders in my email inbox to review nightly, in the morning, on the weekend etc

    My solution has been to either place it as an appointment on my calendar, or a recurring task (i.e., the task on my next action list IS to review the items in my morning, nightly, etc)

    I have a large "weekly" folder, but the review tomorrow morning and review nightly typically are between 1-3 emails. The main purpose of this though is to place them there because I cannot make the decision for the next action until the next morning or until I get home. The true "next action" is perhaps to check my calendar at home, or to check if I have my checkbook at home, etc - but that information is already captured in the email, and so I don't make a new task for it, I just use the email itself as the reminder, and check that review nightly folder at home and process those handful of emails

    I do however use a digital system which is different from your paper based, but I think we may have had the same overarching issue. I hope this helps

    Comment


    • #3
      Getting next actions done

      You should be thrilled to be getting your email inbox to zero each time, that is super and you are well on your way to taking it to the next level.

      When I first got my email inbox to zero, I had the same problem as you, I had actions filling my next action folder and I would tend to forget to review and process them. Here is what I do:

      I have my email set up like you. Email actions that take longer than two minutes, I move to an @ Action folder. (your NA folder)

      I suggest two things:

      1. Move the @NA folder to the top of your email folders. Here is a skeleton view of my folder list in my email account. Notice, I have my @ Action folder listed at the top like this:

      00 - @ Action
      00 - @ Read/Review
      00 - @ Reference
      00 - @ Waiting for
      99 - @ Archive

      By putting a number in front of my @ folder, I can organize them in NON alphabetic fashion. This moves my action folder to the top of my folders and prevents it from getting buried in my other folders. Other folders I number as well so the @ folders I have are in an order that I prefer them.

      2. Make a checklist of what you want to review when you process email that includes checking @NA. Here is my basic checklist:

      a. Reduce email inbox to zero (do two minute actions, delete trash, mark spam, archive informational and completed emails, add items to my calendar, move things to waiting for that are pending, things that take longer than two minutes or I don't know if I want to do go into my @ Action folder to keep them moving down the system)
      b. Review spam for emails that might have slipped through filters
      c. Review waiting for
      d. Review @ Action folder
      e. Delete trash folder
      f. I tend to get email coming in so I repeat until its all at zero.

      Then I consider my @ Action folder a next action list that stays in my email account. If time permits I then treat my @ Action folder as a "new inbox" and I start processing again only this time, I establish like a five minute rule and try and get the @ Action folder to zero too. When I first started doing this, I think I had 85-100 emails or so in there. At first it was a struggle and now I can get it to zero as well or just a few email.

      When you first start doing this, you'll have emails that you'll struggle getting done and that's normal. When that happens, here are some things I did.

      1. I did the easy stuff to create momentum. Once I got to my email @ action folder down from a number like 85 to 20 or so, I found it easier to get it to zero. Once your skill improves, you can move to a first on the list complete it, next complete it etc.
      2. I sort the emails by sender and work on common things.
      3. Sometimes, I move it to waiting for if I decide I want to do it on a later day.
      4. To get the folder to zero, if it was something I really stuggled finishing, I'd print out the email and move it to my physical inbox to feel the satisfaction of getting my email system completely to zero including my @ Action folder.

      So to wrap up:

      1. Determine what steps you need to take to process your email to the outcome level you seek.
      2. Create a checklist that lists each step and do it everytime you check your email so you don't have to think about what to do next, you've prethought it
      3. Work to get a small improvement every day and one day, without realizing it, you'll find everything in your email is out of the email system.

      Continued success in working on your system.
      Michael

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by dbloomfield1 View Post
        Has anyone else had this problem? I'd be grateful for any tips on how folks have managed this type of situation in their system.
        I think it's a two fold solution:

        Have a recurring item on your paper list that says "Handle @NA email folder" and I'd also move your @NA folder so that it is right below your email inbox.

        Depending on your email system you may want to go into that folder and mark all those emails as unread so they "show up" as needing processing.

        Which reminds me: I'm been procrastinating my email actions folder... I recently changed laptops and forwarded my old email actions list - but the list forwarded as one message with a bunch of attachments. Now that "message" is a mix of different items - the classic digital "huh stack".

        Note to self: reforward emails individually

        - Don

        Comment


        • #5
          I have been working on a new email method of late:

          I'm not storing email in my Actionable-Deferred-Waiting for folders anymore. I wasn't being diligent about cleaning them up in a timely fashion so now, when an email comes in, I process it into my Projects or Next Actions lists right away, thus getting it into my system and keeping my emails on my radar instead of buried in the folders.

          Netcentrics does a great job of keeping the email intact so I don't lose it when I save it to my lists.

          This has been working quite well for me and makes me much happier knowing emails are in the system and not going stale because it's out of sight/out of mind.

          Comment


          • #6
            Hi Dan.

            Originally posted by dbloomfield1 View Post
            The problem I'm having is that my @NA email folder is filling up with stuff that I have to do - and I'm not reminded of it when I look at my next action list. Seems to me that I don't have hard enough edges around these two next action list - some are on paper, some are buried in the email folder.
            The problem is that your @NA folder isn't full of NAs, it's full of unprocessed emails. I've had this problem myself, and I've seen it a lot in others, and there are two solutions.

            The simple solution is to add an item to your paper NA list that says "Process @NA email folder". It's a recurring item, since it'll be there whenever you have a non-empty folder. The danger there is that, since it's always there, you have the temptation to let things slide. And once that starts to happen, the whole thing goes off in a handbasket.

            The other solution is to process your Inbox completely, and put all your NAs onto your paper list, and file the emails. This is the safe solution, although some people don't like the idea of writing down an NA that requires you to respond to an email.

            The crucial point is to recognise that your current system involves incomplete processing, which is a danger. By stashing those emails in the @NA folder, you're using the file (in this case an email) as a reminder - it's the same as leaving a manila folder on your desk to remind you to do something with it. Until you've decided the NA, and added that to the appropriate list, you haven't finished processing.

            And the more lists you have to remember to check, the more chance there is that something will slip - particularly so if you have your lists in different formats (paper and mailbox).

            It might sound extra-finicky, but it's an important point, as you've seen - the @DoSomethingWith mailbox is a temptation, but it puts a hole in our systems so all the MindLikeWater leaks out.

            Comment


            • #7
              You can reply to an email, immediately type in 30 seconds' worth of notes about what you have to reply, and save it as a draft. That falls under the 2-Minute Rule. You can then add an NA to the effect of "Finish draft emails," or just do that every time you re-open your email client later in the day.

              Comment


              • #8
                For large projects I'm working on and for some customers, I will actually print the emails. I work on some projects at least every other day, if not daily. The project emails are usually taken care of first. Any urgent emails, get put immediately onto my NA list.

                I have found this to be the best workaround so far. Unless I specifically write the action down in my context list, any @NA email folder is just one of many folders and not really taken seriously. Therefore, I prefer not having an "unprocessed" @NA email folder.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Brent View Post
                  You can reply to an email, immediately type in 30 seconds' worth of notes about what you have to reply, and save it as a draft. That falls under the 2-Minute Rule. You can then add an NA to the effect of "Finish draft emails," or just do that every time you re-open your email client later in the day.
                  Hey, this sounds like a great idea...better than an @Action folder for the "reply-to" e-mails. I'm going to try it. Thanks!

                  Comment

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