November 08, 2006
After listening to the 43 Folders podcast (episode from 10/29/06), where Merlin Mann interviews David Allen about using the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology on email, I decided to give it a try. For those who haven’t experienced GTD, its a system of dealing and organizing inputs like email, memos, phone calls, stickies, etc.
The idea seemed quite simple. When you read an email, determine if its actionable or not. If its not, it falls into one of two categories: A) its junk mail and needs to be deleted or B) Its an FYI (for your information) and then needs to be filed. If the email is actionable, you need to determine the next action and either do it right then or add it to your todo list, calendar or what ever tool you use to manage your day. And then here’s the important part…once you add it to your todo list, make sure you file that email away like you did for the non-actionable emails. At the end of each day, you should have zero emails in your inbox. A lofty goal but I think it can be done.
Since I use Outlook, it has a view for displaying your inbox by date. It shows your emails broken out by day for the current week then skips to last week, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, last month and finally the bottom of the barrel, older. Since I had significant email in all these categories in my inbox, I knew it was too lofty to try and get these all down to zero. I focused just on the Today category. Every time I checked and read email, I made the decision as to what was to be done next with the email and filed it accordingly. Mr. Allen’s main point is that the process of making the decision is where most people get hung up. Its a learned and practiced skill and you need to constantly hone.
I have been moderately successful. A few of the days have had one or two un-filed emails. One of the biggest challenges I found was remember to file emails after I replied to them. Since the flow was read -> reply -> read next, I wasn’t taking the time to move that email out of my inbox. Also, I think sub-consciously I was waiting for the reply to my reply before filing. In this way, the original email would remind me to follow up if I didn’t receive the reply I was expecting. To over come this, I realized I needed to mark a follow up item in my todo list if I was expecting a reply. This liberated me to file the original email away.
I have been doing this very simple process for almost two weeks now. It has made me more dependant on my todo list and less dependant on my inbox. I’m more organized and I feel overall, I’m getting more things done.