Managing email with my GTD System

billbryant

Registered
Hello All -
First time poster and new to GTD in general. I could use some help fine tuning my system.

Nirvana is my task management system that I work from, although I am strongly considering going back to Todoist or trying TickTick for some of the more powerful features that Nirvana has fallen behind on. Most of my tasks come from email (Outlook). When there is an email that is actionable, I forward it to Nirvana, changing the subject line and providing some context about what the action is in the body of the email I am forwarding. I then file the email in one of my folders in Outlook (@ACTIONSUPPORT or @WAITINGFORSUPPORT), which is an idea I got from the GTD Setup Guide.

I am finding a few challenges with this approach. It feels like with this approach, I am handling the emails multiple times. (1) To read the email initially to determine if it is actionable and then forward on if it is (2) when I process it in my Nirvana inbox and (3) when I am trying to clean up my email folders. I think this all stems from the fact that as a manager of two different teams, I get a lot of emails and many of them are not actionable for me personally for me, but for my teams. These are often very large emails or long email trails. In addition to those emails containing actions for me, if there is something being assigned to a member of my team and it is something I want to keep an eye on, I will forward this to Nirvana and eventually give it a context of @delegated, which helps me to compile agendas with my team later for 1:1 follow-ups. For the emails that don't immediately have actions for me or my team, but could possibly have an action later, I am putting them in an @WATCHING folder.

In addition to handling items more than once (I know that breaks a GTD rule), I am confused at the purpose of the @ACTIONSUPPORT and @WAITINGFORSUPPORT folders (and the one I added, @WATCHING) since the emails within them are fluid. @WATCHING emails could become @ACTIONSUPPORT or @WAITINGFORSUPPORT. @WAITINGFORSUPPORT can become @ACTIONSUPPORT or be both with multiple actions within them (some I'm waiting for and some I can be doing right now). I am not updating the location of the emails when a new reply comes in on the trail that could change where the ideal location for them would be. I am, however, placing the new reply in the correct folder, so when looking at the conversation thread, the different emails in the thread can be found in any of these folders. That part isn't a problem for me since the conversation thread can easily show me all of the emails regardless, but it's messier than I'd like. Also, it gives me some stress thinking about what I'm going to do when it is time to move all of the emails that no longer need to be in any of these folders (after the Nirvana project is completed) into a separate archive folder. I feel like I'll have to re-read many of these long emails again just to make sure they are since there isn't a great correlation between emails and the tasks in Nirvana. I thought briefly about adding a unique ID to the subject line in my tasks in Nirvana and then using the custom field in Outlook to add that same ID so I could make part of the step of closing out a project in Nirvana to find that email thread and move it to archive at that point. Of course, that sounds ridiculously complicated and something I'd probably not follow consistently.

Anyways, I could use some input from the experts here. Am I over-complicating this and, if so, can you help set me on the right track.

Thanks,
Bill
 

ivanjay205

Registered
Hello All -
First time poster and new to GTD in general. I could use some help fine tuning my system.

Nirvana is my task management system that I work from, although I am strongly considering going back to Todoist or trying TickTick for some of the more powerful features that Nirvana has fallen behind on. Most of my tasks come from email (Outlook). When there is an email that is actionable, I forward it to Nirvana, changing the subject line and providing some context about what the action is in the body of the email I am forwarding. I then file the email in one of my folders in Outlook (@ACTIONSUPPORT or @WAITINGFORSUPPORT), which is an idea I got from the GTD Setup Guide.

I am finding a few challenges with this approach. It feels like with this approach, I am handling the emails multiple times. (1) To read the email initially to determine if it is actionable and then forward on if it is (2) when I process it in my Nirvana inbox and (3) when I am trying to clean up my email folders. I think this all stems from the fact that as a manager of two different teams, I get a lot of emails and many of them are not actionable for me personally for me, but for my teams. These are often very large emails or long email trails. In addition to those emails containing actions for me, if there is something being assigned to a member of my team and it is something I want to keep an eye on, I will forward this to Nirvana and eventually give it a context of @delegated, which helps me to compile agendas with my team later for 1:1 follow-ups. For the emails that don't immediately have actions for me or my team, but could possibly have an action later, I am putting them in an @WATCHING folder.

