Email management and GTD

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by ggray50, Feb 1, 2017.

  1. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2017
    Messages:
    30
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Scotland
    I've been struggling with how to manage emails as part of my system. In particular, whether to treat the email inbox as simply a collection bucket with actionable items transferred to my GTD spreadsheet; or, to set up folders within the email client eg. action, waiting for, reference folders etc.

    I've gone for the former approach for now and just archive my emails once they're processed so that all my action lists, waiting for, someday maybes, read/review lists etc are all in one place - on my spreadsheet. I fear that creating separate folders in the email client will lead to two separate GTD systems - one for email and one for everything else - with a greater risk of missing things and increased user resistance.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2003
    Messages:
    4,132
    Likes Received:
    32
    Trophy Points:
    48
    You are right. Projects and Next Actions should be in ONE place. So you MUST convert ALL actionable emails into Projects or Next Actions in your spreadsheet.
    But...
    It is useful to have "action support" and "waiting for" folders in the email client for emails that contain additional information needed for actions. These folders don't contain actions to do (emails are not triggers - your spreadsheet is) but supporting information if it is too large to transfer into a spreadsheet (for example pdf attachment).
     
    Yiannis Miliatsis likes this.
  3. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2008
    Messages:
    588
    Likes Received:
    22
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Yep. I disapprove of email serving as a substitute for project or action lists. As project support material, sure--for example, you may have an action "Go through account requests" in your action lists, and an email folder "Account requests". But not as a replacement for the classic GTD containers.

    I realize that my disapproval doesn't stop anyone from doing it, but that's my opinion.
     
  4. kelstarrising

    kelstarrising I know some stuff about GTD

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2002
    Messages:
    3,468
    Likes Received:
    52
    Trophy Points:
    48
    You can have two places you track actions. Lots of people do this with emails, given the sheer volume of what they receive. Using the email as the reminder is the approach David Allen describes in his article Getting Email Under Control. That would mean the email itself is the reminder, and the @Action folder in email serves as a next actions list. Or, you can use your calendar or next action lists as the reminder that you have action, and the @Action Support folder in email simply serves as a storage bucket to hold the email.

    Either option works, depending on what you are willing to work. Both options have upsides and downsides.
     
    ggray50 likes this.
  5. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2003
    Messages:
    4,132
    Likes Received:
    32
    Trophy Points:
    48
    So in this case @Action folder in an email client is a NA context list @email in its own email environment.
     
  6. kelstarrising

    kelstarrising I know some stuff about GTD

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2002
    Messages:
    3,468
    Likes Received:
    52
    Trophy Points:
    48
    PeterW likes this.
  7. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2003
    Messages:
    4,132
    Likes Received:
    32
    Trophy Points:
    48
    You wrote:
    The downside with this option in email is that you have no place to capture the next action or due date that’s associated with that actionable email. So you’ll inevitably be doing some “re-deciding” about emails you already decided about, if the next action is not apparent by the subject line.
    I would add three other downsides:
    1. You mustn't forget about @Action email folder during the Weekly Review.
    2. It encourages you to move emails from inbox to @Action folder without Processing them ie. without thinking.
    3. Next Actions are hidden within an email if there are more than one Next Action in an email. So the @Action folder as a trigger list doesn't contain widgets to crank.
    That's why I'm against storing Next Actions outside the main GTD system.
     
    ggray50 likes this.
  8. Gameboy70

    Gameboy70 Registered

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2004
    Messages:
    287
    Likes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    18
    I only use @Action for second-stage processing. From the inbox, emails are either delegated, processed into the calendar/list manager, deleted on the spot, or replied to on the spot if under two minutes. By the end of the loop, the inbox is empty, and the @Action folder only contains the longer-than-two-minute items that require more assiduous reading to intelligently process. If I know what the outcomes and actions are, I move the email into its own project-specific folder if it's support material (so many people resist creating new folders liberally, on a per-project or per-contact basis). Once I'm done processing, @Action is empty, just like Inbox.
     
  9. Ramalew

    Ramalew Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2015
    Messages:
    6
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    That's good to hear. So, keeping all my next actions, project support and DRPs (Direct Supports) info in Outlook tasks is also good? (see my new post of today)
     
  10. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2003
    Messages:
    4,132
    Likes Received:
    32
    Trophy Points:
    48
    David Allen would say: your GTD system should be as simple as possible but not simpler.
    So use the minimum number of tools to get your stuff done.
     
  11. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2017
    Messages:
    30
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Scotland
    Thanks for the link Kelly. Its definitely option 2 for me, as I want to be specific about what the expected outcomes and next actions are, which I think is harder to do within the email client itself, unless you've got a software system incorporating, or interfacing, with your email client. And as Testeq says, a single email may contain multiple actions. I forsee a lot of re-reading/re-processing with option 1, assuming of course, in the first place, that I'm disciplined enough to look at the email folders in addition to my main GTD lists.

    Another question though, assuming we plump for Option 2 - is there any real need for @action support and @waiting for? Would a single "archive" folder not suffice, given the powerful search facility in email clients now? In addition to inbox, and sent items, I only have "archive" folder within the email client for all processed emails that are requiring an action, and "reference" folder for, well, reference emails. I'm thinking that if you've got project support folders on your hard drive (containing copies of relevant emails, and other materials), you probably don't need an @action support folder within the email client, as well.
     
