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[Long post] Multiple processing areas and the woes they bring

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  • [Long post] Multiple processing areas and the woes they bring

    Hi all,

    I apologize for the length of this post, but I'd like to be as detailed as possible about my predicament. I also thank you in advance for the time you are taking to read my post.

    I've realized that one of the greatest weakness in my GTD system is my processing areas. My belief is that I have too many places to shunt my collected items, which results in multiple/duplicate NA's, extra work, etc. The effect then snowballs as I continuously backtrack to find things that fell through the cracks.

    E-MAILS IN THE OFFICE

    The greatest problem lies in the GTD system I have at work. The main issue I'm having here is whether to let an email be a NA reminder, or to generate the NA on my CMS' tickler system. Here's a scenario:
    1. I send an email to my underwriter to request a quote
    2. I then make a tickler to remind myself to follow up with the underwriter if I don't hear back in 24 hours.
    3. 3 hours later, the underwriter responds with a quote
    4. But I can't review the quote in 2 minutes, so I place the email in my "Read" folder in Outlook
    5. The next day, the tickler pops up, reminding me to follow up with the underwriter.
    6. I ask the underwriter for the quote, but of course, he sent it already and its sitting in my "Read" folder.

    The scenario may seem contrived, but it happens quite a bit unfortunately. My question is, should I abandon one processing area for another? For instance, when I get step 3, should I attach the email to my CMS and update the tickler to, say, "review quote from UW"?

    I believe that would be better, though it's not quite GTD as the tickler requires a time function. It also takes a bit more time to attach the email to the CMS, as opposed to just shunting it over to the "Read" folder in Outlook. Nonetheless, I think it would eliminate any duplicate processing steps.

    E-MAILS ON THE GO

    The next big ticket item for me is how to handle emails on my BlackBerry. By and large, the emails I get require that I be at my desk. So I end up reading the email on the subway, realize I can't do anything about it and just leave the email in my inbox, then end up reading it again the next day.

    I think what I'm going to do from now on, is to read through the email, think of what needs to be done, and forward that NA along w/ the original email to myself. That way, the NA will be waiting for me when I get into the office. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

    Thank you again for reading through my predicaments. I really appreciate it. If you can critique the suggestions I made about emails at the office and on the go, I'd greatly appreciate it!

    Mike

  • #2
    This is exactly why I don't think email programs make good GTD systems....

    Once the quote arrives, it becomes support material for the "review quote" action. Thus, it should be filed in your action support (or project support) folder, and the Next Action "review quote" should be placed on the appropriate context list.

    In your system, it sounds like you are using the CMS for action support. That's fine. Put the email there. Delete the existing tickler reminder. You can then either create a new tickler reminder (if you want to be tickled), or add a non-date specific action to whatever system you are using for non-date specific actions.

    I like your Blackberry solution. Another idea might be to dump the Blackberry entirely and do something else on the train. Does generating the NAs on the train actually save any time in the long run?

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      I never use emails as Next Action reminders. An email has too much extraneous stuff, and a single email may represent multiple actions, or multiple emails may represent a single action, and so on. I like single actions on single lines in my lists.

      So I like to get the task of finding all actions in the email over with, so that I never again need to read that email for that purpose. I may dig the email out of my archive and read it again when I work the action, but that only happens when I work the action, rather than requiring me to reread the email each of the several times that I _consider_ working the action.

      In your quote example, I would write myself a note to deal with the quote ("Read quote emailed from Joe on 3/13"), put that note in my GTD Inbox for later processing, and file the email in my email archive.

      For the email on the go...there's something vaguely unsatisfactory about every alternative that I can think of.

      I think that for emails where the associated actions are obvious, I wouldn't do anything on the go - I'd wait to write those obvious actions when I'm in the office and can file the email as I distill the actions from it.

      If the action seemed non-obvious, I'd probably go ahead and forward the email to myself with the action included, as you describe. Then when I got to my box, I'd distill actions out of emails as described above, filing both the original emails and the forwards as I get the actions out of them.

      Or I might just abandon emails on the go, because it does feel vaguely unsatisfactory, and do other things on the go.

      Gardener

      Edited to add: I never actually noted that I have one "main" GTD inbox, and all other inboxes flow into that. So as I process the other inboxes - email, paper mail, scribbled notes, whatever - all of those things go into the OmniFocus inbox and get processed from there. I don't think that this is at all mandatory in GTD, but it works well for me.
      Last edited by Gardener; 03-13-2009, 06:12 PM.

      Comment


      • #4
        How to handle next actions in email

        Here is what I would do:

        1. When you send for a quote to an underwriter, copy the email to yourself.
        2. When the copy arrives in your inbox, stick it in a "Waiting For" or "Waiting For - Quotes" folder in your email account
        3. When a quote arrives put it in a folder called "Action" or alternatively "Action-Quotes"
        4. Process your "Action" folder first BEFORE your waiting for.
        5. Review your Waiting for folder daily to delete quotes you have recieved and to re-request quotes you haven't gotten.
        6. Get in the habit of checking for quotes received before ticklers or waiting fors to avoid requesting something you've already received.

