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Help!.. drowning and need to get in control

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  • Help!.. drowning and need to get in control

    Hi Everyone,
    I can't say I'm new to GTD, I've been following for years now but have never *fully* implemented... I completely understand the basics and have always strived to do things like keep my inbox processed daily and keep to my weekly review schedule. For various reasons I've kept my work system separate from home and that works, but I am overwhelmed at work (super high volume of email that I can hardly keep up with let alone process appropriately), and I've just been given a new role, new boss so am trying to do a good job but find myself in anxiety because I'm not in full control.. just chasing the actions and putting out fires (not the best first impression on my new boss). My question is, how to get myself back in control... I've struggeld w/ systems because each time I try something new, and then get overwhelmed and it gets out of date, I no longer trust it and I let it go... I've settled now on the simplicity of Evernote, which seems to be working, but again the overwhelm is making me not trust it and I have a LOT in email (embarassed to say... 4k+ yikes!)...

    My question is best advice to help me get in control quickly, is it mind dump; process those things into my system; set up an action to handle the backlog; and just start from there. I really hesitate moving things out of email because I'm constantly searching my inbox to reference things that are coming up now, I know I could reference in another box but it is just a little more difficult. Just looking for any pointers that can help.. sorry the description is sooo long.


  • #2
    Backlog is essential given the number of emails. Create a folder for it and make it a project. I like to pick a date, eg say a month ago, and everything prior automatically goes into backlog, anything after that date gets skimmed to see whether it can go into backlog or stay in the inbox.

    Also it's really important to be clear on your priorities, what's important now and what can be pushed back. Do the the HOF review yourself and have a chat with your boss so confirm or modify it, also so they are clear what you are focussing on and will support you when you need to say no to things and will not overburden you with new work.
    In one of the DA webinars he said he has a mind map of the priorities for the week, so he always remembers for each week what the important projects are. This is a good idea, you might not be moving everything forward but as long as the important ones are moving forward your boss should be ok with your progress.


    • #3
      I suggest implementing "inbox 0". That means you empty your email inbox
      regularly, e.g. at least once a day. Of course at first that sounds impossible;
      but Suelin23 gave a suggestion: move everything into a folder. You could
      start by creating a folder for everything you received between two specific
      dates, and move everything there, for example.

      You could, for example, create folders labelled "1", "2", "3" and move emails
      into them depending on their level of priority. You could create a folder
      "del" and move emails there that you think you want to just delete but
      aren't quite sure. You might need to realize that the stuff in the lower-priority
      folders probably won't get done at all.

      The idea is to make some sort of decision about each email so that you're
      not re-doing it over and over again, and so that you can find and focus on
      the more important ones.

      I have folders with names like "temp" where I move emails and they get
      automatically deleted after a period of time.

      If you don't have time for everything, you can face that realistically, and be
      aware of which things you're probably not going to do, at least not in the
      next few months. You might send some quick answers to some emails
      like "Sorry, I'm not sure if I can find the time for this; I will if I can.".

      I have a lot of my emails automatically directed into different folders,
      to help me focus more attention on the more important ones.

      You can take steps to reduce the amount of email you're receiving.
      Maybe you have too many responsibilities at work and need to say
      "no" to some people.

      Doing inbox 0 helps you make clear decisions about how to spend
      your time, and takes a weight off your mind.

      See inbox zero:


      • #4
        Completely agree with the above re: your inbox. I've gone through periods where my inbox is completely out of control and it materially effects my ability to get my head around and complete my work. So absolutely the first priority is to clear your inbox. I'd go further than suggested above and move the entire inbox into a temp project.

        In my experience both when I've gotten out of control and when helping others - there will likely be actions for you in your inbox, but it is also likely that there won't be any that you'll actually end up doing (except if they go on your someday/maybe list) on emails going further back than 2-3 months.

        So my suggestion:
        1. Move your emails into 2 project folders, <= 3 months and > 3 months
        2. Adopt good practices in terms of inbox zero straight away, so that your backlog is quarantined
        3. Immediately scan your <= 3 month folder for any action items and add to your system
        4. Do the rest of the GTD set up in terms of physical processing, mind sweep, etc, taking a similar quarantining approach if needed
        5. Set a project for each of your two folders to process them per the GTD methodology

        Good luck!


        • #5
          Thank you Everyone for such great feedback! I guess I've been hesitant to move all my mail into a project because I've done that before (well... maybe not ALL the way to zero.. maybe that is my problem) and end up struggling w/ keeping up so don't get back to it... and then (suddenly it seems my inbox creeps back up again. I will definitely check out the inboxzero info, I had looked into it a long time back but then had a baby so everything went sort of out the window .. now that he's approaching 2 I'm just starting to try to dig myself out again. Luckily about everything in my box right now is only 3-4 mo's old, so maybe I can just move the whole lot and work through it as a project as mentioned... My other dilemma is just *time*... I'm so busy at work (at the moment, definitely too much right now but people are out on leave, taking over new role etc...) with meetings and priority actions I leave little time for processing, after work I'd like to catch up but have the little one... and he's been waking in the nite so I'm exhausted... enough of the sob story though, my goal is to get back in control and your suggestions have helped give me direction... My hope is once that sense of control comes that feeling of overwhelm will get better as well.



