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Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, August 23, 2005 8:11 AM
Keeping Up With the Flood
Anita Sharpe on Culture

Someone out there must have figured it out, but so far, I haven't. Ever since I got my first email account, my inbox has overflowed with hundreds of messages, many of them unread. And too often, the emails I save for later are among the more important messages -- notes that will take more time and thought. I've created a dozen or so separate message folders and that's helped at least clean out my inbox. But I get more than 100 new emails a day -- and typically a dozen or so require significant time and attention. Any solutions?


Crawdaddy - 8/24/2005 8:59:56 PM
The David Allen advice is right on. Buy his book, Getting Things Done, or go to his website, www.davidco.com. He has the solution for you (it works for me, and has for a few years.)
Mark Sicignano - 8/24/2005 7:40:06 PM
Let me second Marc's recommendation for the 'Getting Things Done' workflow. I read David Allen's book this summer and for the first time in my 16 year career, I empty my Inbox daily.

I still have other places to get organized, but my Inbox is no longer a monster that's out of control with important things getting lost in there.
anita - 8/23/2005 2:48:23 PM
These are great suggestions -- I feel my load lifting a bit already. Thank you!
Marc Orchant - 8/23/2005 1:51:53 PM

It's a complex problem with a number of dimensions and you really can't solve it one-dimensionally. Making folders is all well and good but it addresses only one facet of the larger issue of information overload.

It's a topic I address quite frequently on my blogs and in an essay I've contributed to the More Space project (along with your fellow Worthwhile-er Curt) titled 'Work is Broken'.

In a nutshell, e-mail madness needs to be addressed from a number of perspectives including:

1. Separating the actionable from the purely informational.

2. Moving what's actionable into a better place (task list or calendar).

3. Filing what's purely informational for consumption and/or reference and retrieval.

4. Adopting some kind of tool that allows you to concentrate more on doing and less on filing (any one of the desktop search tools). No matter how thoughtful you are about filing, you will inevitably 'complexify' the hierarchy in short order and reach that point of frustration where you can't remember where you put something.

5. Separating the discrete activities that go into getting you Inbox empty: Collecting, Processing, Organizing, Doing, and Reviewing (the classic Getting Things Done workflow steps). That means that when you're processing your Inbox that's all you should be doing. Eliminate the things you can get done in a couple of minutes but make everything else that's actionable either a task or an appointment and just keep processing until your Inbox is empty. Then, and only then, move on to the doing stage using the criteria you've associated with each action to decide what the next most important thing you can be doing with your time might be.

This is an awfully long comment to a short post. Feel free to ping me if you'd like to pursue this further. I'd be happy to help.
Jeroen - 8/23/2005 1:38:07 PM
There are several things to do about full mailboxes. One tip I usually give is to send less mail yourself. How many of those message you receive are answers to mail you sent? Picking up the telephone is more efficient and saves you tons of e-mail.


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