I’ve been burdened for months by a bad case of email bankruptcy. My inbox has been constantly full of unread emails, and it keeps getting worse and worse (on a busy day I might get 400 odd emails). It had gotten to the stage that in the last 2 weeks I was forgetting to write up posts or follow up on leads, and I was getting emails from people asking me why I hadn’t done things. I’m far from alone in this problem, but I decided enough was enough.
I’ve never read Getting Things Done before (and I still haven’t), but I was aware of the concepts behind the book/ system, so I did some more research and this is what I’ve changed.
Things is a brilliant package but only so far in that it’s extremely simple to use. It’s not as fully featured as some other packages I looked at, but the barrier to entry is that much simpler; the short form is I worked this one out in minutes, where other packages I wasted an hour on without any luck.
You use it by adding things you need to get done to it, sort of like list making/ task management. Ctrt + Alt + Space brings up a pop-up box for new entries, and you can drag and drop links to anything into this screen: in my case emails.
So what I did Sunday was sit down and go through my email, including my “follow up” folder which I’d started avoiding. Drag and drop the email in, add a note saying what it was and the action, tag it (TechCrunch, duncanriley.com, general…whatever), put a date due on it (you can also add someday if it’s not a priority but you want it handy) so today (monday morning) I’ve started the morning with a list of things to follow up or action.
The next trick was before working my way through the list, I started with email first (well after a quick glance at Techmeme and TechCrunch so I knew roughly what was happening for context on any emails), it took 15-20 minutes but I’d cleared up the entire nights email and was back to square one (well a week back, I still haven’t cleared the full backlog yet, but if you were starting from empty, you’d have an empty inbox). Emails that need to be deleted are deleted, ones that require followup are added to Things and dragged into a separate folder.
Now all I had left was a list of things to be done.
The hardest habit to break is my usual read everything in Google Reader first. I decided the way I’d tackle this was to do the first two action items in Things First, then read my feeds (noting that I have Techmeme Firehouse in Twitter in case anything is breaking). So I did, one post, two posts…and it wasn’t even 10am, then I started reading feeds but only in order of importance (I allocate my reading list into A, B Web 2.0, Personal, General and other categories). 2 folders down, I switch back to the list. Another post done. Go back and spend 10 minutes with the next Google Reader folder, switch back to list etc etc….
One of my other bad work habits has always been having way too many tabs open in Firefox, to the point that I often get lost in terms of which tab has which thing open etc… I decided the better way to do this was to make sure I close every tab after I write a post, and only have tabs open that are relevant to the post as I do it (aside from a core 3, Reader, Techmeme, blog entry page). What I found immediately is that I could research and reference far more easily than from half a dozen or so tabs open that a relevant and grouped.
Will It Last?
Monday’s are always pretty quiet as it’s Sunday in the States so perhaps this morning might not be a typical day, but it feels good to be writing this post before midday having written 4 posts with another 2 definites in the system, half a dozen space fillers if it gets real quiet, and all my other tasks I need to get done ready and waiting. I even went as far as adding in one day a week to update Facebook friends, another for LinkedIn etc…. everything spelled out.
It won’t work for everyone, and obviously requires some discipline, but I’m already excited by the allocate email to GTD system by itself: hopefully now I wont forget to respond to emails or write up posts and my email bankruptcy will be checked at the door.
I’ll report back in a week with an update to see how this system works under pressure.