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Resource: Better management of email to improve productivity (MS Outlook)

Prepared by Helen Palmer (March 2011)


Here are details about how I use MS Outlook to better manage my flows of email. 

A. Processing and organising emails
B. Reviewing emails
C. Other techniques


These details are influenced by David Allen's 'Getting Things Done' (GTD) method, with some additional tricks of my own. To see details about how I setup MS Outlook, visit Setting up email to improve productivity (MS Outlook).  For other guidance, David Allen sells a comprehensive guide on how to setup and use MS Outlook to 'Get Things Done'.


A. Processing and organising emails

Answer

Organising

Perform an action (DO)
Includes any thinking, researching or planning actions

If I can do the action in less than 2 minutes (aka '2-minute rule'):
1. Do it immediately.

Otherwise:

1. Assign the category 'Action Now'.
2. Note the details of 'next action' on my Action list; or alternatively book time in calendar to do the action, and put details of 'next action(s)' in calendar entry.

TIP: Include travel time and preparation and post-meeting processing time when scheduling meetings and appointments with other people.
3. Move the email to appropriate folder: 'TempKeep' for short-life storage; specific folder for long-life storage.

Wait for someone else's action

1. Assign the category 'Waiting'.

2. Move the email to appropriate folder: 'TempKeep' for short-life storage; specific folder for long-life storage.

Dump/Trash

Delete the email.

Delegate action/matter

When action is needed by me prior to delegation (i.e. thinking or preparation):
1. Assign the category 'Action Now'.
2. If appropriate: Note the details of 'next action' on my Action list; or book time in calendar to Do the action.


When 2-minute rule applies:

1. Forward the email to the Delegatee, if necessary with supplementary instructions and resources.

2. Assign the category 'Delegated' to forwarded email in Sent Items.

3. Move forwarded email to appropriate folder: 'TempKeep' for short-life storage; specific folder for long-life storage. (I often delete rather than keep/file the original incoming email.)

Defer action/matter

1. Assign the category 'Action Later'.

2. If appropriate, book time in calendar (weeks or months ahead!) to reevaluate or do the specific action.
3. Move the email to appropriate folder: 'TempKeep' for short-life storage; specific folder for long-life storage.

File
(for reference)

1. Move the email to appropriate folder for long-life storage.


TIP: 'Action Now', 'Waiting' and 'Action Later' are the values I most commonly assign to emails.


Action Lists

I don't have a single physical or electronic 'Action list'. I have three places where my next actions are recorded to guide my day and track my progress:

I don't use MS Outlook's Task function for tracking Actions. David Allen has suggestions for this, so read his MS Outlook guide for details on this technique.


B-1. Reviewing categorised emails; updating Action lists

Reviewing is an important step to overcome fear of lost information - when you think 'out of sight' could mean 'out of mind' forever. Reviewing brings the important work to the foreground when you are ready to attend to it.


B-2. Reviewing Draft emails

Part of my daily review, includes reviewing the contents of the Draft folder which contains emails not yet ready to be sent. Here's why there might be messages in Draft folder:


C. Other techniques and tips

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