Emails and GTD

Stephen Brown

Registered
Hi, I've read GTD several times and I think I have a good understanding of how it all works. However, I keep getting overwhelmed with my system. I switch tools and change the way I capture and organise to some method that isn't GTD but after a period with this other system, I miss the things about GTD that I like and then switch back.

I think the main pain point I have is with how to deal with emails and how they link to 'waiting for' items. Like everyone, emails are coming and going all day long and there can be multiple emails all related to the same item on my lists - an example would be I send an email asking for a copy of last years financial reports but need data from several cost centres. I add a waiting for item on my list, 'John - financial reports - e3/7'. The e3/7 remains me that I sent an email on the 3 July which I can refer back to in case I need to send a follow up. Then that person may ask somebody else if they can provide the report for me. This other person starts sending emails with more information that I may need to refer back to. Sometimes, the status of that original 'waiting for' item can change several times throughout a single day and it gets me stressed. I feel like I'm constantly micro managing tasks keeping them up to date.

Do other people have this problem, how do you deal with it? Any help would be appreciated.
 

Gardener

Registered
I'm wondering why your original 'waiting for' would need to change before you have all the information you need. That is, if you ask for financial reports, and John's asking for them, that still seems related to your original Waiting For. The fact that (for example) John may now be waiting for Joyce who is waiting for Frank who is on vacation until Tuesday doesn't seem like something that needs to be added.

Is your concern that you may forget all that stuff and have trouble searching for it? I think I would assume that I'd be able to look for my original email to John and then hunt down the email trail when the time comes that I need it.

And if someone is, in the conversation about financial reports, also sending you information about catering menus and patches to spreadsheet software, that seems like a separate thing to be filed or acted on.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
I think we all struggle to some degree with this Issue. I know I do. Threaded email conversations and rapid search help a lot. I have easy paths from email to next action lists (email to app, drag and drop, share sheet). Most of the time capturing these follow-up emails into my lists is unnecessary, and I do it somewhat haphazardly. Recently I have been giving waiting-fors in email a yellow flag, but I’m not sure I will stick with it. Slack and similar tools are supposed to mitigate this, but I haven’t fallen in love with Slack. Ultimately you have to decide for yourself what you want to do, what you are willing to do, and what you have to do.
 

Stephen Brown

Registered
Thanks for the replies. I guess my biggest problem is that I feel I should be able to recall the progress of a waiting for at a minutes notice. Maybe I’m just putting too much pressure on myself. I might train myself to leave the original email as the marker and trust that I’ll be able to find the related stuff if needed.

On a similar note, if you are asked to provide a report on the progress of a project and you add the action “Draft progress report on the widget project e11/7”. Then you later receive another email asking you to also include financial information in your report. I’ve sometimes changed the end of the task to “e11/7, 13/7” or added text in the task note along the lines of, “include financial information“. How would you deal with this?
 

Gardener

Registered
Thanks for the replies. I guess my biggest problem is that I feel I should be able to recall the progress of a waiting for at a minutes notice. Maybe I’m just putting too much pressure on myself. I might train myself to leave the original email as the marker and trust that I’ll be able to find the related stuff if needed.
I think that this depends on a balance of the cost of always knowing these things, versus the cost of not knowing them.

If you spend two hours a day staying up to date, and only twice a year did you find it useful to know that information at a moment's notice, and the research those two times would have only taken half an hour, and the cost would have been no more than a co-worker having to come back after lunch for an answer...then it seems clear that it's not worth staying that up to date.

If you spend two hours a day staying up to date, and as a result you're the guy in the office who always knows stuff instantly, and you can point to six occasions this month when that knowledge won a valuable contract, then it seems clear that it is worth staying that up to date.

I'm guessing that the reality is probably more like the first, but I could be wrong.

On a similar note, if you are asked to provide a report on the progress of a project and you add the action “Draft progress report on the widget project e11/7”. Then you later receive another email asking you to also include financial information in your report. I’ve sometimes changed the end of the task to “e11/7, 13/7” or added text in the task note along the lines of, “include financial information“. How would you deal with this?
I would regard that progress report as a project, not just an action. Now, it's possible that I might have started out thinking that it would be so trivial as to be just an action, but when the email asking for the extra information came along, that would signal to me that this is now absolutely a project.

So I'd have something like:

Project: Draft progress report on the widget project e11/7
Action: WAITING FOR response re project status from Fred
Action: WAITING FOR financial information from Wilbur
 

TesTeq

Registered
Hi, I've read GTD several times and I think I have a good understanding of how it all works. However, I keep getting overwhelmed with my system. I switch tools and change the way I capture and organise to some method that isn't GTD but after a period with this other system, I miss the things about GTD that I like and then switch back.

I think the main pain point I have is with how to deal with emails and how they link to 'waiting for' items. Like everyone, emails are coming and going all day long and there can be multiple emails all related to the same item on my lists - an example would be I send an email asking for a copy of last years financial reports but need data from several cost centres. I add a waiting for item on my list, 'John - financial reports - e3/7'. The e3/7 remains me that I sent an email on the 3 July which I can refer back to in case I need to send a follow up. Then that person may ask somebody else if they can provide the report for me. This other person starts sending emails with more information that I may need to refer back to. Sometimes, the status of that original 'waiting for' item can change several times throughout a single day and it gets me stressed. I feel like I'm constantly micro managing tasks keeping them up to date.

