Any tips to help process your Inbox consistently?

KW7

Registered
I have a lot of ideas which make their way into my inbox (Evernote). That's good on some level but then I must do something with them. I've been using GTD with various levels of success for 3 years now and I still struggle with this. Processing my inbox takes a decent amount of mental energy (ie. making decisions) and when I'm focused on a particular task or project I view that work as a distraction. Obviously it's not. Without the handling of new info the system doesn't work and it surely won't be timely.

Anyone out there have any strategies for making this tedious task a little more bearable?

Thanks!
 

mcogilvie

Registered
You say this is tedious. Why? How much of what you collect do you use? Is it mostly useful, but are you collecting more than you can process? Or maybe you find a lot of friction in your workflow. You say your inbox is in Evernote. How do you use Evernote? Reference only? Reference plus action support? How long does it take you to process a typical entry? What kinds of decisions do you make when processing? How many ideas do you process on an average day?
 

Haadlum

Registered
Add processing time to your calendar. Review your systems. In my experience any resistance is related to friction in the workflow process. Maybe there are no clear boundaries between reference / archive and active project support. Also processing IS quite taxing. I can process with a high level of clarity up to 30 minutes (sometimes 45 minutes) and after that I am toast. So I have 3-4 x 30min times allocated for processing. This works for me. You might be different. I have found that after the 45 minute mark items tend to move to my projects and action lists without sufficient clarification. That further fuels my resistance to do further processing and I start to see resistance in engaging with my world. So try processing 1 Pomodoro at a time.
 

Cpu_Modern

Registered
Process to empty daily. I tried "batches" and "appointments" of all sorts, nothing works as good as being on top daily.

Emotionally, two things, revel in the feeling of the niceness of a clean and empty inbox, generate a little "addiction" here. Helps you with wanting to do the processing. Secondly, develop a positive attitude "Yay! Inbox processing!"
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Schedule times when you will process your email. Do NOT check email every 5-10 minutes. Turn it off until your processing time. I have 3-4 of these scheduled every day. And absolutely no email in the evenings! And when retiring for the evening, put your phone in another room - do not grab it first thing in the morning and start scrolling.
 

KW7

Registered
You say this is tedious. Why? How much of what you collect do you use? Is it mostly useful, but are you collecting more than you can process? Or maybe you find a lot of friction in your workflow. You say your inbox is in Evernote. How do you use Evernote? Reference only? Reference plus action support? How long does it take you to process a typical entry? What kinds of decisions do you make when processing? How many ideas do you process on an average day?
I process my email as a separate task and try to shut it down afterwards.

Answered in order here:

1. You say this is tedious. Why?
Lots of them often. I never get as much done as I'd like so seeing a pile of new potential tasks can be intimidating. Tedious because I've got to determine where everything goes. Is it a project? Ok, then start a new one. Do I have capacity for a new project? If not, where does it go? If really important, then I should add it to projects and perhaps push another project to Someday/Maybe and, if I do that, which one gets tabled? Nothing fast about this, in my mind.

2. How much of what you collect do you use? Is it mostly useful, but are you collecting more than you can process? Or maybe you find a lot of friction in your workflow.
I use a lot less than I collect but I never know what will be useful on the front end. Sometimes it's clear that something in the inbox can just be deleted and I'm happy to do that but if not, it goes into the system. Right now, I've got 70 items in there because of my poor follow-up. Digging out is my main goal today. But I'd like NOT to find myself here again in a week.

3. You say your inbox is in Evernote. How do you use Evernote? Reference only? Reference plus action support? How long does it take you to process a typical entry? What kinds of decisions do you make when processing? How many ideas do you process on an average day?
Evernote is used for all of my GTD system. Support and actions. Good questions on the typical entry. Don't have an answer for that but having one would maybe reduce my apprehension about it. I could easily add 30-50 items in a week. Decisions would be determining what to do next: incubate or move to a context, etc.

Thanks for the responses.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
I process my email as a separate task and try to shut it down afterwards.

Answered in order here:

1. You say this is tedious. Why?
Lots of them often. I never get as much done as I'd like so seeing a pile of new potential tasks can be intimidating. Tedious because I've got to determine where everything goes. Is it a project? Ok, then start a new one. Do I have capacity for a new project? If not, where does it go? If really important, then I should add it to projects and perhaps push another project to Someday/Maybe and, if I do that, which one gets tabled? Nothing fast about this, in my mind.

2. How much of what you collect do you use? Is it mostly useful, but are you collecting more than you can process? Or maybe you find a lot of friction in your workflow.
I use a lot less than I collect but I never know what will be useful on the front end. Sometimes it's clear that something in the inbox can just be deleted and I'm happy to do that but if not, it goes into the system. Right now, I've got 70 items in there because of my poor follow-up. Digging out is my main goal today. But I'd like NOT to find myself here again in a week.

