I have now implemented the 3 times a day rule for dealing with my email. However I still have the issue of what to do with the emails. I don't get a huge amount but I just can't empty the darn inbox.

  • What do I do with an email that is information only? If I delete it or file it I will probably forget what was in there.
  • What about something that doesn't require any action today but may do at some time in the future? But then again it may not.
  • What about an email from one of my directs that I am copied on? I don't have anything to do but I do want to keep track of the subject in question and if I delete it or file it away I may forget about it.

I am trying to use the task list in Outlook to help me with this but the list is just getting longer and consequently taking more time to manage.

I know there is no silver bullet here and maybe I just need to keep working on being better organised. But I wondered how other people have managed to deal effectively with email on a daily basis.



flexiblefine's picture

What do I do with an email that is information only? If I delete it or file it I will probably forget what was in there.

What do you do with it now, if you keep it in your inbox? Do you re-read it each day? If it's not actionable, it's a perfect candidate for deletion or filing. I have a "Stuff to Keep" folder that has all kinds of things in it.

What about something that doesn't require any action today but may do at some time in the future? But then again it may not.

Do you know when you will know when it might be actionable? Do you know when you want to come back to the email to see if it has become actionable? Put the email on your calendar so it will come back to your attention later.

What about an email from one of my directs that I am copied on? I don't have anything to do but I do want to keep track of the subject in question and if I delete it or file it away I may forget about it.

Are you doing one-on-ones? That sounds like the kind of thing that goes in the one-on-one bucket for weekly followup. If you want to keep a closer eye on the subject, drop it on your calendar (as above) to check in sooner.

In general, you seem worried that you are going to forget things that aren't out in front of you regularly. Do you have a trusted system for any other kinds of reminders?

Houston, Texas, USA
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TNoxtort's picture

 I'm a big fan of the Get it Done Guy. Here his podcast transcript on keeping your inbox empty, with ideas on what to do with those info items.

His big tip is to keep a HANDWRITTEN task list. That's what I do every morning too.

tlhausmann's picture
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Gary, et al

Like Flex, if a message requires action then I drag it to the calendar and assign block time to the task.

However, for information and cc'd messages, I file to an appropriate Outlook folder, and search by keyword as needed. Because Outlook's search features are limited I use X1 Search from 

X1 indexes all doc, xls, PDF, PPT, and dozens more file formats by content and name with fast keyword and Boolean searches. I have used it for years.

The result is I can find *any* message or document in seconds without even having to remember where it is filed in Outlook or on my hard drive.

If I want to discuss the matter in an O3:  I use composition notebooks to track my O3 notes for each direct. I pull the corresponding notebook and jot a note to ask about the matter at our next meeting.

Gazman's picture

 Thanks everyone for your input, already making good progress and feeling confident about finally getting the email situation under control. 

Shawn's picture

I have an Outlook rule that saves a copy of (most) emails in separate "Mail Trail" folder. I can delete anything questionable without fear, knowing it will be there later.

My company's email retention policy forces an occasional purge, so I delete mail over six months old. The truly important things are saved elsewhere, of course.


cbenami's picture

My favourite resource is "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by David Allen (it's referenced in the book reviews section of this site). It gives answers to the questions you are asking.

My personal twists for reference items are as follows:

  • I have two reference folders: one for short term items that I can clean out in a week or two, and one for longer term items. I review my short term items during my weekly task reviews.
  • Like FLEXIBLEFINE, I put things concerning my directs into the one-on-one buckets.

The thing that helped me get through my inbox more quickly was to set the "delete permanently" parameter to thirty days. I make my "what to keep" decisions more quickly this way.  I do not spend time worrying about the items that have a very low probability of being needed. I have been doing this for many years now and I find that I recycle deleted items only a handful of times per year. For me, thirty days is long enough for the marginal items and I have never needed to find an item that has been deleted for more than thirty days.

HMac's picture

Four or five years ago I listened to a multi-part podcast interview with the author of GTD, and he mentioned one idea, almost in passing, that's completely changed how I work with email.  It's a "small" thing that I think was in the book (and maybe I resisted!).  But I was changing computers, and that gave me the chance to try it.  Now I'm never going back.

*Use only one folder to organize all your saved emails*


That's it.