  12. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2008
    Messages:
    588
    Likes Received:
    22
    Trophy Points:
    18
    That's what I do--in one folder for the entire year, I archive everything, including emails that have been translated into actions in my lists. In the action, I tend to add a note that will help me find the email. ("Email Smith 2/21/17")
     
  13. kelstarrising

    kelstarrising I know some stuff about GTD

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2002
    Messages:
    3,468
    Likes Received:
    52
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Sure, I suppose it could work for option two implementation, if you are super clear that "Archive" means action. I personally wouldn't do it, as I have still never found Search as easy as quickly clicking on a folder name and seeing all of my action-related emails or waiting for-related emails. But if you think it's safe enough to try, give it a go!
     
  14. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2017
    Messages:
    30
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Scotland
    I suppose I'm chilled about moving the email to a single "archive" folder in the email client because its been processed and organised and is now sitting in my main GTD spreadsheet (in the project and next action lists). Often, I won't need to look for the email again, unless I want to reply to it to let the sender know what I've done with it.

    I've got a separate "reference" folder in my email client for stuff which doesn't require an action but I might get rid of that and just put everything into the archive folder once its processed. My initial thinking was that it might be easier to do an annual clear out of reference stuff if its sitting in its own folder.
     
  15. -B.

    -B. Registered

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2017
    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Gender:
    Male
    I am fairly new to GTD and have historically really struggled managing email. Everything written hear has been informative & will certainly be helpful as I work to efficiently & effectively manage email as part of my GTD system. I do have a question that I don't believe has been addressed here...what about sent mail in the sent mail folder?

    I feel like I would want to manage sent mail in a similar way as my inbox, but realize that doing this only adds quantity & complexity to the already challenging task of regularly emptying my inbox. The reason that I would want to include my sent mail I guess is twofold: (1) it seems like the relevant sent mail would be useful for "waiting for" tasks & (2) it seems like there would be info in some of my responses that I would want to file in my reference folder.

    I'd really appreciate any insights on this. Thanks in advance!
     
  16. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2008
    Messages:
    588
    Likes Received:
    22
    Trophy Points:
    18
    My philosophy for email archives is that I don't sort them, at all. I store all the archives for the year in one place, and I dig through them by searching. I specify "archives" because I do cheat on my own "never sort email" rule by having a single "Tasks to Record" folder where I drag email that contains some sort of task, in order to clear my Inbox when I've been slacking off on email. If I weren't breaking the rules, i would record those tasks to my various lists right from the Inbox.

    This all means that if I need to file an email item, I file it outside email. For example:
    • An email with a software license number: I save the email to disk and put the resulting file into a folder with all of my other software license information.
    • An email with the results of my annual review: I save the email to disk and put the resulting file into my "HR" folder.
    • An email reporting a bug, or really almost any other task that I'm not going to do instantly: I copy the text describing the bug and paste it into the file that contains my task backlog for that project. ("Backlog" isn't a GTD term, but it's close enough to "Someday/Maybe" for this discussion.)
    • An email documenting something that I might need to prove someday: I save the email to disk and then copy that file to one of several possible folders.
    • An email documenting a process or procedure ("Here's how to convince that server to restart."): Again, disk, folders.
    Now, this system only works because I save very few emails. Most emails just go in the archive folder, and if I want to re-read the discussion, I go find it there.

    None of that answers your actual question. When I want to (rarely) hang on to a 'sent' email, I transform it into a 'received' email by bccing myself when I send it or, if I forgot to do that, pulling it out of Sent and re-sending it just to myself. Then I handle that received email as described above.
     
  17. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2003
    Messages:
    4,132
    Likes Received:
    32
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Some people solve this problem by sending BCC copies to themselves so they have to manage inbox only.
     
  18. ggray50

    ggray50 Registered

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2017
    Messages:
    30
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Scotland
    For (1), I would add the 'waiting for' task to my main gtd system (an excel spreadsheet in my case) and leave the email in sent items. In the 'wf' column, I make a reference to the email/date/ recipient eg. 1/5e - DA to reply re. missing Q4 stats

    For (2), I have onenote notebooks for both project support material and for A-Z general reference. If I want to file the email to either notebook, I just send it to the relevant onenote notebook. You can do this directly from the email in Outlook using the move to onenote button or by dragging it to the relevant onenote page. Alternatively, you could print off the email and file it in hard copy project support or general ref folders.
     
  19. George M

    George M Registered

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2017
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Logistics Management Specialist
    Location:
    Huntsville, Alabama
    Very interesting discussion. I use Nozbe for my GTD. One of the nice capabilities is the I can send my emails to a Nozbe address and they show up in my Nozbe In-Box, and I can set them up in my GTD system. Evernote has that same capability if you are using it. The Nozbe capability is really helping me manage my email actions and tracking.
     
  20. SeanKarrim

    SeanKarrim Registered

    Joined:
    May 1, 2017
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    3
    I have an archive folder. After I have processes my email I move it to the archive folder.

    If it is something really important I move a copy of the email to One Note for future reference.

    I bcc my Sent items where I am waiting for someone to get back to me. It then goes to a waiting for folder. But I am still in 2 minds about this because I have the waiting folder in Outlook mail and another waiting for list in Outlook tasks. I prefer to manage everything Outlook Tasks. But it will be extra work to move my bcc'd waiting for mail items to tasks.
     

Share This Page