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Dealing with "keep an eye on" email threads

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  • Dealing with "keep an eye on" email threads

    Hi everyone,

    I'm new to these forums, but I'm a huge GTD fan and I've been working for over a year to figure out a solid GTD system for myself.

    I'm a director at a company managing a 16 person team, and I work with many outside parties. I get over 100 emails a day, and my biggest problem is that part of my duties is just to "know what's going on" and swoop in and solve problems if they crop up.

    So, there's a lot of stuff that I need to keep track of, for which there is neither a real next action nor a specific "waiting on". I get cc'ed on enormous email threads that I don't really need to do anything about - unless something goes wrong (a producer on my team suddenly makes a terrible suggestion, etc.)

    Were the volume of these emails small, this wouldn't be a big deal - but this is what the bulk of my email consists of, and I spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out where to store it, when to file it away as done - in general, just worrying about it.

    I even tried setting up an email folder called "Open Loops" for this kind of stuff, but that just gets filled with 90% of my email, so it might as well be my inbox.

    Anyone else solved this problem in a GTD-esque fashion?

  • #2
    Hi there,

    I have a pretty simple system for these kinds of things. I do consider them Waiting For's, since I am waiting for something to be handled, resolved, completed, implemented etc., so I track the outcome of that situation on my Waiting For list or Agenda list (if I have one for the person handling it.) I then simply file all of the emails in a reference or project folder that makes sense to me.

    For example, I am waiting for something to be resolved with a client billing project right now. There have been about 10 emails going back and forth about it in the last 12 hours. I've been filing the emails in an email folder and I have a waiting for that summarizes what the outcome is that I expect to declare it complete.

    I just did a Webinar for Connect members on Managing Email you may find useful. There's a two-week free trial that will give you access to that.

    Hope that helps,
    Kelly

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by jchausse View Post
      So, there's a lot of stuff that I need to keep track of, for which there is neither a real next action nor a specific "waiting on". I get cc'ed on enormous email threads that I don't really need to do anything about - unless something goes wrong (a producer on my team suddenly makes a terrible suggestion, etc.)
      Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that all you need to do is:

      (1) Read the message
      (2) Delete it if there is no action
      (3) Send a message if there is an action

      In terms of looking up old stuff, I'd suggest keeping stuff in as few folders as you can get away with, and use an email program with good search ability.

      Mail.app on the Mac side is my program of choice, but a lot of folks like gmail.

      If you are required to use outlook, I suggest a third party searching program, since the native search on outlook is slooooooow. If memory serves, google desktop does a pretty good job with this, but there are other solutions as well.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by dschaffner View Post
        Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that all you need to do is:

        (1) Read the message
        (2) Delete it if there is no action
        (3) Send a message if there is an action
        For e-mails that must be kept, can you store them in their relevant project folders?

        Comment


        • #5
          I currently use Outlook and have created a "tickler file" system of sorts under the mailbox. I have a folder for each month *01-January, *02-February and so on. I label them this way so they are at the top of the list of folders in my mailbox. I then have folders under the current month for each day. As I am working through my Inbox, deferring, delegating or deleting, if I have an email I want to reply to or refer to on a certain day in the month, I move the email to the appropiate folder. I have trained myself to review the items in the folder for that day towards the end of my workday and when it is empty, I drag and drop it in the next months folder. There are days in which I cannot get to the days folder so I just move the emails to the next day. I have found this to be one very useful way for keeping my Inbox at zero. This also helps to save paper since I am not printing the emails and placing them in a file drawer.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by dschaffner View Post
            Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that all you need to do is:

            (1) Read the message
            (2) Delete it if there is no action
            (3) Send a message if there is an action
            Your e-mail must be a lot different than mine. I average between 100-300 e-mails per day and that does not include the ones coming from specific e-mail lists. My email processing is more like:

            1) Read the message
            2) extract out the 2-10 next actions based on what the message says or triggers
            3) add those next actions to appropriate contexts
            4) file message in reference and also file triggers in tickler or project files as appropriate.

            Processing a single e-mail message can take from 30 seconds to 20 minutes depending on the complexity.