        I wouldn't use your "Read-Review Folder" for actionable items that need attention. I'd suggest you use that as things you'd like to read if you get the time. I use my read review as a someday maybe reading list for things that don't require action but that is just me.

        I check my email on my Blackberry but process my email at my computer. I only scan my email on my blackberry for urgent needs or for quick deletions to reduce the number of emails for when I get to my computer.

        Good luck.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Mischka View Post
          Hi all,
          Here's a scenario:
          1. I send an email to my underwriter to request a quote
          2. I then make a tickler to remind myself to follow up with the underwriter if I don't hear back in 24 hours.
          3. 3 hours later, the underwriter responds with a quote
          4. But I can't review the quote in 2 minutes, so I place the email in my "Read" folder in Outlook
          5. The next day, the tickler pops up, reminding me to follow up with the underwriter.
          6. I ask the underwriter for the quote, but of course, he sent it already and its sitting in my "Read" folder.

          The scenario may seem contrived, but it happens quite a bit unfortunately. My question is, should I abandon one processing area for another? For instance, when I get step 3, should I attach the email to my CMS and update the tickler to, say, "review quote from UW"?

          I believe that would be better, though it's not quite GTD as the tickler requires a time function. It also takes a bit more time to attach the email to the CMS, as opposed to just shunting it over to the "Read" folder in Outlook. Nonetheless, I think it would eliminate any duplicate processing steps.
          This seems to me to be a problem of incomplete or incorrect processing more than anything else. This kind of thing happens all the time in a modern office environment.

          When you send off the request for the quote, I'd recommend creating a waiting for item on your list for the quote. If you want to also add a tickler or calendar reminder for a follow-up that's okay but then you have the responsibility of following up on that in a reasonable way.

          It's the description of the follow-up that I find troubling. When you processed the incoming email (which included the quote) you are not processing that item completely, but simply moving it to a different inbox (Read & Review).

          A more effective approach is to fully process the incoming email. This means determine the next action AND update your lists. In this case the new next action is Review Quote. But the steps necessary for updating your lists are as follows:

          1. Check off the waiting for as done.
          2. Create the next action to review the quote
          3. Put the quote into project support.

          This also requires that when you check tickler or calendar reminders that you have the responsibility to check to see whether or not the person you've requested the quote from has followed up or not.

          hope that helps.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Mischka View Post
            Here's a scenario:
            1. I send an email to my underwriter to request a quote
            2. I then make a tickler to remind myself to follow up with the underwriter if I don't hear back in 24 hours.
            3. 3 hours later, the underwriter responds with a quote
            4. But I can't review the quote in 2 minutes, so I place the email in my "Read" folder in Outlook
            5. The next day, the tickler pops up, reminding me to follow up with the underwriter.
            6. I ask the underwriter for the quote, but of course, he sent it already and its sitting in my "Read" folder.
            Here is what I would do:

            Send an email to request a quote
            cc myself, with a tag to move the item to my OF inbox automatically
            3 hours later, the underwriter responds with a quote
            I can't review the quote in 2 minutes, so I forward the email to my OF inbox
            The two items get resolved at the same time when I process my OF inbox

            It sounds to me like you are getting into trouble because you are not processing things into your system as often as you need to. Maybe you need to build more time into your day to do this?

            As far as "emails on the go", I can get emails on my iphone, but really only use that for emergencies. I try to process my laptop email inbox to zero every 24-48 hours. I'm also trying to train people that if they really need to contact me, to call my cell phone, because email will generally not get an immediate response.

            - Don

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks for the replies all!

              I just got the time to read through them all, whew!

              As far as the "ticklers" go, I don't really use them as such. At the end of the day, I print out all the ticklers that are coming up for the next day and put them into my 43-folder system. I then treat this list of ticklers as a NA list, rather than a reminder system.

              The problem for me is indeed processing. I see that now. My understanding was, get these emails out of the inbox in under 2 minutes for each email. I was so eager to shunt them out of the inbox, that I never really spent the time to review them. Unfortunately, I'm in a service-based industry which requires rapid turn around times, so it's very easy for me to forget that I was waiting for a quote.

              That said, I don't plan on using Outlook's folders as a processing area anymore. Industry standards require that I maintain a full list of correspondence with customers, so I need to move that email to the CMS eventually. I might as well process it, move it to the CMS, and set up the NA with the CMS' tickler system.

              BTW, Don, what does OF inbox mean?

              Thanks again all,
              Mike

              Comment


              • #8
                I am guessing he is referring to Omnifocus. Unfortunately only available on the mac, but a very powerful and flexible task manager.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Mischka View Post
                  BTW, Don, what does OF inbox mean?
                  Mike,

                  Sorry for the jargon. OF does indeed mean Omnifocus (thanks Linada).

                  Omnifocus is a mac-only GTD compliant task manager. Very powerful, and part of the reason I switched to the mac from the PC.

                  http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnifocus/ for more details.

                  - Don

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