GTD email management: Temporary Reference information
David Allen advocates the use of email folders such as "_Actions" and "_Waiting For" for managing emails. (I personally use the underscore "_" instead of the "@" symbol because the underscore looks less like an alphabetical character and therefore doesn't distract my attention, yet has the same useful function of moving the name to the top of an auto-sorted folder list.)
Anyhow, another email folder that I've found very handy is "_Temporary Reference" (or "@Temporary Reference"). This is a great place to hold emails that don't require any specific action but are needed for short-term reference -- such as the itinerary for your upcoming business travel, or the automated reply from your colleague whose out-of-office email contains contact info for people with whom you may need to communicate in her absence. When your business travel is complete or your colleague has returned from their absence, you can simply delete those emails during your next Weekly Review (or file them permanently if they must be archived for future retrieval).
Just in case it's helpful, here is my complete list of top-level GTD email folders (using Outlook 2007):
_DELEGATED / WAITING
_DESKTOP TO PROCESS
_READ / REVIEW
_SOMEDAY / MAYBE
(Due to the significant majority of my work that is conducted through email, I've chosen to make email folders for things like Read / Review and Someday / Maybe -- rather than creating a new Task in Outlook every time I receive an email needs to be read / reviewed, etc.)
Hope this helps!
How do you deal with backlog?
Getting email to empty seems impossible for me.
I have about 300 unread emails, some in 2 personal accounts, some in a work account.
Yes, I have set up the folder system and rules so that specific list serves go to the specific folders. I rarely delete these and have become numb to the whole system. I spent one 8 hour day at a coffee shop doing nothing but filing and/or deleting old emails back to 2008. Yes I have created the Action/Reference folders, put some emails there and have never opened the folders. This has become such a problem that the only satisfaction I get when checking an account of folder is when I can delete something I know is trash. So many list serves are replies back channel, and then another email apologizing for the reply all instead of replying back channel. This turns me off and gives me an excuse not to open many.
This is such a mess. Has anyone come out from under this much back log without changing your email address and just starting fresh? I am too afraid to delete everything older than a year because I don't even know what it is or if I'll ever need to use it. For example, I have a file that says "unsorted" which I created in 2009. Although I've never opened it, I can't bring myself to delete it.
Am I beyond help?
Email Progress thus far...thank you
Thank you for your helpful feedback.
Here is what has worked so far:
Yes, I have put folders for list serves I want to read (again, the perpetual "later"). This has mixed results.
Yes, I have unsubscribed to many list serves. After 64 emails over 4 months, I have definitely decided not to donate more money than I already do for a particular charity.
Yes, I have set up folders. This weekend I discovered some folders were empty, so really not needed anymore. That helps clear the path out of this electronic jungle I have found myself in these past few years.
Yes, I have told people if it is important, call. There are NO saved voicemails on my phone. Why I respond immediately to the phone but not to email is a mystery to me.
Here is what I still need help on:
Should I schedule a 30 min time each day to work ONLY on email? If I think of an email that needs to go out, I can just jot a note and when the 30 mins arrive, do it at that time? The thing that makes email so numbing and yet compelling for me is intermittent reinforcement. This is why gambling is so addicting. Sometimes you win ( a relavant email) and sometimes you lose (spam/junk/jokes/youtube videos of cats).
The flags for follow up for action get buried under the most recent stuff I can't decide on just yet.
Thank you again for your feedback. I have been taking Nick's comments about the word NO and meditating on why I can't be honest with myself about these subject lines.
Please let me know if you think of any other words of wisdom.
The Email Game seems funny and effective!
Did you try The Email Game? Seems funny and effective!