Using GTD to achieve the utopia of email Inbox Zero  (Outlook)


I am a great believer in keeping the inbox to a minimum, although I have to confess that the utopia of inbox zero is yet to be realised, consistently at least. I would think we all realise that having 1528 emails in our inbox is just not going to help us to be productive. How could it? GTD is so simple but somehow the effectiveness still evaded me when it came to my inbox. That is until I realised what I was doing wrong….

In a earlier post (The To Do List app – why I use Wunderlist and how it is used for GTD) I discussed the GTD philosophy and what that looked like with Wunderlist. Still works a treat. The problem I was having that there was a disconnect between that and my email.
In the corporate world I have to use Outlook. So when that email came in that required a detailed response, how could I add it to my to do list. Technically I could send it to my Wunderlist inbox so it would be added to the list but that did not really work that well. It left a copy of the email behind and so I had two entries. When I came to reply ( as my Wunderlist prompted me) how would I find the original email etc etc. In the past I tried the folder systems as described by Dave Allen and yet it was not as successful as I needed it to be.  Sticking things in a folder and to review that at a designated time somehow worked But with limited success.
I then decided to continue to use Wunderlist for the project work (as let’s face it, Outlook tasks sucks). Next it was time to tackle my inbox once and for all, and I have to say this worked a treat:
  • Two minute rule – This rule still applies of course. That is to say, you get a new email in and if you can respond to it within two minutes, then do it.
  • Created a folder for @NEXT ACTION, @DEFERRED and @WAITING FOR – Straight from GTD, create three folders.
  • Allocate emails to the right folder – Emails comes in but this time I can’t action it within the two minutes. I now need to park it somewhere as I need to process my whole inbox and get that utopia. The question is then how quickly it needs an action. If it is urgent then it goes into the @NEXT ACTION folder. If however it is less urgent but still important then it lands in the @COMING UP folder. Then, you guessed it, those others ones might go to the @WAITING FOR. That is to say I have delegated the task to someone or the next action is simply with someone else.
  • Flag an item for Follow Up – This for me was the missing key. I have tried to use the folder above before and that with the intention to check each of these folders . Obviously the NEXT ACTION folder would be reviewed more regularly. Truthfully though I did not find it to work. That is until I realised the Follow Up option. Using Outlook as an example, along the top you will have the Follow Up menu. Here with 2 mouse click you can flag the message and generate an automatic reminder for Today, Tomorrow, This Week etc. Setting these before moving the item to my folder works a treat – fire and forget. I don’t have to check them and get distracted but rather at the right time I will now be reminded to action the email.
With all these things you have to learn from the wise but also make it your own. For me the Follow Up just made it work.  It is also a way of assigning  some sort of priority to items within a certain folder. Say a client is away on vacation but would like my views on something when he gets back. This is not going into my @NEXT ACTION folder as it is important but not urgent. Better to send it to my @COMING UP folder but before I do I set a reminder for a few days before them returning. The reminder will come up just at the right time and the client will have a response.


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