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How should emails fit into a Getting Things Done (GTD) system? Should each actionable email be copied into the GTD system? Should the email account keep a duplicate set of GTD "lists"? Or some other way to handle this?

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Can you please specify what GTD system you are using? –  Tom Wijsman Jul 1 '11 at 2:12
    
I'm considering using RTM, but I was asking about GTD in general (how does GTD treat things like emails that don't fit into the task-tracking system... unless you're making a task out of every email). –  jrdioko Jul 1 '11 at 2:33
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You should only require the mails that need something longer than ~ 1-2 minutes to be done turned into tasks, handle all others when you are processing through your inbox. Check out Inbox Zero for a methodology where you work towards zero e-mails in your inbox. If you are looking for alternatives there's also NirvanaHQ, which requires less set-up and also supports e-mails (check account settings). If you don't have an e-mail address or plugin, manual creation is feasible then. –  Tom Wijsman Jul 1 '11 at 2:46

6 Answers 6

up vote 2 down vote accepted

An email item is to be considered just an item in your Inbox.

As such you need to process it as GTD prescribe...

If it is actionable:

  • Decide if it is a task or project. Place on the proper context
  • If up to 2 minutes to complete, just do it (Do ASAP)
  • Someone else should do it: Delegate but create a "followup" next action if needed
  • If it should happen at a specific time, schedule it, ie put it on the calendar.

If it is not actionable, then:

  • file it
  • put on someday/day list
  • delete it
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I have used two project/list/note applications recently. Circus Ponies Notebook and Things by Cultured Code. This is on a Mac. Both of them have a way to select text from any application and use a pull-right menu to select "System Services" which can transfer the selected text into the note taking app. In the case where the text is coming from an email message, the services that I used will include a direct link to the original message in the new note. When you have the note taking app running, you can click on the link and cause the email app to pull up that specific message. This is a short cut for connecting your note taking app (or GTD system) to your email in a very quick and convenient way. Depending on what apps you use for GTD and email, this might be a possible way to connect them together.

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Use one email folder called "waiting-for."

Use another email folder called "todo."

I'm pretty sure that's what the Prophet David himself advises, halfway through the book. (It's worked for me for a decade.)

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I also use a third folder called "someday/maybe" –  THelper May 7 '13 at 19:35

Email is not an action, as it may have several actions and often they are not Next Actions.

Email is not a project, as it does not often define the specific outcome.

Email is not so good for Someday/Maybe, because it is hard to review quickly.

The only thing email can be is a Reference and even then, it may have to be a reference to multiple projects.

Which means you do need to identify Next Action and create Projects. No easy shortcuts there. Every time I tried it (Gmail ActiveInbox, Lotus Notes eProductivity, etc), I had to re-think and re-parse the email to remember what the Next Action actually was.

The best option is to use the systems where you can forward email into it as a refence, but with special format to identify actions before/after it. I think both Nozbe and RTM do it.

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You can simply forward your mail if your GTD system supports it.

The subject becomes the task name and the body becomes the task note...

Removing the e-amils afterwards would be the next step, in a Inbox Zero methodology setting.

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That works for emails related to major tasks, but is forwarding every actionable email (dozens a day) really a good way to manage them? –  jrdioko Jul 1 '11 at 3:14
    
@jrdioko: If your job consists of receiving and executing a lot of minor tasks (bug reports, for example) that you receive through e-mail it might be better to turn your Mail software in a GTD system where you indicate context by Folders, energy by Categories if necessary and time by planning e-mails using Tasks. And then one of your GTD tasks would be to progress through those e-mails and do them... –  Tom Wijsman Jul 1 '11 at 10:20

Ideally your e-mail supports a GTD plugin so you don't need copies - just moving e-mail to the relevant place. I know Gmail and Lotus Notes have such a plugin. I assume most major providers do. What e-mail are you using?

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What kind of plugin? I know RTM has a Gmail widget, but that's just letting you add tasks from within Gmail, not letting you physically transfer emails into GTD tasks... –  jrdioko Jul 1 '11 at 1:52
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Active Inbox (activeinboxhq.com). It gives you a set of labels with the GTD concepts. It also provides two pull downs so you can easily set the project and next state. Along with a few other features. See the website for some screenshots. –  Jeanne Boyarsky Jul 1 '11 at 2:33
    
I haven't used the RTM one, but from the website, Active Inbox's widget is much more detailed/integral workflow. The e-mails/tasks interrelate into one thing. It becomes your inbox becomes your workflow starting point. And then your labels since you want to get the inbox clean :). –  Jeanne Boyarsky Jul 1 '11 at 2:35

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