3. You say your inbox is in Evernote. How do you use Evernote? Reference only? Reference plus action support? How long does it take you to process a typical entry? What kinds of decisions do you make when processing? How many ideas do you process on an average day?
Evernote is used for all of my GTD system. Support and actions. Good questions on the typical entry. Don't have an answer for that but having one would maybe reduce my apprehension about it. I could easily add 30-50 items in a week. Decisions would be determining what to do next: incubate or move to a context, etc.

Thanks for the responses.
Thanks for your reply. First, getting 70 project/next action items into my system from the inbox would take me somewhere around an hour. Processing daily email can take as long or longer some days, but that includes calendar items, reading, replying, et cetera. could there be a problem getting from email To Evernote? If these activities are taking you much longer, you may have a problem with friction. I don’t personally think of Evernote as fast and fun, but people do make it work. It could be your system does not have clean enough edges between support and actions; inclusion of reference material could make that worse. Or it could be something else entirely, like having next actions that are too coarse-grained to be true next actions. Suppose you are adding 30 next actions a week. If a few take an hour and most take less, probably no problem. If the average is an hour or more, then that plus time for defining your work is basically your week. Definitely something to check. I think I would need to know more about your situation to go further. For example, does the problem lie mosty with work or with personal matters, or with both?
 

Gardener

Registered
For me, email processing is largely about getting my email box empty, and I try to separate the sheer processing--getting the mixed batch of incoming email OUT of the email inbox and quickly herded into groups--from associated tasks.

I don't sort my email, so stuff that I've opened that isn't actionable (where "copy for reference" would be an action) gets dragged to one unsorted folder for the year. This reduces any stress about what to delete; I just drag EVERYTHING in there, and do any thinning months later, when I can delete vast swaths of obviously never-gonna-care emails.

Stuff I just want to read more thoroughly gets dragged to a "Read This" folder. (That includes emails with links to webcasts and recorded meetings, etc., not just "read".)

If I tended to put a whole bunch of informational items into Evernote (not that I use Evernote), I'd probably just drag them out of the email inbox and into a folder named something like "Move to Evernote". If that were a fairly rote process, I'd do it when I'm feeling tired and un-creative.

Is it a project? Ok, then start a new one. Do I have capacity for a new project? If not, where does it go? If really important, then I should add it to projects and perhaps push another project to Someday/Maybe and, if I do that, which one gets tabled? Nothing fast about this, in my mind.
If an email threatens to become a new project, I wouldn't do the project-creation work while processing email. I'd probably drag it into an email folder with other potential project seeds, and process them another time, perhaps in the weekly review. So a potential project seed should take me less than a minute, at the email processing (or "email herding") stage.

If an email points to the need for a new meeting, I'd probably create an action in my system: "Meet with Fred's group about Blah; see email 'Widget bug'" and I wouldn't create the meeting right then.

And so on. I will knock off everything but quick and simple responses this way, and do the quick and simple responses as the last step of processing my inbox--or if none are urgent, leave them there, re-marked as Unread, for the next round. If I had a lot of them, I'd create a folder for them, too.

I realize that I'm just moving, not eliminating, most of the work, but that's actually my goal--I want my email box nice and clear, so that I can see what's coming in, and I want the moved work corraled in defined buckets, out of the inbox.
 

Gardener

Registered
Ahh...I just realized that I'm talking email, but your original question is about Evernote. So you're presumably AFTER those things have been moved to the "move to Evernote" folder...? I'm not sure I'm clear on the question now.
 

ERJ1

Jedi Master
I don't think Evernote is a good tool for GTD. I know a lot of people like it and use it as such, but I think this comes from when Evernote was maybe one of the few useful cloud based information management systems that was easily accessible and cross platform. It's going to be a lot easier if you have a system better oriented to managing tasks.

When I process inboxes in the morning, I...

Open Gmail
Take care of any 2 minute emails
Save emails I want as reference to Evernote and archive in Gmail
Save emails I want to do/need to respond to/handle later to Todoist
Open Todoist
Start at top item in Inbox and process, moving either to context lists, creating projects for larger items with several steps, or moving stuff to someday

I don't use email itself to manage tasks at all in my personal email. I will sometimes use my work email as a to-do list and just work from there, archiving as I go, because often there are so many it isn't an effective use of my time to process them out of there. In the case of work email, I'll respond to any emergency emails, then just work my way from oldest up or newest down.

Perhaps a more liberal use of Someday/Maybe might speed up your processing too.
 

pgarth

Registered
I have a lot of ideas which make their way into my inbox (Evernote). That's good on some level but then I must do something with them. I've been using GTD with various levels of success for 3 years now and I still struggle with this. Processing my inbox takes a decent amount of mental energy (ie. making decisions) and when I'm focused on a particular task or project I view that work as a distraction. Obviously it's not. Without the handling of new info the system doesn't work and it surely won't be timely.

Anyone out there have any strategies for making this tedious task a little more bearable?

Thanks!
"Processing my inbox takes a decent amount of mental energy (ie. making decisions)"

In GTD, "Processing" can be a loaded word that may be associated with things like "taking a decent amount of mental energy". Who wants that?