            The sorts of nebulous e-mails described are frustrating to deal with, are they next actions, waiting fors or agendas?

            I know that for me e-mail processing is much harder than dealing with physical paper.

            Comment


            • #7
              I agree with dschaffner. Perhaps I'm mis-understanding the situation.

              So, you have a lot of emails that you're just "keeping up with." To me, that means "reading." If the email requires action on your part, then you create a Project and Next Actions. Either way, once you're done reading the email, it can be filed in an appropriate folder (I have a big "Miscellaneous" folder for email that doesn't clearly fit into one category).

              Can you give us an example of an email that doesn't fit into the above workflow?

              Comment


              • #8
                I deal with this type of email by filing it using a date threshold. I have 3 email folders for processed mail:

                1. Five weeks folder (auto-deletes after 5 weeks via Outlook auto-archive)
                2. One year folder (auto-deletes after 12 months via Outlook auto-archive)
                3. Processed Mail folder (permanent retention)

                As these emails come in that I'm reading to keep up with, I file it based on what I feel the long-term usefulness of the email is.

                If it's just idle banter back and forth without any business value, I may delete it or file it in Five weeks folder in case I need to go back to it and light a fire under someone.

                If it's pretty good info, but won't be very useful after a year, it goes in One year.

                If it has detailed solutions, business decisions, recommendations, or just THE last email in the thread (which contains most of the previous emails as thread history), I will file it in Processed Mail to be kept forever.

                Comment


                • #9
                  How I'd handle this sort of situation (I think):

                  * Set up a couple of bookmark folders in the web browser or bookmark-manager of my choice. 'Active Threads' and 'Inactive Threads'.

                  * When I process an email containing a thread I should watch, add the link to Active Threads. Delete or archive the email.

                  * Have a daily meeting scheduled (or more or less often, as required) to review everything in Active Threads. If no longer Active, move over to Inactive.

                  * Take another look during the Weekly Review to catch any stagnant threads for transfer to Inactive.

                  I'm not really the right person to ask, but I suspect there's probably a system out there so people could put links right into your Active Threads folder without needing the email middleman. It might take a little effort to get them trained up to trust something like that.

                  Anyway, hope that makes a bit of sense.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I have about 8 subfolders for the various areas of responsibility for my job, and for a couple of years I've put that sort of e-mail into the relevant fodler, so that I've at least only got a limited area to search when someone needs my help because some project or other has run into trouble.

                    The disadvantages of that method is that they take up memory space, and every so often my mailbox gets so full I can't send messages, plus the fact that they arne't easy to scan for content. So I've now taken to printing out such e-mails and storing them in my paper filing system.

                    Ruth

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                    • #11
                      Read&Review?

                      Many of these emails can also go into a folder entitled Read & Review (perhaps subdivided by project/areas of focus), if they are the types of things that can be reviewed occasionally. Ultimately they are just Inbox items that keep having stuff added to them, and all you may need to do is review them on occasion (which could easily become a daily/every other day Checklist item).

                      JohnV474

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                      • #12
                        The first thing that popped up in my mind is: do you really need to do that?

                        You state that keeping an eye on things are a large part of your duties. Perhaps there's a cultural difference thingy going on, but I'd get very nervous if my manager would keep looking over my shoulder that way. Doesn't s/he trust me to do my work right?

                        The way I see it, assuming you're managing professionals, the role of the manager is to tell the professional what should happen and then facilitate the means to do so. The role of the professional is to do her work to the best of her ability, within the constraints set by the manager. This leaves the manager time to think up a vision and think about how to bring it about.

                        Again, this is (a) without any knowledge of the background; you may have very good reasons to want to keep an eye on things. And, (b), it may be a cultural difference. As I understand it, we Dutchies tend to treat management orders as suggestions, causing no end of headaches within US HQ's.

                        More practical, but somewhat in line: I suggest that you follow Kelly's suggestion and treat them as Waiting For's; also, I suggest that if you have the space you store the entire conversation as a conversation thread, if your mail app allows (and if not, better change). That way, if you need to be brought up to speed on a particular subject, you can simply trace the whole conversation backwards and debug what's gone wrong.

                        Hope this helps!

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