I’ve finally found a system that works for keeping my inbox at a manageable size (one screen or less), a variation of the GTD system.
Step 1: Do I need to respond to this email?
Many emails are sent to me for my reference — or are spam. If they’re spam, I lick Gmail’s spam button and they go away. If they’re reference, I click on the “archive” button. I don’t bother about labeling reference emails — I can always find them later by searching by keyword or date.
Step 2: Can I take care of an email quickly?
Many emails just need to be forwarded to the appropriate person, or briefly acknowledged and archived.
Some require me to do something at a particular time in the future — to conduct an interview, for example, or write a story. All this requires is a calendar entry, an acknowledgement email, and, if necessary, an addition to the workflow database.
Step 3: Can I take care of this email as one of the group?
With some emails, it’s easier to take care of many at once rather than do them one at a time. For example, when I receive a business-related invoice, I need to print it, add it to my accounting database, and file it away. Doing this one at a time is a pain, so I save them up and do them all at once.
For these emails, I set up a label — “Print and file” or “Add to Website” or “Pay” — and then archive them. When I’m ready to print — or work on the website, or pay bills — I open that folder, handle these emails one right after another, and then take off the label to get them off the to-do schedule.
To keep myself reminded of them, I also mark them “unread” — that way they show up nicely when I’m checking my email, a regular reminder that I’ve got tasks to do in these categories when I’m ready for them.
Almost all my emails fall into one of these three groups. The rest usually have to do with stories I’m currently working on, and may require a little bit of thought, or some hard work.
For example, in my inbox is a reminder from my business manager to call the consulate and check on my visa. There’s no particular time I need to do this, but I do need to take care of it in the next couple of days. Once I do, I’ll archive that email.
Another email is a draft of a story from one of my writers, and I need to go through it and get my questions back to her within two days. I don’t have to do it right now, but I might work on that later tonight.
Hey — I just took care of another email, by deciding not to do anything about it.
Down to … drumroll, please … seven emails!
Life is good.