Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Getting things done (my version)

Posted by shannonclark on January 27, 2005

Many of my friends swear by David Allen and indeed, one of these days I’ll buy his book (and perhaps other products) and see the source for why they rave, but in the meantime, here’s a report on what I’ve done this week as my own personal version of “getting things done”.

To start, some raw numbers to get a handle of the scale I’ve been dealing with for the past few days.

  • Over 2.6 gigs of email (starting point was one file at 1.45 gb and one archive at about 1gb)
  • Over 8500 unread messages, just in the primary mail file and about 6000+ in the archives
  • Over 140 separate mail folders in the primary, starting with about 20 in the archive
  • just over 1300 messages in my inbox alone
  • 40+ rules applied to my mail folder
  • Nearly 900 messages flagged “Follow up”

Result (at the moment, still working on even further improvements and organization)

  • Three mail files down to 2.3gb. Primary – at 650mb, Archive – at 1.279gb, and Archive – sent mail – at 415mb (a few 100mb of mail deleted)
  • Primary mail folders – 71 folders under my inbox, 85 in the archives, 4 (2001-2004) in the sent mail archive
  • Unread mail in Primary down to 2475, in archives up to 8322 but still around 4000+ messages have been read and processed in the past few days.
  • nearly 15 new rules applied and older poorly implemented rules (which had been causing duplication of many messages sent to multiple mailing lists – via sending a copy of the message to each mailing list’s folder) fixed
  • New saved searches (running Outlook 2003) created to manage MeshForum related correspondences that might be misfiled, as well as to better manage the files in the archive, modified important searches such as “Follow up” and “For your information” to display total messages, not unread messages.
  • Down to 304 messages flagged “follow up” – and this number keeps dropping as I do, in fact, follow up -have resolved literally hundreds of such emails in the past few days, some because the urgency has passed (past trip related emails etc), others by taking specific action(s).
  • Inbox down to 260 messages 30 messages – all less than 45 days old [updated 1/28 – down to 30 messages]

Some context here is important. I receive about 400 or more emails a day. Many (about 200-250 some days) are junk/spam and are correctly caught as such by Outlook. Of the rest, a portion are spams that go uncaught, but the majority are of interest to me.

I use rules to sort mailing list emails into folders specifically for that mailing list.

My primary view, most of the time, is the “Unread messages” search folder in Outlook 2003, which allows me to collapse all the unread messages from all folders in my inbox into one view, which I then sort so that the new messages are on the top of the screen. As I read a message, I file it or delete it – most of the time.

Besides my inbox which I try to keep for current pending matters as well as misc. items that don’t have a specific home yet (which either get deleted or filed after I am finished with them – ideally at least) I use the following folders heavily:

Clients/Potentials – where I put correspondence about possible deals, partners or projects. Once a project is started I make a subfolder of Clients for that client and then file all emails about that project into that folder

MeshForum – where I file all messages about MeshForum (and where any emails to shannon at meshforum go, as well as where all messages to meshforum related mailing lists)

Personal – where I file most personal emails from friends and items such as registrations

Vendors – catchall bin for emails from somewhat random companies. Companies I have a relationship with (such as IBM) get their own subfolder of vendors

Articles – catch all where I put articles that are worth retaining for future searches, but are not likely to be specifically actionable or frequently referenced

Useful Articles – where I store the much rarer articles I get which I know I will read in detail, follow the links, forward, and refer back to. Springwise and Trendwatching are two of the very few subscriptions I receive that go into this folder every month – though only after I have read the latest writing in detail

Overall, the process, while painful and very time consuming, has also been very valuable and useful. When I finish, likely this weekend, I’ll have caught up on 2004’s messages, have much less “pending” items, and have a much more smoothly running mailbox.

Any suggestions? Any similar tales of inbox management? Any alternative systems you practice?


One Response to “Getting things done (my version)”

  1. jackvinson said

    Yikes all over. With that much incoming mail, you probably need to decide to follow-up to less of it. It also sounds like your follow-up flags don’t really mean “follow-up.” They mean, “open this message every once in a while and think about doing something with it.” If they’ve gotten so old that you could delete without ever following-up, then they probably should have never been marked as follow-up to begin with.

    Maybe instead you need to set aside time each day to explicitly deal with the generic “to-respond” messages. (By “generic” I mean messages for which you don’t set aside specific time with specific thoughts about what to do.)

    I’ve found very little use for my archived mail and a good desktop search (LookOut, Yahoo, Microsoft…) should deliver stuff I can’t find faster than an Outlook search. Granted, regular outlook searches can be useful, such as the unread mail or “anything with ‘meshforum’ in it.”

    Just a few thoughts.


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