Getting Things Done. Over the years I found myself streamlining the suggestions in that book, and the end result below is what I use every day.
Second caveat: I also use a task management application called Things to manage all of my work todos by project. The tricky bit I always seem to run into is, a lot of my todos come through email, but not all of them. I either needed to get my other todos into the email system, or at least some of the email todos out into Things. I ended up opting for the latter.
So here's the system. This may sound complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy to use and can plow through a pile of email in not time at all.
Folders, Folders, Folders
First, I create some additional email folders:
- Project 1
Taming the Inbox
When it's time to sort through the messages in my inbox, here's how I use each folder:
- If a message can be immediately acted on, do so now; my rule of thumb is 10 secs to a minute tops.
- If it needs to be done today or very soon, move to Now. If it's something to be done much later on, I suggest moving it out of email and into your favorite todo application (mine is Things.)
- If it's event-related, or something occurring for which there's no action but helpful to have the information handy, move to Watch (party, company meeting, offsite, holiday event, etc.)
- If the email is waiting on a response or an action from someone else, move to Waiting; I cc myself on messages so if I'm waiting for a response, I have a copy to put in this folder.
- If the message is project related and there is no action to be taken or pending, I Archive it into the appropriate Project folder.
- Otherwise, I delete it.
Here's the important part that keeps the system working:
- Each day go through Now for things that need to get done that day. Archive or delete items that are completed or no longer need to be addressed. Waiting on a followup? Move to Waiting.
- At least once a week go through Waiting. Done? Delete. Still waiting? Leave it. Should have heard by now? Send a followup email. Schedule time to do this, it doesn't take long.
- Every couple of weeks, go through Watch and Later, and either delete things or promote them to Now or Waiting.
I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me. By the way, I'd highly recommend the Getting Things Done book above for other great ideas for managing the huge amount of information that swirls around us every day. Cheers!