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Put emails into next actions, or have 2 inboxes?

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  • Put emails into next actions, or have 2 inboxes?

    I am wondering on the ideal way to process my emails.

    Should I...

    1) Put each email that has a next action into my next actions list, and move it out of my email inbox.


    2) Use my email inbox as its own next actions list


    Here's some ideas and notes:
    • I use Gmail with Sparrow Mail on Mac OS X, and OmniFocus on Mac, iPhone, and iPad
    • Option #1 is good because all of my next actions are in 1 place (OmniFocus).
    • Option #2 is good because it's faster, and I don't have to copy & paste emails into my next actions list every day.
    • Having 2 inboxes and next action lists makes it hard to get a clear picture of what has to be done, which makes me lean towards Option #1.
    • In Option #1, my email inbox goes down to zero every day. This forces me to decide on a next action for email, not to let it sit in my inbox as I avoid how to deal with it.
    • Probably my main complaint with Option #1 is that it takes time to copy emails into OmniFocus every day. I think this might be a waste of valuable time.

    Right now, I'm half way doing Option #1 and halfway doing Option#2, which makes life confusing. So sometimes if I get an email that requires a lot of work to do, I will put it in OmniFocus ("Review big proposal") and smaller emails I reply to ad hoc.

    What is the most GTD way to do this? What does David Allen recommend?

  • #2
    why would you copy e-mails?

    Originally posted by commmmodo View Post
    [*]Probably my main complaint with Option #1 is that it takes time to copy emails into OmniFocus every day. I think this might be a waste of valuable time.
    Why would you copy e-mails? The only thing that needs to go on your list is the actual next action, not the e-mail itself.

    I work this way:
    - I decide on a next action after reading a mail
    - the next action goes onto my list, with a mention "Mddmm" with ddmm day/month of the mail, so I know there is a link with a mail
    - the mail itself is moved into a mail folder called "action" that contains only e-mail with associated next actions on my list

    Works great for me.



    • #3
      Why are you cutting and pasting into Omnifocus? You can install the ClipOTron and get your email into OF in seconds with a link back to the original email. You can also sign up for the beta of an OF service that will let you email directly into your OF database if you sync to the OmniSync service. This is handy if you want to mail stuff in while mobile.


      • #4
        I second the use of an Action-Support folder

        You can add the Next Action to your lists, whereever you've stored them. Then you move the actual email out of your inbox and into a folder for Action-Support. Voila! Inbox zero.

        Just be careful that you don't move all the emails there, forget to add them to your NA lists and never review the Action-Support folder.


        • #5
          Hi commmmodo,

          ALWAYS leave your e-mail in your e-mail system!! I cant recall the exact quote of David Allen but yeah I do recall that he said something along the lines of 'the e-mail system is that big a system in itself that it is best left in the e-mail system'!! So yeah my word of advice is as above: ALWAYS leave your e-mail in your e-mail system......and to not unnecessarily make this process more complex than what it already is!! : )


          • #6
            I personally use 2 inboxes to sort out the priority from the not and just make all things organized. So far, I find it very helpful.


            • #7
              Here's (approximately) what I do:

              I move some emails into an "action" email folder. For most of these,
              the email itself is the only reminder. For some of them,
              I also put a "next action" in another system, referring to the email:
              e.g. if it's more important, or urgent, or will take more time to work on,
              or has a next-action that isn't immediately obvious on looking at the email,
              or just because I feel like writing a reminder to get it off my mind.

              I have a daily reminder in my system to review emails in the "action" folder.


              • #8
                I'm with Myriam and Siobhan...

                If there is a NA associated with an email, I transfer it to the Action Support folder in my email system, and the appropriate NA is entered onto my lists. This NA could simply be:

                -Reply to John re X

                Or, if I need to use the information contained in the email in some way, it might be something like:

                -Review report from John's email sent Mar 2
                -Add training stats from John into quarterly report (see email Mar 2)

                Once the NA is completed I either delete the email, file it in a separate reference folder, or delete the email and file the attachment.

