Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Escaping the Email Black Hole

I thought I'd take a moment to share my email "system". This is the method I use to keep from becoming overwhelmed by the volumes of email I get, and also make sure that nothing important slips through the cracks and is missed.

I've cribbed heavily from David Allen's Getting Things Done in putting this together for myself - if you try this out and like what you see, consider it a teaser for the complete time management system David describes in his book.

On to my system...

I have six mail folders. The first two are Inbox and Sent. Most email software gives you those by default.

I have added four others: Actions, Reading, Waiting, and Saved.

So my complete email folder list is:


The key to this system, and to many other methods, is that the Inbox is always empty. Always. Whenever I check my email, the goal is to empty my Inbox.

How to empty the Inbox:

One by one, open each email.

Can I delete the email immediately? If yes, then I do so and move on.

Can I deal with the email in the next minute or so? If so, then I deal with it, and file the email in Saved.

Otherwise, I file the email in one of my folders.

Actions is for mail that I need to respond to, or requires some action on my part.

Waiting is for mail I need to somehow follow up on, or wait for a response.

Reading is for things I want to read, but require no follow-up from me, and are not especially time-sensitive. This is the only folder I use "rules" to automatically sort mail into.

Everything else gets filed in Saved. Yikes! How will I ever find it again??? More on this in a minute.

There's one more folder in my system: Sent.

I treat the Sent folder just like my Inbox. I keep it empty. Quite a lot of the time, I can just file the email in Saved. But if I've committed to further action, or delegated a task to someone else and want to maintain awareness and follow-up, I will file the email in Actions or Waiting.

Ok, what about this filing everything in Saved? How can I organize all my email by project, or recipient, or month sent, or priority, or whatever other method I want to use?

I used to spend time filing my email into different folders for different purposes, but I don't bother with that any longer since I started using a good search tool for my email. I've been using Copernic Desktop Search, and am very happy with it. I can always find anything I'm looking for much faster than the bad old way, and I never have to maintain my filing system, or decide where something goes.

If you like what you've seen so far, check out David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

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