View Full Version : Resisting email @actions - suggestions?
03-31-2003, 08:13 PM
I have been using GTD for upwards of six months and have found it to be a godsend for keeping track of what I've committed to.
However, I'm still having trouble with email management and I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions.
In short, I'm in high tech and I get a lot of email. I dutifully clean out my Inbox and put actionable stuff into @actions... and then I resist looking at that poor little folder for all I'm worth.
My intuition is that just because a particular piece of email needs acting on, does not mean that the email itself constitutes a "Next Action". (I have one message sitting there right now, for which the next action is "write report of jamspam meeting", for which I have 3 closely written pages of notes and a huge amount of resistance!) So perhaps the answer is to actually process the emails, put a Next Action on some list (and optionally, a project in Projects) and file the emails as supporting material.
How do others handle this problem? I hate feeling this stuck with an otherwise marvelous system.
03-31-2003, 08:41 PM
Ambar, personally I have separated mails that are to read and file with a different priority than the rest of the actions.
So I know that in actions remains actions that need be done with more urgency, than read e-newsletters.
I also have some trouble with the regular reviews (all the list, and actions too).
Put yourself small challenges each week.
E.g.: this week I will look at my actions folder once.
04-01-2003, 12:17 AM
Have you considered dragging the mails straight into the task list? (Works best if you keep the list grouped by category, so you can drag a mail straight to @pc, @read, @phone, @agenda or whatever). You can then bang in an action in the subject line, possibly a contact if relevant, and "alt s".
This is for Outlook. the only thing to watch is that attachments won't come across automatically. And you do still need to erase or refile the message.
I find that I work better from a single list, rather than a folder of emails, a task list and ....
04-01-2003, 04:12 AM
If you use Outlook, one solution is to right click the email and drag and drop it to your Task list (use the move option). This makes the Email disappear from your Inbox and appear in your Task List as a Task for with the Email embeded (you can click on it and reply normally when you want to do that later).
I then put all the Emails I need to deal with onto my @Email list in Tasks. Emails I just need to read I drop into a @Review email folder that I attend to when I have time.
The advantage of putting your actionable Emails into the Task List in this way is that the result is having your Task List work as the one-and-only dashboard of work you have to do in discretionary time. With the exception of hard-dated tasks which are on the calendar, everything else is on the Task List. There is no where else you have to look to see all the upcoming work.
04-01-2003, 10:09 AM
So true, Coz!
One coach has formulated a micro-management of the Next Action paradigm as an anti-avoidance strategy. He calls it: "I'll just get the file." If all you have committed to do is "just get the file", it's an easy win. You might then say: "while I have this file out...", then you might "just open the file" and maybe "just write that memo", etc. Each step is a bonus win compared with what you originally intended - momentum is a wonderful thing!
04-01-2003, 04:39 PM
Thanks for this antiavoidance category idea - I think it might work with me - it's not putting a 'date' on the things but it's certainly bringing them to the top of the list in my face - and I think that some items could go straight on there - for instance this call I've got to make to a client who hasn't paid me and hasn't answered my recent emails - YUK!!!
Instead of on to @calls - I"ve put it straight onto antiavoidance and I've given myself to the end of the day to make this call - ...
I guess the trick is again not to use this category as a dumping ground like my inbox!!! :-)
04-02-2003, 08:51 AM
Coincidentally, I was just listening to DA's section on email handling from the CDs. He doesn't appear to work directly from the @action folder in email as his next actions. He states that he drags the email to the folder but also enters next actions in an action list. Perhaps, part of the avoidance/procrastination is because you still haven't broken the email that requires action into actions and it's really a project. Hence, an email that requires a phone call for research, setting a meeting, etc ought to be broken down more on a separate list.
I also have found the 'just get the file out' suggestion helpful.
04-02-2003, 04:13 PM
I don't use Outlook, but that's a clever trick for those who do.
I think Guest put it best -- stop trying to use the email @Actions list as a working list. Keep that email grouped together for reference, but put the actions on the main action list.
FWIW, I use Eudora on my Mac, along with Life Balance (see http://www.llamagraphics.com), which I think is the bee's knees as an action tool. Belated thanks to whoever posted about it here first -- I'm very glad to have heard of it.
Thanks to everyone for their suggestions!
