Dealing with messages in our e-mail inbox is a real challenge. It´s a topic we have touched on many times in this column, and it´s a topic we are going to revisit again in a series of upcoming articles (that, my friends, is called foreshadowing). In the meantime, I thought I would point you towards two different e-mail handling systems that are by stars in the online productivity game. Both are very much based on Getting Things Done by David Allen, but both take their own distinctive approach to solving the problems of dealing with messages that have the ability to take over our lives.
The first system is by Gina Trapani, the editor of the excellent site Lifehacker. Her approach is called the Trusted Trio. It is based on the use of three different folders to keep files in line — Action, Archive and Hold. By sorting the messages into those folders you have made a decision on how to deal with them, and you have the psychological advantage of an empty mailbox.
The second system, by Merlin Mann, the host of 43 Folders, is actually the source that Trapani drew her idea from, though she simplified her approach. Mann´s approach, which he calls The Inbox Makeover, was published in Macworld way back in April of last year. That´s an eternity in computer time, but his advice is as fresh and relevant as ever. He uses seven different folders, allowing for more specificity than Trapani, but making it a bit more complicated. His folders are Inbox (for unprocessed messages), Respond (for messages needing short responses), Action (for messages that need a bit more work), Hold (for items that you want to have on hand, like passwords), Waiting (for messages that might need response after someone responds to you), Archive (for long term future reference) and Trash (obvious).
Check out both systems. One may work in it´s entirety for you, or you might pick up an idea or two that works for you. There are things I don’t love about both approaches, but overall they are very good, and they are certainly better than doing nothing.