A long journey starts with a single step…

I was curious about applying the concepts and ideas behind GTD to try to manage my time (both at home and at work) more efficiently so I read up a little about GTD over the weekend and actually ordered a copy of Dave Allen’s book (having read snippets in a bookshop who were nice enough to give me a nice leather armchair for my comfort).

I found a lot of good information and interesting ideas at 43 Folders and Lifehacker.

I then heeded the very advice I was slightly disparaging about in a previous article and moved absolutely everything (over 6,000 messages) from my fat, bloated Inbox into a new DMZ folder.

I even spent some time trawling through the dusty, old, antique messages. As I suspected, the vast majority were well past their sell-by date and could be safely deleted immediately. Then I started to detect patterns; if I didn’t recognise the author/subject, then it was pretty likely that the complete thread was no longer relevant and could be deleted. Similarly, some authors simply have nothing of interest to say ever; mostly automatons but sometimes human. The DMZ folder was trimmed to less than 400 messages and the whole exercise must have taken less than two hours (and not four days).

Some authors send me valuable technical content (mixed with some dross) so their messages had to be selectively pruned or all messages left intact and a action created to conduct a second pass.

So, today, Monday 9 January 2006, saw the dawn of my new email handling strategy.

If the message contains technical content of interest, it gets immediately filed as ‘Reference’. Some messages contain interesting technical content that merits further investigation. This is normally some bold assertions that are unproven or not understood by me (not hard). These lead to an action ‘To do sometime’.

If I replied to an email asking for more information, I would delete the incoming message and create a corresponding task in ‘Waiting’. The original email thread is accessible from the ‘Sent’ folder.

I treated any email with an attachment quite specifically. If the attachment was relevant, I separated the attachment which was then filed on the file system. In most cases, the email could be deleted as the information was contained in the accompanying document.

If an email purely provides contact details (name, address, email, phone) etc, I immediately add the contact to my address book. Sometimes, if I am travelling in the near future, I will also print a hard copy so I know where I am going, who I am seeing and where I am sleeping as this always helps.

A couple of messages to lesser used email aliases just needed an new filter rule defining so that this content is automatically routed to a dedicated folder and only spends a few fleeting seconds in the ‘Inbox’ and my consciousness.

Similarly, I chose to unsubscribe from marketing messages from companies or if I really do want the information automatically filter those messages to a dedicated folder.

The net result is that I now get far fewer messages in my Inbox so it is easier and quicker to process them and the messages that do arrive in my Inbox are far more relevant to me.

So now I look at each email message on arrival. Well that’s not quite true. I have started to turn email off if I am working on something that needs concentration to avoid the continual interruption and context switching as I am easily distracted.

Close of play. Inbox - 3. All messages that need to be acted on tomorrow.