Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
We have been looking at how to simplify email in two past articles. (The Three-Step Process for Simple Email Processing, Dealing with Email and Filing). Today we’re going to look at simplifying responding to email, so you don’t lose track of the email going out.
Two Types of Responses
There are two basic types of responses to email in your inbox: those that are the end point, and those where you need a response.
When you have an end point, it is generally the answer to an inquiry, and you expect that the conversation is closed.
When you need a response, this is when you need information from the other person in order to finish the task at hand.
The key to handling both is not losing track of them.
The best way to keep everything at hand is to copy yourself on every response. In Outlook, this is as easy as setting up a rule to put a copy of every email in your inbox. In GMail this is a bit more difficult, as I have not found a reliable way to copy yourself automatically (Anyone? Please share if you know how to get beyond this limitation!)
Once you have the email in a place where you can process it, you will have two choices: file it (as was talked about in Dealing with Email and Filing) or wait for a response.
Using “Waiting For”
At the point that you realize you are waiting for something, you need to have a way to track these items. Without some sort of tracking system, they will fall off the radar.
David Allen, in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, recommends having a place to store items you are waiting for. This is a good idea because it groups things in one place for you to check. You only have to remember to regularly review one set of files, instead of remembering more.
In email, you can have a label or a folder set aside to put all your waiting for items. In Outlook, you could categorize things as “Waiting For” and then use a search folder to see all items in one place. In GMail, just label the item as a “Waiting For”.
The Problem With “Waiting For”
While having everything in one place is essential, it is only the first step. My main problem with Waiting For folders is that things end up in a slush pile.
Things that need to be followed up with tomorrow get mixed up with things that are to be looked at next month. Get enough of these in one spot, and it no longer becomes an exercise in following up, but an exercise in remembering and categorizing things over and over.
Getting Past the Slush Pile
Outlook makes it very easy to bring messages to the forefront. Right click on any message and set a followup date; the items will appear in your task list on the appropriate day.
For GMail it is a bit more difficult. You can either set up additional labels under your Waiting For folder for when they need to be followed up and check these files. Or you can forward the emails to a task service like Remember The Milk so that they will appear in your task list. The last option is to use a reminder service like Boomerang, which will pull mail into your inbox on a given day and time.
There are many ways for you to choose to keep track of responses. Whether manual filing or automated reminders, keeping track of responses is fairly straightforward.
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