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Do you use your inbox as a ‘to-do list’?

by mel starrs on May 4, 2006

in Getting Things Done, Outlook, Wordpress and Other Tips

The number one way to annoy me is to answer your phone when I am trying to have a conversation with you. The almost Pavlovian response to pick up a ringing phone no matter what else is happening drives me to distraction. Turn it off, or let voicemail pick up a message. And show a bit of respect for the person who is in the room talking to you. The number two way to annoy me is to answer my phonecall, get 30 seconds into the conversation and then tell me you’re too busy to talk. Do we really need to revisit telephone etiquette? The technology has been around since 1876, you’d think we’d have it cracked by now?

The first email application was invented in 1971. True most businesses didn’t get in on the act until mid 90’s. That’s still 10 years of use. And yet I still come up across people who are trying to use their inbox as a ‘to-do’ list and ‘maybe I’ll look at that again someday’ archive. NO NO NO.

I must admit I was slightly guilty of the above practices until I read David Allen’s monstrously popular ‘Getting Things Done‘. Search google for ‘GTD’ and you will come across numerous websites, blogs and hacks based on the book which all purport to streamline your personal and professional productivity. But by far the best practice I learnt through both the book and the 43 Folders blog, was how to manage my email. First go read Merlin Mann’s fantastic advice, starting here.


Done? It’s not half as scary as it looks. My work email inbox seldom gets over 50 emails at any one time. If fluff or spam comes in, I’m ruthless. It gets deleted or blocked straight away. If project related correspondance comes in, I assess what action needs to be done. Very short responses get done straight away (depending on what task I am working on at the time – I’m still not quite disciplined enough to only look at the inbox 4 times a day). Items that require some research before I can respond, but that will take a short amount of time sit in the inbox until I blitz them (between other ‘chunks’ of work). These rarely sit for longer than a day. If a detailed action is required, the email is printed out (gasp! paper!) or the task added to my to-do list, and then filed and deleted from the inbox. If I know I won’t be able to respond within the timescale requested, I drop a note there and then letting the other party know. So far the system works. We use an Outlook add-in called Oasys Mail Manager which makes filing both incoming and outgoing emails a cinch (especially important when you are working in a project office where other folks need to access the emails – which they can’t do if they’re sitting in your inbox).

And the number three way to annoy me is to ignore my emails.

I’m still optimistic that email etiquette will catch on quicker than telephone etiquette…