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A new beginning… for my inbox.

04 Jan

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So my inbox has always been a vast sea of emails. I get automated emails and am on several distribution lists that garner me quite a few emails per day. I usually do pretty well in being responsive and getting back to individuals, but my methods tend to break down when there is a lot of inquiries coming in.

I have in the past relied on the follow-up flag in outlook to note things I would like to read, respond to, or take action upon. This has resulted in currently 725 flagged items. I can tell you right now I’m not going to read, respond, or take action on 725 items that are currently sitting in my email. I doubt more than 10% of those are still relevant.

In comes the new year. Well, technically I started this process before Christmas when it was a little slower in the office. I have started using search folders, categories, quick steps, and some Applescripts on my mac to keep my inbox clean(er). When an item comes and I’m cleaning out my inbox I quickly decide what needs done with it.

  • This doesn’t need any action, isn’t likely to be needed for reference, but I don’t want to delete it
  • It needs a response, and the response is quick (less than ~2 minutes)
  • It needs a response from me and will take a while (more than ~2 minutes)
  • This is something interesting that I might need later
  • This is something I want to take the time to understand/read (and takes more than ~2 minutes)
  • I don’t need this and can delete it (OOO emails for example)

For each of these I have a ┬áset of steps to follow. For each of them, aside from things I don’t need, the end result is it winds up in my @Archived email folder. If I don’t need something, I deleted it. That one is harder for me since I’m a bit of a packrat. I have files at home from my first Mac more than 15 years ago on Zip disks.

For items that are quick, I take care of them immediately. For those that are going to take a little longer, I categorize them as “follow up” and shuffle them off to the @Archived folder. I have a search folder to show me all the things marked “follow up” so I can later process them. This may sound like a simple replacement for the “follow up” flag, but there’s an important step I will talk about in a minute. Those items I deem are interesting and I might need later, but don’t need any action from me I categorize as “reference” and off to @Archived it goes. Again there is a search folder to pull those out separately.

What pulls this together a little bit is my use of GTD principles and a application on my Mac called Omnifocus. I have three personal appointments per week on my calendar and two of those are “Weekly Action Item Review” and “Weekly Emai

l Catch Up”. As I go through my week I periodically bring up Outlook on my Mac and any of those pesky “follow up” categorized items get the Applescript “[OF] SendOutlookToOmnifocus” which does a number of things. It marks the email as read, categorizes it as “sent to Omnifocus” removes the “follow up” category if it exists, moves it to @Archived, and opens up the quick add in Omnifocus with the subject as the title of the action and the body as the notes.

Each week during my weekly action item review, I go through my Omnifocus inbox and review each project to make sure the actions are up to date and correct. I shuffle things from the inbox to specific projects and add contexts where appropriate.

I almost forgot to talk about the quick steps in Outlook 2010 for Windows. These are little rules you can set up and apply to a specific message or group of selected messages. I have setup a quick step for each of my typical steps as outlined above and have it marking the items as read, categorizing it, and moving it to another folder as appropriate. I’ve setup hot keys so “CTRL-SHIFT-1″ for example just marks it as read and moves it to @Archived.

So how am I doing so far? I receive on average about 100 work emails a day and being the 4th day of the year, my inbox contains exactly 0 emails! My Followup search folder holds just 4 that I have yet to process into Omnifocus. I don’t know if I can keep it up, but I’m sure going to try. I’ve loved the lower stress that has come with adopting GTD principles and my diligent use of Omnifocus thus far.

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