I see Processing as a sequence of steps, that are graphically represented in the Mastering Workflow Processing & Organizing Diagram. I don't want to remember the steps, so I'm referring to the diagram.

One strategy is to take one item, look at the workflow diagram, and process it thoroughly to its conclusion.

What is it?

For me, even this question, infers that you know which role is asking and answering the question - 20K Areas of Focus and Responsibility.

This means you're playing a unique game for each item - that's a refreshing reframe. You may even internalize at some point - "Wow. I forgot that part of the workflow diagram." You'll get into the flow of things, in your own zone, and then you're done.
 

KW7

Registered
"Processing my inbox takes a decent amount of mental energy (ie. making decisions)"

In GTD, "Processing" can be a loaded word that may be associated with things like "taking a decent amount of mental energy". Who wants that?

I see Processing as a sequence of steps, that are graphically represented in the Mastering Workflow Processing & Organizing Diagram. I don't want to remember the steps, so I'm referring to the diagram.

One strategy is to take one item, look at the workflow diagram, and process it thoroughly to its conclusion.

What is it?

For me, even this question, infers that you know which role is asking and answering the question - 20K Areas of Focus and Responsibility.

This means you're playing a unique game for each item - that's a refreshing reframe. You may even internalize at some point - "Wow. I forgot that part of the workflow diagram." You'll get into the flow of things, in your own zone, and then you're done.
This is a helpful thought. I think I may print out the diagram to review today. Yes, it's simple but sometimes breaking things down into their simplest form can really speed things along.

Prioritizing has always been difficult for me. I have too many ideas and far too little time. As I type this, I'm thinking that creating some personal resource limits might help such as only allowing one type of project at a time. That way I can easily compare the new item in my inbox to what I'm already working on and determine if it's more important. My tendency is to start too many things which slows down all projects. The illusion being that if I start the project then it will get finished soon --- forgetting, of course, the time required.

Thanks to everyone for your input and helping me work through this bottleneck in my system.

Be well, folks.
 

Oogiem

Registered
Prioritizing has always been difficult for me. I have too many ideas and far too little time.
Make a much more liberal use of Someday/Maybe. And plan an extra day or so once a quarter to review and cull those ideas out if you get upset by long S/M lists.

I'm thinking that creating some personal resource limits might help such as only allowing one type of project at a time. That way I can easily compare the new item in my inbox to what I'm already working on and determine if it's more important. My tendency is to start too many things which slows down all projects.
Personally I think that 1 project at a time is impossible for a real human to handle. You ALWAYS have more than one thing that you are maintaining and working on at a time. Some of us like longer sets of choices, some like fewer, but even the most minimalist GTD practitioner has multiple projects active at any given time. I can't really imagine a scenario where I totally dump a current working project in favor of one in my inbox. I can and do move one or more current working projects into someday/maybe to make space for something that has come uop all of a sudden but that's not the same and dumping it.

A current example: I have dumped all my scanning and archiving of old slides project into temporary hold so I can handle and deal with my parts of the installation of a new solar PV system on our ranch. I don't have the time to clean and scan and catalog slides right now and still go up to the ranch and work on the placement of the solar system and the clean-up before installation. We have a deadline on the solar system that is has to be done by the end of this year and out part has to be ready for the electrician and installers mid July. When my part is done by mid August I'll probably bring back the slide scanning project onto my lists but for now it's sitting comfortably in my Someday/Maybe list under the Archivist AOF.
 

pgarth

Registered
This is a helpful thought. I think I may print out the diagram to review today. Yes, it's simple but sometimes breaking things down into their simplest form can really speed things along.

Prioritizing has always been difficult for me. I have too many ideas and far too little time. As I type this, I'm thinking that creating some personal resource limits might help such as only allowing one type of project at a time. That way I can easily compare the new item in my inbox to what I'm already working on and determine if it's more important. My tendency is to start too many things which slows down all projects. The illusion being that if I start the project then it will get finished soon --- forgetting, of course, the time required.

Thanks to everyone for your input and helping me work through this bottleneck in my system.

Be well, folks.
KW7, I think you're definitely on a good path of discovery with GTD, as you try out the various components of this systematic approach, and also trust the experience-based intention of the various contributors on the forum responding to your questions.

I understand the internal-thinking logic of "As I type this, I'm thinking that creating some personal resource limits might help such as only allowing one type of project at a time." Oogiem explained better than I how even a minimalist GTD practitioner will have several projects. I have some additional GTD mechanics items to discuss.

There are two crucial components, that are key for GTD success - external trusted system and Next Action. By having an external trusted system - calendar, lists, horizons of focus - you free your mind up from over-thinking in the moment. You technically are not working on projects - you're focusing (based on available time, energy, context) - the Next Action... When you feel good about knowing what you're not doing, there is a tangible feeling that's hard to describe - it's "really" good!

Continued success.
Paul
 
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