04-02-2003, 09:40 PM
Regarding procrastination, CosmoGTD hit the nail on the head when saying "many folks even jump from one organizing *system* to the next, as a way of AVOIDING taking action! I have been there! "
If we begin with the notion that procrastination is not the basic "problem" but rather an attempted "cure" for fears, self-doubts, and dislike of work, then it is obvious that most procrastinators will have to focus on the real problems--underlying fears, attitudes and irrational ideas--in order to overcome the procrastinating behavior. After accepting this idea, the next step is to figure out what the "real" underlying problem is for you. Start by asking, "Am I a relaxed or a tense procrastinator?" Tense procrastinators suffer from strong, sometimes mean, internal critics; relaxed procrastinators have bamboozled their self-critic by denying reality. From this point, each procrastinator must deal with his/her own unique emotions, skills, thoughts, and unconscious motives.
View the rest here:
04-04-2003, 05:47 PM
Thanks for bringing this up! I've noticed that procrastination due to anxiety is what holds up the whole GTD process for me. My problem is that I'm afraid to do my weekly review or even, sometimes, to look at my next action lists--because I'll see things that I should already have done. I've been wanting to post and see if anyone had GTD tricks to get themselves around this kind of behavior (besides general anxiety-management, which I'm working on). I love the "Antiavoidance" list idea and am going to try it.
Does anyone else resist the weekly review because of anxiety? How have you worked on this?
04-07-2003, 07:59 AM
Coz: There's no question that just "making the list" doesn't take the place of doing it, but can kinda make us feel like we are doing something. I've been trying to deal with this avoidance through the weekly review. In it, I really press myself on whether I've truly got the project whose NA I'm avoiding completely figured out and appropriately defined. I've found alot of the time, I really still need to do some thinking about the project, or get information elsewhere (talk to colleague, etc). By better identifying these things, I have been able to move some stuff forward.
Do Mi: Remember, just because you don't look at your lists, the anxiety over the time-bombs that might be in there doesn't go away! In fact, if you let it, your mind may be exaggerating the anxiety way beyond what is justified by the actual stuff in the lists.
04-07-2003, 01:49 PM
I agree... there are many people who will put things onto their lists and feel better about having them there, so they feel comfortable avoiding the actual *doing* of those things due to pain, etc. So the lists just stagnate.
I too, have my demons in this respect. Calls is a good one. I have actively and inactively avoided calling some family for months. I want to talk to them but doing so brings back the pain of my mother's death.
I also battle what I consider to be general procrastination and laziness... but on deeper reflection there are probably things in that group which are better classified as avoidance.
Now, with all that said, my personal feeling is that there is no "system" which will change this for you, me, or anyone else. I feel it is a personal matter of self discipline - actively establishing new habits/thought processes/whatever.
Bills is a good example. There have been times in my life where I avoided paying bills for as long as possible. This was mainly due to the lack of money, and the fear of being completely drained before the bills were fully paid. After a time though, money was no longer an issue... but the *habit* was still there. To fix the problem, I had to actively acknowledge that I had the habit, and wanted to change it. Then I had to actively place the bills into my lists/ticklers, and actively force myself to deal with them as they popped up on the calendar. A little persistance has now changed that habit thankfully, but I still keep them on my tickler lists just to be safe, because I'm afraid I'll fall back into the habit otherwise.
Whether I (or anyone else) puts these types of things into a GTD style list, or some other "system", the actual accomplishment of the task boils down to self.
Some people here have used a list called "antiavoidance". I use "Priority". Same thing in my opinion. One tactic that I like the sound of is "Swallow the Frog". My apologies if this is a mangled version of the phrase, but it comes from a book I've heard about. Sorry too that I don't know the name and author at the moment.
"Swallow the frog" though, basically means to do the thing you dread most -- first thing in the day. Because once you've tackled that most repulsive task, everything else should seem like a walk in the park. Leaving the frog until the end of the day however, creates a subconcious stress and anxiety for the entire day.
I like this concept personally, but guess what? I've been afraid to actually try it completely yet :) But the concept is sound, and it works. So anyone who has issues of this sort needs to schedule an appointment with themselves. Call it Frog, or Antiavoidance, or Priority, whatever. But schedule the time and force yourself to complete whatever it is you're avoiding. Face the fear and get it over with. Enough times of taking this approach, my guess is the avoidance habits will most likely change.
For me, GTD has been the best method to help me overcome these issues. For others, it might not be. My few cents :) (And thanks for the great thread!)
04-07-2003, 02:08 PM
Coz: Oh well, I guess I am on my own with this one.
If I may be blunt, this is the greatest weakness, as I see it, in the otherwise original and excellent GTD methodology. This is the lynchpin, and the potential Achilles Heel for the entire system.