          • #6
            It might help to think like this: what would your co-workers do if you were to
            get a serious illness or resign or something? They would manage
            somehow. So that might help you think about some of the work: you don't
            have time to do everything, so they will have to manage those things without
            you or just leave some things not done. You need to feel comfortable
            accepting that fact, and then use your judgement to select a number of
            things that you do have time to do (after leaving aside some time for

            Set aside time to look after yourself, too; if waking up during
            the night, lying down to rest with eyes shut for at least 10 minutes in the middle of the
            day can be a big help. When I had little ones, for a while I was using my
            coffee break to eat, and using my lunch break to lie down. I can lie down
            and be sort-of half-asleep and at the same time sometimes be thinking about
            my work; it can help me set priorities or decide what the next step is or
            remember something I need to do, and still help me feel rested afterwards
            and able to think more clearly. (Or, you may rest better while
            not thinking about work.) You may be able to accomplish more or better
            work if you take time for processing and for resting than if you use all the
            time just doing things.

            Maybe you can identify some actions that will have to wait and be done
            by someone else after they return from leave, or that will be done by
            you after other people return from leave. (but don't promise too much!!! Only a few!!
            You'll continue to be heavily loaded for a while after they return, in any case.)
            Then you can either do nothing on them for now, or send very short
            emails like "Ask X about this after they return on (date)."
            If things go better than expected and you do have time to do
            this before the date, I think that's fine.

            You can demote all your emails into a folder and then select just a small
            number to be re-promoted into an urgent-action folder: only the ones
            that are really the most important. As new emails come in, maybe once
            a day or more often you can do the same thing, move them all as a bunch into a folder,
            then possibly move one or a few into urgent-action, maybe only glancing at the
            subject line and sender of many of the emails.
            The advantage of moving them is that you only
            have to look over them once, rather than scrolling past them many times
            while looking at other emails, generating feelings of misgiving and indecision.

            If there are really more things than
            you can do that will really each result in major disasters if left un-done,
            talk to your boss about getting someone else to do them: get your boss
            to do them, hire a temporary worker, recall your co-workers from vacation,
            hire a retired co-worker temporarily, or have the co-workers that are
            there work overtime (which you presumably can't do due to needing
            to look after your child). Or just tell your boss "These are the things
            I'm planning to do, and these are the things I won't have time for
            unless I leave off one of the other things," and let your boss
            figure out what if anything to do. If you don't think it's necessary to
            bring in more workers, then take a deep breath and accept that
            nothing really terrible will happen if some of the things are left un-done.

            It's not your responsibility to do more than you have time for.

            You can cc your boss on your short emails informing people they'll
            have to wait, perhaps first telling your boss which projects
            you'll be focussing on and that you're going to have to leave some other
            things for later. If you boss tells you to do something sooner, you can
            calmly and professionally ask your boss which of the other projects
            (from your high-priority list) to put on hold; it might turn out that
            one of those wasn't as important as you thought, or your boss might
            say "never mind, then" about the other thing.

            Or maybe just send one email to all your co-workers, saying that
            you're focussing on projects X,Y and Z and that if they've emailed
            you about anything else it's probably not going to be done for
            at least several weeks if ever, due to several people being on leave,
            (maybe adding that if this is a problem they can talk to your boss about it.)
            That might save you time rather than sending a lot of short emails,
            and allow you time for one or two badly needed deep breaths


            • #7
              Thank you so much for your advice!... I'm starting w/ those deep breaths right now


              • #8
                I join the idea of revisiting your higher horizons. It seems a bit of a burden at first (where am I going to find 2 hours to stop and do high level thinking?). But David Allen specifically remarks a change in job roles as a good situation to redefine your purposes and principles on a higher perspective. Giving yourself that treat, if you think it's the right moment to do it, will help you to be a lot more focused later, choosing priorities and reducing decision fatigue.

                I also read once an advice about 'setting the baseline to zero': sending an email to your contacts and plainly warn that, due to a change in management, all mails previous to a certain date will be dropped off, and asking them, if the issues are still current, to send new ones. I don't know if such a solution would be acceptable in your job, but it would relieve you from scanning a lot of mails that have probably become obsolete already. For the people who is really waiting for an answer, it is maybe better to resend their emails than to wait until you reach them, wondering if you'll read them, maybe after some time sending new mails on the same subject that will overlay...

                Of course, if you do such 'back to zero', and in a few days you are again flooded in email, the consequence is simple: your workload is excessive for a single person!

                Hope it helps...


                • #9
                  Good, keep up with the deep breaths.

                  At the same time: be aware that once you've moved your email into a folder,
                  there could still be important stuff in there; if it doesn't seem urgent at the
                  moment because its deadline is off in the future, you'll need some system to
                  capture it so you can reconsider it at an appropriate time before its
                  deadline becomes imminent.

