In Part Two of David Allen's book Getting Things Done, there is a lot of fabulous information about how to process your inbox. While I found it valuable and it worked perfectly for my stacks o' stuff, I tweaked the process a bit to deal with my email inbox.
When I started GTD about 18 months ago, I had around 8000 emails in my inbox, about 2500 of which were unread. At the time, I ran my company's IT department, which was the only way I could get away with having that much stuff in my inbox (I raised my storage quota on the mail server - not a best practice, by the way).
The "start at the top and deal with one item at a time" method was causing me to twitch, so I developed a different strategy. Here is what it looks like - if you're dealing with a big purge of email, I'm hoping some of the methods will help.
Consider temporarily following a "one minute rule" for handling messages (instead of the "two minute rule" from the book)
During this process, I used the one minute rule for two reasons:
- I had too many messages to afford myself that much time per message
- I wasn't very good at judging two minutes, and ended up spending 5+ minutes on things I thought were going to be two minute actions
Sort by sender, then...
- Messages from people you don't know
- Message from people who are no longer with the company
- Newsletters you'll never read (be honest)
- Messages from people who only send you lame jokes and hoaxes (you know who they are by now)
- Messages from benevolent Nigerians or foreign national lotteries claiming to have money for you
- Sort by Subject / Topic / Conversation, then...
- Issues you don't care about
- Outdated newsletters that are still there from the first pass
- Delete or file:
- Issues that have been resolved
- Decide whether you need to file the whole thread or just the one with the conclusion
- Issues that have been resolved
- File things you want to retain for reference, like:
- Interesting factoids that you want to retain for reference
- Information for personnel files
- Information pertinent to your job, goals, hobbies, etc.
- Funny stuff
- Praise and criticism (I file these under Kudos, with a subfolder for Antikudos)
- References to useful resources
By following these methods, you should be able to quickly get rid of irrelevant messages, things you are unlikely to read, and already-processed stuff.
When you're filing, don't be shy - just throw things into a file in your email client that makes sense to you. In Outlook, you can hit ++V to quickly move the currently selected email into a file (and the dialog provides a button to create a new folder if you don't have a suitable one already). By the way, +D deletes a message -- try it out... a lot.
This process will leave you with a much shorter list of things to process, and you can then move to the more traditional "start at the top and deal with one item at a time" process outlined in the book.
Next post, we'll deal with some ideas for setting up an email filing and archiving strategy for Outlook.
Another helpful hint:
Check out the GTD Outlook Add-In. It is now a part of my essential toolkit for helping me keep "In" empty. It includes a nice guide on GTD workflow with Outlook, and if you buy the current version you automatically get the forthcoming release that promises to add some nice new features.
There is a trial version available at the link above - why not give it a try?