Saturday, 26 January 2008

battle against time

Like many people, I get a lot of e-mail every day, and I spend a very substantial part of my time processing them. In order to keep things under control, I'm following a number of practices, which I'll describe in the following. As with most good ideas, it's not my own idea -- it's inspired by a time-management method called Getting Things Done (GTD). More about that later.

inbox zero

So how to become in control of our e-mail again (instead of the other way around)?

The most important rule here is that we should always end the working day with an empty inbox. Fantastic as that may sound, it's really the key here. So, how do we do that?

  • At least once a day (and before leaving the office), review the messages in your inbox. For each message, decide what to do with it:

    1. If it requires some action:

      • if it takes less than two minutes: do it now;
      • If someone else can better handle it: delegate (forward) it;
      • otherwise, move it to a folder NextActions;

    2. If might be interesting or important later, archive it
    3. Otherwise, it's just crap - delete it.

  • After this review round, your inbox will be empty. No message stays behind - look at them, and decide where to move them.
  • Now, periodically check your NextActions, take the necessary actions, and move messages to your archive after completing them. (I've found that maybe only one-third of my incoming e-mail end up in NextActions)

That's all there's to it. Following these simple rules, it will be much easier to deal with lots of e-mail. If you have 250 e-mails in your inbox, some of which are weeks old, it's really hard not to forget something important; also, it costs a lot of time to scan those same messages again and again (I'd say handling a mailbox with n mails has at least O(n2) complexity :-).

Of course, this is just a starting point; you could add WaitingFor-folder with a copy of mails you delegated (forwarded) for tracking. You could somehow add the calendar. You can add other to-do items. You could think of some smart way to manage those items in NextActions. And so on... All of those things are discussed in GTD.


Getting Things Done (GTD) is David Allen's method of time management, which deals with much more than just e-mail. The steps above are a sort-of GTD-light that works very well for my e-mail. Anyway, I can really recommend the GTD-book for anyone interested in time-management. It's a rare gem in the sea of 'personal-productivity' books. Read an overview on the 43 Folders-website, or their excellent article on inboxzero, which has lots of additional tips.

I've been using GTD (and especially these e-mail handling practices) for quite a while now, and it has really saved me a lot of time and frustration. I'm quite sure this will work for a lot of people; but of course, the only way to really find out is to try it out yourself. On the internet, GTD enjoys an almost cult-like following on the web - don't let that scare you away. Just be skeptical, and use what works for you.

epilogue: gtd on n8x0

You could implement quite a bit of this on your N8x0 and (surprise) modest, and I have done so quite succesfully. What's still missing is some calendar integration, and an easy way to handle (search through) huge archives of messages. Anyway, being so mobile, the N810 with modest has become a great productivity tool for me.

One geeky alternative would be to use Emacs; people like Sacha Chua and others have written a lot about using Emacs for Getting Things Done. Now all we need is to port emacs to the N810 -- project maemacs to the rescue! Or maybe someone could make an N8x0 version of Chandler? (unfortunately, the book is still better than the program).


Anonymous said...

I use Tracks:

You need a network connection, of course, but without a network connection the Nseries are mostly junk anyway :)

Marcus said...

I use tracks as well - running directly on my n800. Works great if a bit slower than on a beefy server :)

bigbry said...

Everyone has thier GTD mods. I like to keep my processing down to 7 things:
1. Delete it
2. Schedule it
3. Create 1-Step Task
4. Create Project
5. Save for Maybe Someday
6. File for Reference
7. Waiting For
But that just works for me & my brain, while for another the inboxzero method works.

Dan said...

For implementing GTD you might try out this web-based application:

You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version is available too.

As with the last update, now Gtdagenda has full Someday/Maybe functionality, you can easily move your tasks and projects between "Active", "Someday/Maybe" and "Archive". This will clear your mind, and will boost your productivity.

Hope you like it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nice Blog .I think HR understands the importance of other people tracking time--IT, Lawyers, non-exempt employees, but struggles with the idea of web time clock .