Janice: No, I don't think you're on your own. I, for one, struggle with this off & on all the time. I think there's an "art" to applying GTD effectively. I can go along really well for a while, and then (at some point that's imperceptible to me), "cross the line" and suddenly the very action of defining next actions has become a hindrance to my getting things done - it's as if it's enabled me to distance myself from feeling the need to get things done. It's at those times that I find myself casting the lists aside and just jumping into the work - but I never really give up on GTD, because I can see the capabilities... I just figure I need to learn to apply the "art," and hopefully someday I'll master the touch!
04-07-2003, 11:10 PM
For me, I use a mixed top-down (e.g. Covey) and bottom-up (e.g. GTD) system. I first define my goals in life and the roles that I play. And then based on my goals, I create lists and define all the actions needed (or at least all that I can think of).
Aside from a weekly review, I do a monthly review where I compare the actions that I completed to my goals in life. If I find that I am neglecting certain tasks, I analyze whether these tasks are really relevant to my goals. And if I find that the tasks are relevant, then I analyze whether the goal itself is really important to my life.
Of course, this "idea" can be easily abused. A severe procrastinator (or just someone with very low motivation) could just keep on redefining what their goals are until they are doing virtually nothing and yet justify it by saying, "This is what I want out of life!"
04-10-2003, 07:37 AM
Ambar: From my own experience, I can suggest two ways of handling the email @Action folder.
The first way is the easiest. Try renaming the folder something like "@Email Mini-Projects" to help change the way you are thinking about the emails. Then, customize the view for that folder so that you have a blank column (e.g. add a never-used field such as "Mileage" to the view). Now print out this view. In the blank column on the print out, write in the very next action (in pencil if possible so you can update it easily) needed to move that email forward. Then follow the usual system ... do it if it is 2m or less, otherwise put it on NA list, etc.
The second way is probably the best in the long run b/c it applies to many situations, but it takes time to develop. Essentially I am talking about self-coaching. This gets into the problem at the level that Coz identifies, but with a simpler approach. In implementing GTD, did you ever find yourself imagining David Allen or one of his coaches standing beside you, directing you step by step? For example: "Ok, you've got some time before that next meeting ... I want you to open up the @Action folder ... let's review the first item ... What is it? ... Is it actionable? ... What's the next action? ...etc".
Does it seem like it would be easier this way? For me, the answer is yes! But why?!? In my imagined scenario, DA was not offering any new secret information that was helping me, so why was it easier with a coach beside me than on my own? This was my personal conundrum. Was it the social pressure of "someone watching me"? Maybe, but in my imagined scenario, I didn't really feel any pressure. I came to the conclusion that it was the "walk-through" pacing that was the key. The most effective way I've found to re-create that "walk-through" pacing is by talking out loud to myself. Naturally, you'll need a little privacy at first to test this out, but give it a try. Also, you may feel a little schizophrenic, but it can really help to make it a 2-way conversation ... your "coaching side" giving you instructions and your "emotional side" expressing your reactions ("aw man, this email is going to be a pain, that guy is so vague ... etc"). After a couple of these slow motion sessions, the emotional pain should have dissipated quite a bit and you should be able to go faster (and without talking out loud, hehe). From then on, you'll only need to return to this method when you slip a bit or otherwise find the pain of dealing with these emails increasing.
I recognize the described double effect of making lists :
a. I feel good because I wrote it down in my list, I worked on it ;
b. it can be avoiding behaviour, because I'm not actually doing anything to move forward.
I compare my behaviour with the behaviour of my wife. When something has to be done, she never writes it down. She does it immediately, or she stores it in her memory, and does it later, when it pops up again. She has the a ability of doing things immediately. Style : first act, then think.
She says : why using your time to write it down, in the same amount of time I just do it (or start doing it).
I cannot work in that way. I prefer first to think, and then to act. The problem is of course that while first thinking, many reasons may come up not to act.
So from time to time we have our good reasons the criticize the other's way of doing. But we have a good marriage, and we learn from each other.
05-04-2003, 01:04 PM
I'm currently re-reading the book, and this reminds me of something I read in there. DA justifies the "2 minute rule" by saying that 2 minutes is about the limit where it is more efficient to just do it than to put it on a next action list...
05-09-2003, 10:23 AM
I am a hardened procrastinator, but I am slowly getting better at it.
An excellent book about getting yourself to change is "Self-directed behavior" by Watson & Tharp. It has helped me keep on track with GTD and actually do it.
Basically it takes a behavioural approach to personal change. It helps you put in place "antecedents" or stimuli that facilitate the behaviour you want to encourage, and consequences to reinforce the behaviour. For example, I have a paper copy of my tasks list on my desk all the time, on the very top, so I cannot avoid seeing how long it is. Makes it less easy to avoid. And for a long while, I rewarded myself copiously every time I actually completed the weekly review. And it works - for me, at least.