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Currently, I am (successfully) cleaning out my GMail account, but while having achieved "Inbox Zero" (but not "0 Actionables"), my subfolders / labels are still overflowing.

One issue I have: I was quite involved in / occupied with at least two software programs, that I used or still use daily and intensively, both for my studies as well as work.

As I'm rarely content with even a top-notch program and tend to find a lot of bugs, productivity-impeding issues and just in general have ideas and feature requests, I started sending feature requests on a weekly, sometimes daily basis!

As a result I have several (long) drafts as well as a ton of sent as well as unread e-mails to and from the software developers. But to be frank, in the last 6-9 months I have never looked at those e-mails, neither those from the company nor mine.

Please see this screenshot as an example: Feature request e-mails

All I know is: Obviously not all (i.e. most) feature requests of mine won't be implemented or I am not able to get an ETA for it. Most of all, software organizations seem to not be willing or prepared for keeping their power-users updated, i.e. I have no way to know and follow-up on my feature request. Which drives me crazy - maybe I'm a control freak... Second problem is that the versions of those products have already iterated. I.e. for both software concerned here, there are already new versions out. I frankly cannot keep track of which changes are implemented yet and which aren't. Because I don't get paid to do so and don't have all the information available that the software company does. But those companies don't share such information with a customer, thus I'm at the bad end of information asymmetry.

All that ain't so bad though, but my problem is: What do I do with all these e-mails? Read and archive? Delete? Try to comprise notes and actual results as well as actionables out of them? (Even though that should be the company's duty not mine?...)

All in all I definitely don't want to keep (those) e-mails if not necessary.

So the question now is: What is the best way to deal with these e-mails, if you consider my initial intention and the general goal of getting through those as fast as possible.

The tricky part here is, that those are not clearly actionable via GTD imho, because to have a clear "action-path", I would have to define one in advance. Which is what I ask about here. Because frankly - myself - I don't know if it is worth the time and effort to further process all these e-mails, if I consider the average probability that:

a). My feature request gets accepted b). My feature request gets implemented or c). my feature request is already implemented (i.e. I could've discarded the e-mail conversation about feature XYZ, I just didn't/don't know, because I lack the information that feature XYZ is implemented, until I invest further energy to confirm that it is).

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3 Answers 3

I have my own productivity system that I use, and while there's some crossover with formal GTD techniques, I'm not sure if this is one.

One rule that I make is that once something is beyond my direct control, I delete it. I do a lot of unit testing and frequently submit bug reports. That's all I'm required to do.

If I get a fixed bug report back. I ask for a test plan, or at the very least, how's this supposed to respond correctly? That way, I never need to keep track of things for which I am not directly responsible.

I think that's the basis of my decisionmaking. If it's something over which I have direct control per my contract/statement of work, I keep it. If not, it gets deleted. While I often risk the "Hey, that's noy my job" buck-passing, I've found many good ways to do just that without sounding like I'm blowing someone off.

It sounds like most of the items you're struggling with are things outside fo your control that you're just hanging on to in case you need to refer to them sometime in the future. Delete 'em all. Especially being on the bad end of the information flow, the likelihood of you getting the complete picture of everything that happened since you sent that email is slim to none. If you eventually DO need to know it, someone will be able to forward it to you. It's not like your gmail box is the ONLY place on the internet that this information exists.

It took me a while to break my control-freak habit and start deleting. But it's so freeing when I do.

Right now, I've got 9 emails in my work inbox and 12 in my personal inbox, 9 of which will be cleared up once I can get to my other computer to download the information to the proper drives, and three phone calls I need to make on Monday.

It's a system & philosophy that's served me well.

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No offense, but I have a feeling you got 'snippets' of GTD out there on the web but you have not read the book. For example what you say about 'having 0 actionables', does not make much sense; in GTD terms, the only day you have '0 actionables' is because you're no longer breathing. David Allen's point is that life continuously throws stuff at us, stuff whose meaning is for us to clarify, and we do that by using two questions: 1)'what's the outcome I desire about it?' and 2)'What's the next physical action I have to do to get closer to that outcome?'. I strongly recommend you read the book when you feel it's the time.

As for the feature request issue, you could gain some clarity asking yourself: a)'why am I doing this?' -> Because it is a cool app and you want to keep it going? To do some networking? You get a kick of noticing errors nobody else does? You don't want to look rude by quitting?

and b) 'what are my standards about doing this?' -> How much time are you willing to invest on this activity? What will be your frequency for checking and answering those emails? What are your standards of neatness about filing email?

Again, these are all GTD questions ('purpose and principles', 10,000ft level: project planning). Of course my words can only be a summary, again I recommend the book, which in my case was life changing.

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I wrote exactly that I do NOT have 0 actionables. Good questions that you mention though, thanks! –  grunwald2.0 Aug 12 '12 at 6:33
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GTD would treat these as delegated tasks. Handle them like this:

  • for each delegated task (bug report, feature request, etc.) if you intend to follow up on it, enter an action in your "waiting for" list
  • each week, when you review your "waiting for" list, if you notice any of the items that has gone too long without an update, add an action like "email X for update about Y" to your action list
  • if you stop caring about a particular delegated task, just remove it from your list
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