Does your email have a life of its own? GTD Methodology to get control of your email

Posted by in Personal Effectiveness


email is the preferred mode of communication today and most of us get more to-do’s (or Go-do’s, if from the boss or bosses boss) by email than by any other mode.  With many such delegations coming our way, and with our own sets of goals, it becomes a task by itself to manage all these activities effectively –without dropping the ball. 

Getting Things Done is one pioneering effort in helping folks come to terms with how to work the email system to get a control of your life! Actually, his book is more to do with life in general, but the software version is designed for working with Outlook- which makes it a super effective way of keeping track of your actionable mails.  My good friend Ganesan gave me the first peek into a mailbox which was well and truly empty- which meant that he had taken care of all his emails – either responded or put it in a way by which he could get back to it later.  I was super impressed, and tried various ways to get to that position- but was not very successful. 

Browsing the net got me to David Allen’s book and the software (from Netcentrics), which has helped me immensely.  Reading the book first will give a lot more clarity on the working principles, that applies to one’s time management skills in general.

Here is a brief write-up of the methodology – and the links are further down (in case you decide to pick it up).

A basic premise for David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology is to define the next action that must be taken with any item (stuff) that arrives in your inbox. The action should drive whatever you are trying to accomplish to successful completion. Once you have defined the next action, you put the item into a trusted system—a system that keeps the item off your mind and allows/prompts you to access the item when you need it. At the appropriate time, you can take action on the item and get it done.


Courtesy: David Allen: Getting Things Done

So, when an item arrives in your inbox (be it physical or electronic), you must first decide if it is actionable.

If you cannot take action, you have three choices:

  1. Delete it
  2. Incubate it, saving it to act on at someday in the future (e.g., take that landscaping class) or 
  3. File it for reference in a system where you know you can easily access it whenever it may be useful

If you can take action on the item, then

-  Are there multiple steps that must be taken to achieve a successful outcome?

  • If so, define a project—the result of several individual next actions that need to happen to achieve a successful outcome—or put the item within a current project. When you go to work on that project, break the item into individual next actions that you can take. Process them as indicated for single step items below.
  • If not, process as indicated below.

Do it, if it takes less than 2 minutes. If it takes more than 2 minutes,

Delegate it. Hand it off to someone else and Create a Waiting For task that lets you know you are waiting for someone else to accomplish the task and allows you to track progress.

Defer it

  • To a specific day and time (e.g., Friday at 1 PM).
  • To a specific day (e.g., sometime on Thursday)
  • To as soon as I can get to it—add it to your next actions so when you have available time, energy, and are in the proper place, you see it as an option of something you need to work on.

For the book – and completely worth the money!


For the Software version – the Outlook add-in here is the link-

Try the trial version… you have nothing to lose.