                  Hopefully, if you review the emails again at a later date, many will seem less
                  important after the passage of time, and just a few might stand out as
                  requiring action. Or, when you first select a few to move to urgent-action,
                  you can make sure to include any you consider of very high importance
                  regardless of when their deadline is; then you can feel confident that
                  there's nothing extremely important left in that email folder, even after
                  the passage of time.


                  • #10
                    I've gotten some great advice so far, really appreciate everyone's feedback. I've been able to implement a couple of things, have discussed what projects I need to focus on now with my boss, so feel more comfortable that time expectations are set. Where possible, I've let people know they have to wait for a response or for my coworker to return, and she'll be back next week so that is not far off. I've also taken the great advice to take a little time for myself on my breaks.. isntead of working right through, even if I don't sleep it at least allows me to take a breather.. and the baby has been sleeping a little better so that is all helping.

                    The last and most important thing I find myself resisting is moving all that mail to another folder and making it a project... and I think I know why.. while I say I know GTD and am OK with my set up.. that isn't entirely true, I'm really not comfortable with the way I process email currently, it just comes at me too fast I feel... but maybe that is because my system is not fully set up. I think I will pose this question on another thread in the forum as well but wanted to mention it here; my goal is to move it all as a "backlog" project.. but once I'm at zero, how does everyone "process" their email? I don't have outlook so functionality is not built in (thunderbird), I get all of the defer, delegate, delete.. it is the actions that I have trouble with. Do you note every action (in my case into evernote) and reference the email subject so you can find it later? I usually need tor respond to the thread so I don't want to file away the email afraid I'll forget about it. But when I've tried in the past to write the action, file the email, either I get so bogged down its hard to get back to the actions and then have to spend time looking for the email so I can do a 'reply all'. Am I just spinning my wheels trying to find the "right/correct/perfect" way to process email? Also, in the matter of a few days there can be so many responses to one thread that it helps to keep them together and file it once complete... but this is obviously not working for me either....

                    once again, truly grateful for all you gtd pro's out there that take the time to respond with your valuable thoughts and advice



                    • #11
                      Originally posted by sofiabella View Post
                      Do you note every action (in my case into evernote) and reference the email subject so you can find it later? I usually need tor respond to the thread so I don't want to file away the email afraid I'll forget about it. But when I've tried in the past to write the action, file the email, either I get so bogged down its hard to get back to the actions and then have to spend time looking for the email so I can do a 'reply all'. Am I just spinning my wheels trying to find the "right/correct/perfect" way to process email? Also, in the matter of a few days there can be so many responses to one thread that it helps to keep them together and file it once complete... but this is obviously not working for me either....
                      I don't know about your setup and there are probably many different ways to go at this. Personally my setup (OmniFocus for lists and Postbox for email) allows me to create a new items in the inbox of OmniFocus with just a keystroke in Postbox and have that inbox item in OmniFocus have link to the particular email in Postbox. That is saving me a lot of time looking for emails I need to refer to, and works so well that I have started considering not bothering anymore with an Action/Projekt Support folder in my email and just let everything live in either In (when unprocessed) or Archive (for the rest). I'm guessing something similar should be possible to set up with your software to more or less automate the reference generating.


                      • #12
                        My action list is in an iPhone app, and I don't sync to my phone, so I can't link the systems in any way. When I have an action that has an email as action support, I simply type in the notes field of the NA something like "email Jo Blogs 9 Nov2011" and sometimes also a hint to the folder eg "MZ strategy mtgs". Although usually with the search functionality the name and date is enough to find the email quickly.


                        • #13
                          I used to have a lot of problems with email, but finally got it right thanks to one of the GTD Connect webinars, I think it was called precisely 'Dealing with email' or something like that. I don't know if the offer is still available, but they used to offer a 2-weeks free trial... if it still is, give yourself a treat and check those webinars out; they really take your GTD practice to a new level.

                          My email load isn't even close to yours, but here's how I finally got it nailed, fwiw:

                          I have created two folders, @project material and @waiting for. When I process my inbox, for each mail, I decide if it requires an action from me, and if it does, I determine which action is, move the mail to @project material so I can refer to it later, AND write the action in a different list, in my case @computer (this was my problem for a long time: I used the email itself as the reminder of my next action, but the next action is not self-evident by just reading the email, so next time I saw the emails I had forgotten what I had to do).

                          In your case, having so much mail, maybe it would be useful for you to make subfolders for projects within @project material. I have done it sometimes, when things become complicated, but I usually don't need to.

                          Later on, when I'm ready to do the action, I open @project material to get the mail I need, and once I'm done I move it to another folder called Archive. If I have to recover something later, text search works like a charm in my case.

                          @Waiting for is for mails from which I expect a response, and also, for example, when I purchase something online and I'm waiting for it to arrive (to refer to the mail in case there are problems with the deliver, etc). Again, I write down the due dates in a different location, my 'waiting for' paper list, and it gets reviewed regularly with all the others. These two folders also get checked and updated during the weekly review, so they don't become a 'black hole'.

                          Hope you get something useful out of this. It seems simple once in place, but email was one of the things in my GTD setup that took me most time to take to autopilot.