GTD & Email

Date: Friday, June 18, 2010 by GTD Times Staff

Dear David Allen: I am looking for a guide/product about using email so that one’s worklife does not become overwhelmed with email.  We are an office of 30 people, and we have gotten in the habit of emailing each other rather than walking down the hall to talk.  We don’t have time to talk since we are too busy doing email!  We would like to adopt best practices about email to reduce the burden.

David’s reply: There are lots of articles and books written about some basic common sense stuff about email, including some of our own resources like our Setup Guides, Webinars on GTD Connect, and a free article I wrote on Getting Email Under Control.

Email is just like the phone or any other medium that takes a while for cultures and individuals to sift out their own best practices for their culture.  If email has value, that’s what it’s for.  If it doesn’t, don’t do it.  Don’t shoot the medium.  It’s just a channel for people communicating.  For me personally, I don’t like interruptions, when it could be in an email that I can deal iwth in my own timing.  If I want a warm fuzzy, email may not be the way to do that. All depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. People can use email to avoid work, just like they can walk down the hall to avoid work. The issue is avoiding work, not whether you’re doing it by email or by walking and talking.

5 Responses to “GTD & Email”

  1. says:

    We have instant messaging in the form of Skype at work, which we use if we must know something instantly from another person and we don’t walk to that room.

    Other than that, I only check my work email adress at work, and I regularily do it when I arrive at work, after lunch and before I go.

    That does it.

  2. Phil Bowman says:

    We work in a group which is distributed across many sites, so we don’t get the opportunity to talk face to face.

    Maybe a ‘chat room’ interface might be more appropriate, rather than the overhead of opening and replying to multiple threads in email?

    We use the HP Virtual Room solution which also allows sharing of images and documents, though we mostly just use the chat feature.

  3. Phil Bowman says:

    (Disclaimer for the above post – I work for HP – other chat room software is available 🙂 )

  4. Rudolf A. Bolek says:

    Actually I don’t have a system but rather some guidelines I developed over time and some I learned from others (I am working in a company where everybody is just completely nuts about eMail).

    Be warned:

    1) eMail can easily and with lightspeed get to a point where everybody is doing nothing productive anymore but just doing eMail.

    2) eMail has the ability to suggest people that they actually perfom work (as in value add) when the really do nothing other than just receiving, replying, forwarding and broadcasting messages.

    3) eMail (as in spending work time with it) is almost impossible to properly account when you work in matrix style organizations. You can easily spend the whole day fending off your incoming mail and at the end of the day not knowing for what corporate project you spent how much work time and why.

    Here some immediate rules for survival.

    1. Keep eMail’s to an absolute minimum.
    2. Treat eMail like you would treat paper based mail. Ask yourself, “Would I send a paper based mail for that or would i call or IM? If yes, then its probably okay to send that mail (i.e.: because with an eMail you can reach more than one recepient). If not probably a call or IM is better.
    3. Don’t use your eMail for IM habits, chat is quick, chat is productive, chat is realtime, but most importantly: You can ignore it! eMail (as paper based mail) usually can’t be ignored and must be processed.
    4. Think who you put on TO/CC and whether he/she really needs to read that.
    5. Think before you reply, if you might need longer than one or two minutes for the reply, write yourself an action for it and think thoroughly what you want to achieve and whom do you want to address.
    6. Don’t reply the same day on an eMail (depends of course on the situation) this is a good measure against ping-pong eMails.
    7. Don’t use your eMail-Inbox as your task-list or GTD-Inbox, it overwhelms you.
    8. Don’t process your eMail from your eMail-Inbox, copy the whole stack to a seperate folder/file and process it there, when you are finished you can still decide if you want to fetch another stack.
    9. Disable eMail auto-notifications (it drives you insane and distracts your focus constantly)
    10. Process your eMail stack always to Zero before you fetch another stack.
    11. Process your eMail into actions / projects.
    12. Pre-Process your incoming eMail following the same procedure every time (i.e.: 1. Eliminate Junk, 2. Move things which are not directly related to your projects/actions but you think are still interesting and of value to a seperate folder and follow up on these i.e.: once a week. Make use of rules for that matter. 3. The remaining eMail’s must be the stuff which is important, forward it to your GTD inbox for further decision on how to handle it.
    12. If you use a computer based GTD system, try to forward your incoming eMails (after processing it as in 12.) to your GTD systems inbox.
    13. Always process eMails to Zero. (Merlin)
    14. Keep a reference to the eMail in your Waiting-For action (i.e.: The subject) so when you launch the reminders you can search for the subject in your eMail archive and respond to the original eMail (Elegant way to keep the thread intact).
    15. Don’t archive eMail related to topic, this costs just too much time (over time). Archive just chronologically and make heavy use of the search function (or tagging).

    Good luck!

  5. Remote worker says:

    Use instant messaging! This can make working seem like you are all in the same office even if you are thousands of miles away! I have worked seamlessly from San Francisco with colleagues in NYC and Denver thanks to IM and only occasional emails and phone calls. Just make sure everyone is on the same system- AIM, Yahoo, Skype etc. Some people may create an IM handle specific to the company, like CompanyName_FirstName in order to keep it separate from personal IM. In my experience IM is generally used for quick questions, while email is used for more formal requests that others need to be copied on. If you see that someone you need to talk to is offline, you either IM someone else, wait, or send an email. IM should increase productivity and cut down on email substantially. Chat rooms sound like a great idea too, though I’ve never used one at work.

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