In addition to handling items more than once (I know that breaks a GTD rule), I am confused at the purpose of the @ACTIONSUPPORT and @WAITINGFORSUPPORT folders (and the one I added, @WATCHING) since the emails within them are fluid. @WATCHING emails could become @ACTIONSUPPORT or @WAITINGFORSUPPORT. @WAITINGFORSUPPORT can become @ACTIONSUPPORT or be both with multiple actions within them (some I'm waiting for and some I can be doing right now). I am not updating the location of the emails when a new reply comes in on the trail that could change where the ideal location for them would be. I am, however, placing the new reply in the correct folder, so when looking at the conversation thread, the different emails in the thread can be found in any of these folders. That part isn't a problem for me since the conversation thread can easily show me all of the emails regardless, but it's messier than I'd like. Also, it gives me some stress thinking about what I'm going to do when it is time to move all of the emails that no longer need to be in any of these folders (after the Nirvana project is completed) into a separate archive folder. I feel like I'll have to re-read many of these long emails again just to make sure they are since there isn't a great correlation between emails and the tasks in Nirvana. I thought briefly about adding a unique ID to the subject line in my tasks in Nirvana and then using the custom field in Outlook to add that same ID so I could make part of the step of closing out a project in Nirvana to find that email thread and move it to archive at that point. Of course, that sounds ridiculously complicated and something I'd probably not follow consistently.

Anyways, I could use some input from the experts here. Am I over-complicating this and, if so, can you help set me on the right track.

Thanks,
Bill
If I cannot get to an email at the moment or takes too long I do forward it to my task app, I use FacileThings, and I move the email to a Pending folder in my inbox so I can respond to it there.
 

billbryant

Registered
If I cannot get to an email at the moment or takes too long I do forward it to my task app, I use FacileThings, and I move the email to a Pending folder in my inbox so I can respond to it there.
What level of processing do you do when forwarding the email to FacileThings and moving email to Pending folder when you determine you can't get to it right now or takes too long? I think what I am doing is the Capture step and part of the Clarification step at the same time, which makes the effort of capturing more daunting. So I'm basically reading the whole email thread to determine if it should go into my inbox of my GTD system. In my mind, how else would I know what is actionable vs. something I could just file away. Of course, if I identify a less than 2 minute action in that process, I am also Doing it. The problem is that because each email takes so long to determine whether to Capture or not, in the rush of the day, I revert back to not capturing at all and just jumping around to what looks like the next hot thing. The other problem, I think, is because I am trying to do so many of the GTD steps at once, I am not doing them well. Even if I identify specific actions by reading the email trail, I still find the need to re-read at least some of the email again during my Clarify step because I didn't do a good enough job clarifying when I was initially forwarding the email to my GTD system.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
If you think you may be over-complicating things, you probably are. After all, who would know better than you! Emailing to your list manager has become a common feature, and I can say from my own experience it can be overused. Here are two things to try: Extend your processing time and make the two-minute rule a bit longer so the email get handled once. If you need more time, try making a quick note on a list capturing the response you want to write rather than the input that caused the response.
 

Gardener

Registered
I then file the email in one of my folders in Outlook (@ACTIONSUPPORT or @WAITINGFORSUPPORT), which is an idea I got from the GTD Setup Guide.
I wouldn't do both. When an email triggers an action, I record that in an inbox or a list, with enough information to allow me to search for the email if I think I might need to go back and re-read it, and then I put the email into the unsorted archive of all emails for the year. If I want to see it again, I search.

Actually, I wouldn't put the whole mail in my task system--I would shrink it to a few words, so I don't need to read it again until I'm ready to go back to it and do something about it.

