Getting Things Done: Simple Tips for Email Management

I’m reading Getting Things Done at the moment – great book. It’s a little out of date (at least the version I’m reading is), so it focusses more on paper management than online tools, but it’s amazing at setting out a workable organisation system for all your projects and tasks, that seems manageable and useful.

I’ve already started adopting some practices (some I did already without knowing why they were useful) and am planning to introduce a few more very soon. Hint: if you do read it and want to use it, Trello is an amazing online tool for basing your system around.

Simple Tips for Email Management

One of the useful tips that I’ve adopted already were the tips for email management.

I felt that I was quite good at email management previously. I kept my inbox pretty clean, with only emails that required me to do something. If they were useful for later, I starred them (I use Gmail). I’m definitely not someone that leaves all my email in my inbox – I archive everything!

I also had to write a logic behind that for my procedure manuals at work, so wrote out some reasons why that was useful and how to manage it, so that my employees do the same with their respective inboxes, and we have a nicely functioning system.

However, after reading Getting Things Done, I realised I could make it better. I regularly had between 5 and 15 emails in my inbox that were waiting on something. Sometimes they were waiting for me to read something, sometimes waiting for someone to reply to me, sometimes waiting for me to do something. Every time I went to my inbox, I had to scan down the list and assess the status and goal of each email individually.

Admittedly, this didn’t take much time, as there were very few emails. I’m not someone that gets 500 emails a day – if I was, I would change something so that I didn’t get 500 emails a day!

However, admittedly, it could also be better.

The Solution

The solution I’ve implemented, as described in the book, is to use my inbox as only an ‘In’ folder. A folder for emails that have not yet been read and processed. When an email comes in, I do one of the following:

Read/Archive: I read the email, and if it requires no further action, I archive it.

Read/Action: If I can action the email in less than a minute or two, I do it there and then – if i needs replied to, I do that, if it needs forwarded to someone else, I do that etc.

Read/Defer: If I can’t do whatever action the email requires within 2 minutes, I add a label ‘Action’ and archive it.

Read/Reference: If the email requires no action, but has useful information that may be required later, I label it ‘Reference’ and archive it.

Read/Waiting: If the email is waiting for a response from someone else (often an email I’m sending fits this category) I label it ‘Waiting’ and archive it.

These simple tricks can be used on pretty much every email, and result in an empty inbox within 5 minutes (usually). The important point is then setting aside time to follow up the emails that need action, and diving into the Action folder regularly and dealing with the emails in there.

However, it’s a lot more manageable when you’re looking at only emails that you’ve read and require a specific action, than looking at all the emails that require something and trying to work out which ones to action!

If you’re interested in becoming more productive, I would highly recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen.

UPDATE: I’ve now set up a filter to automatically forward all email that hits my inbox (that hasn’t already been picked up by another filter) to go directly to the ‘Action’ label and I only check that about 2 or 3 times per 24 hours. Usually around 11am/12pm, then again at 3pm/4pm and sometimes in the morning or at night if I’m looking out for something specific. It’s amazingly liberating to not have your phone beeping all the time with new emails.

One thought on “Getting Things Done: Simple Tips for Email Management

  1. Simple but efficient tips! I’m going to implement this right away in my already complex (not always to the best) labeling system. Thank you!

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