                There are usually only about 5 or 6 emails in my action support folder at any one time, so finding the email I need is not a problem.


                • #9
                  I created a processed e-mail folder. When I read the e-mail I process it if it tale less than 2 minute or I decide the next action, and I list it
                  Last edited by clango; 03-24-2013, 09:16 AM.


                  • #10
                    I also move emails with next actions into context folders as this keeps the inbox as an inbox with only unprocessed items sitting in it. I currently use my usual contexts of: @ quiet time; @computer (perverse I know as it's all at computer! But I have come to use this as easy replies and scheduling of appointments etc.); @waiting - very useful for a quick scan of items I've delegated or waiting for a response on; and @ read and review - this builds up quickly though and can get out of hand with too much over commitment!

                    I do enter the next actions on a list (moleskine notebook) so I have all next actions in one place but find separating the next actions in my email into contexts very helpful to keep a focus when I'm working in a particular context ( in between meetings and busy, noisy times in office = @ computer; late evenings and longer in disturbed periods = @quiet time, for example) this helps me stay on tasks related to my energy levels also, rather than face all next actions in one list.


                    • #11
                      I prefer just one inbox and just prioritizing some mails over the other. It makes things better.


                      • #12
                        Clip-o-Tron & big Reference folder

                        I'm with mcogilvie on this one. I use the clip-o-tron to move the messages to my Omnifocus inbox but leave them in the mail system. All messages in mail stay in a huge Reference Folder. Within Omnifocus I rename the action as required and the mail message is there as reference int eh note part. I can also get to the original message if I need to.


                        • #13
                          Few weeks late and many dollars short, but...

                          One big trap I accidentally fell into was leaving emails in the inbox that actually had non-email NAs. For instance, an email from the library telling me that one of the books I'm using for my dissertation has been recalled needs to go on my @Home list so that I remember to put the book in my bag before I wind up with a hefty fine.

                          Sometimes I would look at my @Action tag in my gMail and despair that so many of those actions weren't getting done...then I realized it was because their real context had absolutely nothing to do with email.

                          So I would say, emails whose replies will take more than 2 minutes? Leave those in your email system. Emails that are actually triggers for tasks that need to take place outside your email? Get those into the rest of your system.

                          YMMV, of course...such is the nature of creating your system.

                          ETA: I should add that the reason I say "inbox" is because I use Priority Inbox in gMail. "Important and Unread" and "Unread" are my buckets for processing, but then I can have an "@Action" inbox where I store only the read and processed Action emails. Each section is collapsible so I'm only viewing one at a time, and I love love love it.


                          • #14
                            Webmail solution

                            If you use gmail and read your mail through a browser, you can create a link to the original mail in the notes field of your action (I use Things on mac but I presume Omnifocus has a notes field that can handle HTTP links actively). That way you can:
                            - create an action in your GTD system, so all actions are in one place
                            - archive the mail itself, so you get to inbox zero
                            - have an easy link to relaunch the email thread when undertaking the action, so that you can review details and reply if necessary.


                            • #15
                              Processing email

                              I have a few different ways I process my email inbox, depending on whether I'm at home on my Mac or away and on my iPhone or iPad.

                              At home, I go through each message and decide if it is "reference" or "actionable." If reference, I move it into Evernote and if actionable, I move it into Omnifocus. I do this extremely fast using apple scripts provided at and it's just Command + E for Evernote and Command + O for Omnifocus. The applescript lets me choose which Evernote notebook the message goes into and even add tags. I process the Omnifocus inbox when I have time, already knowing these are actionable items and need to go into specific contexts.

                              Away from my Mac, I forward reference emails using my Evernote email address and my actionable tasks using the Omnifocus email service (in beta but works great!.)

                              All of the original emails are then archived in Gmail and I hit archive immediately after forwarding the message. if I do not do this step, I end up forwarding the same email multiple times because I cannot remember if I've processed it or not.