Do other people have this problem, how do you deal with it? Any help would be appreciated.
The problem is solved when email is banned in the organization and replaced with the teamwork app like Nozbe Teams. #NOEMAILS! @mcogilvie @Gardener
 

bill_garrett

Registered
@TesTeq, in your experience, how big can an organization be and what policies need to be put in place to make sure that the teamwork app doesn't become just another unwieldy inbox? Or is there something different because messages are written to be to the point?

I've heard Michael Sliwinski talk about his company's work, but I've not heard much about that scaled up into the hundreds.
 

TesTeq

Registered
@TesTeq, in your experience, how big can an organization be and what policies need to be put in place to make sure that the teamwork app doesn't become just another unwieldy inbox? Or is there something different because messages are written to be to the point?

I've heard Michael Sliwinski talk about his company's work, but I've not heard much about that scaled up into the hundreds.
I'll ask Michael about the scalability of Nozbe Teams.
The "Nozbe philosophy" is based on passing tasks between team members so the information is always in the project's contexts.
 

TesTeq

Registered
I wouldn’t know about Nozbe Teams, but I am dubious about all of the ”teamwork“ apps, and some of them are quite awful.
The "Nozbe philosophy" is based on passing tasks between team members so the information is always in the project's contexts.
From my experience the problem is not in task management software but in using email simultaneously for the same purpose.
Tomorrow I will publish something about it on my blog which is in Polish but I was motivated by this discussion to translate it into English. I'll post a link.
 

TesTeq

Registered
I've heard Michael Sliwinski talk about his company's work, but I've not heard much about that scaled up into the hundreds.
OK, I've just talked to Michael Sliwinski. He's a big fan of essentialism and from the beginning he decided to focus on individuals and freelancers (Nozbe), and small to medium businesses (Nozbe Teams). Currently they provide task management services to several 100+ teams but they are preparing the infrastructure to provide good performance for teams with up to 1000 users.
 

TesTeq

Registered
The "Nozbe philosophy" is based on passing tasks between team members so the information is always in the project's contexts.
From my experience the problem is not in task management software but in using email simultaneously for the same purpose.
Tomorrow I will publish something about it on my blog which is in Polish but I was motivated by this discussion to translate it into English. I'll post a link.
@mcogilvie @bill_garrett @Stephen Brown
Here's the quote from the article that I published today:

Well, in many organizations it is not the speed of individual people that determines the pace of completing tasks. The efficiency and reliability of passing them between team members turns out to be the key factor. How many times does it happen that you prepare an urgent report and send it to a colleague, only to be yelled at a few days later, because the recipient haven’t noticed the email in his overflowing inbox? Even the fastest sprint is ruined when you drop the baton!
This common phenomenon is not a result of someone’s bad will but is usually caused by using a wrong tool for the job. Email is a terrible medium for passing tasks and related information. It’s a black hole where everything disappears! In comparison, Nozbe and other task management and delegation applications are the real „Japanese relay technology” implementations for the modern workplace.
However, to make the most of these tools, you must be consistent and determined. The entire company, without exceptions, must employ them, and the use of email for these purposes should be strictly prohibited. Why? Imagine that one of the sprinters in the Japanese relay team passes the baton differently. For example with his left hand, instead of the right one. Imagine it! Do you see it?

You can read the whole thing here: Do Japanese Sprinters Use Nozbe?
Warning: it is the only article in English on my blog.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
Thanks for translating the blog post, Tes! You make some good points. Email seems to work ok almost all of the time in my environment (a research university), but our environment is probably atypical. Our faculty, staff and grad students are highly motivated, bright, and used to taking responsibility. Of course, they could all benefit from GTD, but that's a different story.....
 

Jared Caron

Healthcare Quality & Safety pro; GTD enthusiast
Hi, I've read GTD several times and I think I have a good understanding of how it all works. However, I keep getting overwhelmed with my system. I switch tools and change the way I capture and organise to some method that isn't GTD but after a period with this other system, I miss the things about GTD that I like and then switch back.

I think the main pain point I have is with how to deal with emails and how they link to 'waiting for' items. Like everyone, emails are coming and going all day long and there can be multiple emails all related to the same item on my lists - an example would be I send an email asking for a copy of last years financial reports but need data from several cost centres. I add a waiting for item on my list, 'John - financial reports - e3/7'. The e3/7 remains me that I sent an email on the 3 July which I can refer back to in case I need to send a follow up. Then that person may ask somebody else if they can provide the report for me. This other person starts sending emails with more information that I may need to refer back to. Sometimes, the status of that original 'waiting for' item can change several times throughout a single day and it gets me stressed. I feel like I'm constantly micro managing tasks keeping them up to date.

Do other people have this problem, how do you deal with it? Any help would be appreciated.
I tend to attach the email to a task, which allows me to easily update the subject line if the owner changes. I then store all the emails in a project-based folder, which allows for easy retrieval. I tend to do best when i avoid my inbox except for a few times a day (Which limits the compulsive updating of the lists). I also implement a daily "Shutdown" checklist at EOD, which includes reviewing my waiting for list for items received and updated accountabilities. I can't say i actually review the WF list every day but even a few times a week makes a big difference.

Just thoughts, hope they help.
 
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