Re the @watching, I'd do the same thing, I'd just make extra sure that I could find the email later. So the action might look like:

- Make sure Josh acts on the WidgetApp quicksum bug. Email 1/14 from Allyson.

Or, really, if the context or folder automatically means "make sure X acts on y":

WATCH: Widgetapp quicksum bug, Josh. Email, 1/14, Allyson Watson.
WATCH: Widgetapp monthly report format changes. Mary. Meeting, 2/12, Joe Smith.

In addition to handling items more than once (I know that breaks a GTD rule), I am confused at the purpose of the @ACTIONSUPPORT and @WAITINGFORSUPPORT folders
I don't use these, so my response may be largely irrelevant here. :) If I DID use them, I would use them as a place to dump mail that I thought I might need to refer to, so that I wouldn't be quite as dependent on being able to search based on information in the action. But I prefer to just search the archive.

since there isn't a great correlation between emails and the tasks in Nirvana.
But as long as Nirvana has all necessary tasks, does the correlation matter? I guess it matters if you want to be positive that every email in the folder is still relevant, which is why I'm not having that goal. :)

Anyways, I could use some input from the experts here. Am I over-complicating this and, if so, can you help set me on the right track.
I'm far from an expert, but IMO, yes, you are over-complicating it, by (I think) caring whether you are removing the no-longer-relevant emails in a timely manner.
 

TesTeq

Registered
I wouldn't do both. When an email triggers an action, I record that in an inbox or a list, with enough information to allow me to search for the email if I think I might need to go back and re-read it, and then I put the email into the unsorted archive of all emails for the year. If I want to see it again, I search.

Actually, I wouldn't put the whole mail in my task system--I would shrink it to a few words, so I don't need to read it again until I'm ready to go back to it and do something about it.
Yes, IMHO email forwarded to task manager IS NOT PROCESSED. It is Organizing before Processing while in GTD Workflow you should Process first then Organize.
 

PeterByrom

Registered
I ditched using “@action support” and “@waiting for support” and instead just did the following:

1. open the email in the inbox and decide the next action and whether it’s connected to a project.

2. write those next action and project details into my GTD system on the appropriate lists

3. move the email into a folder corresponding to the project or theme

4. make a note in the action entry I just made in my gtd system about which folder the email is in and the time & date I received it (sometimes I don’t need to bother, if it’s really obvious that the email folder corresponds to the project).

If I were using Gmail, then I would use the @action support and @waiting for support tags, but given that Microsoft outlook uses folders instead, I just settle for this method.
 

ivanjay205

Registered
What level of processing do you do when forwarding the email to FacileThings and moving email to Pending folder when you determine you can't get to it right now or takes too long? I think what I am doing is the Capture step and part of the Clarification step at the same time, which makes the effort of capturing more daunting. So I'm basically reading the whole email thread to determine if it should go into my inbox of my GTD system. In my mind, how else would I know what is actionable vs. something I could just file away. Of course, if I identify a less than 2 minute action in that process, I am also Doing it. The problem is that because each email takes so long to determine whether to Capture or not, in the rush of the day, I revert back to not capturing at all and just jumping around to what looks like the next hot thing. The other problem, I think, is because I am trying to do so many of the GTD steps at once, I am not doing them well. Even if I identify specific actions by reading the email trail, I still find the need to re-read at least some of the email again during my Clarify step because I didn't do a good enough job clarifying when I was initially forwarding the email to my GTD system.
I typically just rephrase the subject so I will say something like Respond to “Subject Line” Email and put context computer (assuming it has to be done on my computer) and assign how much time I need and the energy. If it is one or two steps my program has the ability to add a checklist write to that next action. If it is going to take a lot of steps I will email back the receipient to confirm receipt of the email and that I am working on, delete the email, and setup a project. The last next action being to respond to the person. All depends on what the request is. I find that most of them do not need a project associated with them in my case.
 

