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Getting the email inbox down to one screen.

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  • Getting the email inbox down to one screen.

    I've been doing the GTD method on and off for about a year. October 30 of last year, I took a day off and just inboxed so much stuff. I began using a paper planner, but discovered a plam was better for me (for quick reviewing) and wasn't so bulky. It is also easier to change categories of things.

    I have had a habit of sending myself messages by email and using email as reminders for things. Bad idea.

    I worked out a system for getting my active email screen down to about 7 pending messages for the first time yesterday. What a relief! I actually had messages from 1999 on the active list, where it built up to about 475+ in total periodically. I just made folders in my groupwise and started filing and dumping.

    Now I have an email list that is manageable.

    My palm lists are not managable, so I am moving some projects to a "pending projects" list which I can review weekly but not constantly. A renegotiation. I am also putting lots of other stray items on "Someday/Maybe." This after reading post 327 by Cosmo and others.

    Lots of helpful advice on this site. Thanks to David Allen for the principles and everyone else for your input.


  • #2
    I can relate to how liberating that feels. But imagine how much better it'll feel to take care of those seven remaining messages...


    • #3
      an old DA newsletter...on this topic...;IDoption=24


      You can never get enough of what you don't really


      Though this profound personal-growth axiom
      usually refers to things like "others' approval"
      (you really need your own), it is equally
      applicable to productivity. Many can never work
      hard enough, because working hard is not really
      what they need. They need to work on the right
      thing. Working hard at the right thing is not
      hard work, or haven't you noticed?



      "If you don't know what you're doing, you don't
      know when to stop." – unknown

      "If it moves, salute it. If it doesn't move, pick
      it up. If you can't pick it up, paint it." –
      U.S. military slogan

      "If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing
      to do is stop digging." – Will Rogers




      Recently while coaching an executive I discovered
      another subtle but very real level of the "busy
      trap." You know the syndrome: "if I can just be
      doing SOMEthing that feels like I'm working with
      focus, I don't have to deal with the angst about
      all the other stuff I probably should be doing…"

      He had processed down to the last dozen or so
      emails in IN. They were the ones he wanted to
      keep in there, because he needed to spend time
      (more than two minutes) on each of the responses.
      He had already set up a category of Tasks in
      Outlook called "At Computer". Because I wanted
      him to stop using IN for a holding bin, and taste
      what it was like to really get it empty, I nudged
      him to go ahead and move those emails out of IN
      and onto the "At Computer" list.

      As he did that, you could see the light dawn.
      "Wow! Now I see all my work inventory in one
      place! And I now realize that I would let myself
      spend time on those emails before anything else,
      because that would seem the easiest choice to
      make. Now I can assess them immediately within
      the context of everything to do. They're not
      lost, and they're in proper perspective. I've
      been letting myself get sucked into the easiest
      being-busy thing, instead of feeling better about
      better choices."

      Psychic RAM tends to bring to awareness items
      based on criteria of latest (most recent in time)
      and loudest (emotionally), which is hardly the
      most effective file and retrieval system. In a
      similar way, if your system of action reminders
      is haphazard (post its on the screen, phone slips
      on the desk, notes on your chair, people
      interruptions), your busy energy momentum will
      glom on to the easiest thing to maintain itself.
      But the most obviously in your face is hardly the
      best criterion for in-the-moment choices of what
      to do.

      Stop. Do what you need to do to feel as good as
      you can about what you're doing. You can never be
      busy enough to dispel the need to be busy. And
      when you really choose the work you are doing,
      it's a lot easier to choose not to work.

      "It is not enough to be busy... The question is:
      What are we busy about?" - Henry David Thoreau



      Edit email subject lines, when you store or
      reply/reroute. One tiny moment of mental effort
      and movement on your part so helps grease the
      processing skids for yourself and numerous others
      later in assessing what this email is about, as
      it morphs into different things with different



      • #4
        Thanks for the comments, Jason.

        After doing this originally a month ago, the number of email in my inbox climbed back up as I logged in very long hours on my grant. So, over the last several days I got it down to one screen again. Monday 10/6 I got it to zero. Empty.

        It felt really great. It was nice to not have things there used as reminders for some kind of actions, since that action seldom would be well defined. It is very nice to go through my emails and get them to zero, saving emails in appropriate folders and writing next actions to my context lists on my palm.

        I started using tickler files a month ago. Again, a tremendous improvement.

        I find that the more clean edges there are, the better I feel. I recommend that everyone try GTD behaviors as they have been recommended in the book, to the letter, at first. Doing them as completely as possible really brings much better relaxation and control.