But (to me at least) entirely counterintuitive.  I had spent years creating nests of folders and sub-folders: by client, by project, by year, etc. And I seemed to spend a lot of time looking for things (i.e., remembering where I had filed them).

For the last five years: one single folder.

I call it "Active Archive" - and EVERYTHING that doesn't get deleted goes into it.

It's SO EASY to search one folder: by date, by sender, by subject - even by whether it has an attachment or not.  And I don't even have to leave Outlook.

The great benefit is time savings: it takes a nanosecond to move things in.  So I have absolute confidence that everything's in there.


One Caveat:

Depending on the size of the materials, you may have to archive every 3-6 months.  Not a big deal: in fact, I've started auto-archiving everything older than 60 days (because I find myself hardly ever needing to look back farther).  And sometimes I delete emails with giant attachments, just to keep my Outlook size down.



Please understand: I resisted this tip like crazy.  But I'm happy I had the "excuse" of changing computers to implement it.  I'll never go back!

stephenbooth_uk's picture

 I use a similar arrangement to HMAC.  I do use folders but only for mails that by definition won't need immediate action, things like mailing lists that I'll want to read at some point but if I leave it till the end of the day or the next day or even the weekend it doesn't matter.  I also have mail rules set up that put the mails straight into the appropriate folder without hitting my Inbox.



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DPWade's picture

"What do I do with an email that is information only? If I delete it or file it I will probably forget what was in there."

Right Click on this type of email, move to folder, tasks.  I have a Task subcategory called "Reference" which is a library from things like HR anouncements on benefits to contracts to the new interoffice phone list.  I rename each emails title to the content title (EDS Contract).


fchalif's picture
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ditto HMAC and Stephen Boothe,

Create on e folder for reference emails (i call mine Processed_Mail_2010) and I categorize the emails. categorizing has the great benefit in Outlook of allowing you to assign moe than one category to each mail. when you look for an email later, the many categories will help you find that needle in the hay stack. you can also use the search features.

I also use the flag for Follow Up feature. this allows me to segregate in a Search folder any email that is flagged so that i may do the next action, whether it is something i am waiting on or a call i have to make.


asteriskrntt1's picture

and all the other good advice

If HMac's one folder system is too scary for you, you can make subfolders of your task menu or any other menu. Call them CCs, Separate your various types of information, whatever works for you.  That is the key, it has to work for YOU.  And make rules so that the email gets prioritized and you don't spend 20 minutes a day deciding where to put each email. 

And while I personally get a great degree of satisfaction from keeping my inbox under 10 and the odd time hitting zero, if only for a few minutes, I know quite a few high performers (one in particular is a very High S) who have 1000s of emails in their inbox and they manage quite fine.

I find Outlook 2010 very searchable once you disable the stupid add ins that screw up the indexing.  And the rules wizard is very easy to use (I am not a programmer and have no clue how to write a macro).  I have about 30 rules set up and it saves me about 60-120 email minutes a week minimum. 

II don't recall if I learned this from M&M or from another source - I never read a CC anymore unless I receive some other direction that I need to be up to speed on it.  And train your directs to put a bluf summary in each email that gives you the high level view of what the CC is about.  Anything that is a CC to me goes directly into the appropriate CC file and if I need to read it at some point, it is easy to find.


stevesim's picture

At the end of every year I spend a couple of hours getting organized for the coming year.  I'm an Outlook user and I set up a pst for each of my peers in the department, my boss, my boss' boss and myself.  In each pst I set up a folder of reach of their/my key initiatives.  I also create a misc pst with folders for corporate announcements and newsletters as well as a pst for all of the external marketing and newsletters I receive.  Each key initiative gets a category flag created as well as a flag each for the corporate and external material.  My "view" of my inbox is sorted by category with uncategorized items at the top.  When I go through my e-mail each item gets categorized (right click, Categorize, select the appropriate category) when it has been read and actioned (answered or added to my task list).  At the end of each day I run a set of rules that move most/all of the categorized items to the appropriate pst fle.  Anything that doesn't have a rule associated with it gets moved manaually.  This typically keeps the "to be dealt with" pile in my inbox to a minimum but means I need to stay on top of my task list.

Steve Simmons