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Getting Email Under Control -- question on long actionable emails

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  • Getting Email Under Control -- question on long actionable emails

    I just read David's article Getting Email Under Control.

    For actionable email the requires more than two minutes to complete, he recommends putting them in an Actions folder.

    My alternative is to file them by subject and add a next action to my next action list.

    Seems like with an Action folder, you just have another inbasket that must be looked over regularly in addition to the next action list. So you have two places to look for next actions.

    Seems like if you do NOT use an Action folder, but instead add to the next action list, you have all your next actions in one place, rather than two.

    One place seems better. What am I overlooking that would make me choose to file in an Actions email folder instead of in a next actions list?


  • #2
    Hi Rob,

    There is a huge downside to using just the Action folder in that for many people its out of sight and out of mind since it's the only place they would get the reminder. And, many people start to get lazy about it and skip the "process" step of figuring out the next action and simply drag the email off to the Action folder like a dead carcass so then it's really just like another unprocessed inbox. We rarely recommend people just use the Actions folder unless they know they'll have the discipline to look at it regularly and rigorously like they would a Next Actions list.

    I use the option of storing the email in whatever folder (including @Action Support) but I always capture the next action on my Action lists.



    • #3
      I totally agree with Kelly. Most of the time I only use @Action for messages that require a reply from the same e-mail system on which the folders reside. I also sometimes put "read and review" e-mails there.

      Before moving an e-mail message to @Action I change the subject and put a key word like "Review" or "Reply" in ()s. That way I know exactly what action I need to take when I look at the e-mail in that folder.

      If an e-mail requires an action like a phone call, I put the reminder on my @Calls list and move the e-mail to a folder called "~Action Support". The ~ sorts below @ but above folders with alphanumeric names.


      • #4
        I don't like the idea of an Action folder in which emails are treated as actions, nope. Not only does it give you a second Action box, but I suspect I'd often have to re-read the email to pull the action out of it. For example, Jane Smith might have written me an email titled, "Problem Friday". I read the email and conclude that there's a probable bug in the date sort for the Weekly Widget Report. I don't want to have to read and re-conclude that repeatedly, every time I scan that "list" for an action to work. I might remember it, but a big point of GTD is to keep me from having to keep stray stuff in memory, right?

        I _could_ see having an Action folder as a sort of interim inbox, so that if I weren't at my GTD system or I were in a big hurry, I could sort my mail into non-action and action to clear my email inbox. But as soon as I sat down at my GTD system, I would immediately convert all of the Action emails into actions, and then file the emails.

        Actually, for me "file the emails" means "dump them in the unsorted archive of all other emails for the year". If I might need the email for reference, I put enough information in the action to find it. ("Research Weekly Widget date sort bug reported in email by Jane Smith, 11/23/2010") I otherwise simply don't sort emails - on the rare occasions when I fear I might have trouble finding them, i sometimes forward them to myself with a changed subject line that I'm confident I can find later. (So I could forward "Problem Friday" to myself as "Report Bug". But I probably wouldn't bother.)

        I could also see having folders for extremely specific emails. For example, if people email me asking me to create new accounts for a system, I might have a "new accounts" folder. But that folder would be support material, not actions - I'd still have an action in the system for, say, "Complete all requests in New Accounts email folder."



        • #5
          Sometimes my inbox "tries" to be a list!

          Gardener, I have a very similar approach to you, in that emails in my inbox are either actioned or filed into a big, unsorted archive (sometimes forwarding to myself and changing the subject if I think I'll need to find it again). I don't like to think of the inbox as a next actions list because like you say, the meaning of emails is usually not immediately apparent, so you have to read them to identify the action(s).

          However I do sometimes find the inbox becoming a sort of list, in that I've got lots of emails for which I feel the action is probably quite quick, probably to 5-10 minutes of work. Sometimes it's just a case of reading the email, thinking/brainstorming for 3 minutes then composing a reply for 5 minutes and hitting send. On days when I get a lot of these emails to deal with, it's easy to spend all my time dealing with them rather than working off my appropriate context list (@work in my case).

          I'd be interested to know if this ever happens to do you, or if you strictly identify the NA of each email, put the NA on the appropriate list (eg @work), then consider that NA along side the rest of your list.