Gardener

Registered
So I'm basically reading the whole email thread to determine if it should go into my inbox of my GTD system. In my mind, how else would I know what is actionable vs. something I could just file away.
Are there a fair number of emails that you know don't lead to actions, though? I generally pre-cull my mailbox very quickly. ("Nope nope nope maybe nope maybe nope definitely nope nope nope.") Then I have items that still need processing, but at least the clutter is out of the way.

The fact that an email does require a long read is a good reason, IMO, to extract the actions and rephrase them, so that you don't have to read it again just to find the actions again--even if you need to read it again to get a name, or a URL, or a list, or something, when you work the action.

Of course, if I identify a less than 2 minute action in that process, I am also Doing it.
I don't do the 2 minute rule. My brain just doesn't support it--it experiences it as a severe distraction from capture/processing/etc. One two minute action will cost me far, far more than 2 minutes.
 

Jared Caron

GTD enthusiast and amateur coach
I ditched using “@action support” and “@waiting for support” and instead just did the following:

1. open the email in the inbox and decide the next action and whether it’s connected to a project.

2. write those next action and project details into my GTD system on the appropriate lists

3. move the email into a folder corresponding to the project or theme

4. make a note in the action entry I just made in my gtd system about which folder the email is in and the time & date I received it (sometimes I don’t need to bother, if it’s really obvious that the email folder corresponds to the project).

If I were using Gmail, then I would use the @action support and @waiting for support tags, but given that Microsoft outlook uses folders instead, I just settle for this method.
I use this same system and find it much more intuitive. For me, i had to stop thinking of emails as being next-actions or waiting for items; instead, they contain said items. In Clarifying, you extract the next action or waiting for and put it in the appropriate list.

Then all my emails whether waiting for, action-related, or reference, are filed with the project. Much simpler to find and saves hours of administrative cleanup. It's also much easier to archive, and un-archive entire projects. For long-running projects, i'll use Outlooks date groupings to quickly archive old materials into my .pst with a folder titled [PROJECT archive - YYYY-MM] the date is a bookmark of when the archive goes up-to.

Hope it helps.
 

PeterByrom

Registered
I use this same system and find it much more intuitive. For me, i had to stop thinking of emails as being next-actions or waiting for items; instead, they contain said items. In Clarifying, you extract the next action or waiting for and put it in the appropriate list.

Then all my emails whether waiting for, action-related, or reference, are filed with the project. Much simpler to find and saves hours of administrative cleanup. It's also much easier to archive, and un-archive entire projects. For long-running projects, i'll use Outlooks date groupings to quickly archive old materials into my .pst with a folder titled [PROJECT archive - YYYY-MM] the date is a bookmark of when the archive goes up-to.

Hope it helps.
I would add that, if somebody really wants to track emails both by project and whether the email is actionable, one could always move the email to a project folder but also flag it, so long as you’ve settled on “flag = actionable”. Should still keep the next action in your system though.
 

ivanjay205

Registered
I learned through my experience (and we are a project based company so I have hundreds of them over my 20+ year career) that emails in a project folder never works. By the end of the project I could have 200 emails in there and finding one I need is a needle and a haystack. Plus search has become so effective compared to way back when.

I use my GTD system to prompt me to work on an email that takes more time to complete. I move it to my Pending folder to maintain inbox zero. Once I finish the email response (with whatever deliverables are owed) I respond out of my "Pending" folder and delete it. If I need to keep the email I just archive it.

I always make sure to take any context or notes or reference material I need for the future out of that email and store wherever I keep my notes. My company has a custom quick base app so I put it in there, but it also could go in one note or some other easily referenceably library. I just dont find tons of email effective.

I used to do the folder thing and I had hundreds of folders and it took me forever to "triage my inbox" Now with this system, for example, I got home yesterday after two days of travel and 162 emails unresponded. I was able to purge that entire inbox in 40 minutes. That would have taken much longer in the past.
 
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