Email overload is a real problem for many “knowledge workers” – myself included. Over the years, I have used various methods to attempt to rationalize my email overload, but, eventually, my inbox would grow to hundreds of emails just sitting, waiting, taunting me…
My initial email breakthrough came from Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero talks. If you are unfamiliar with the Inbox Zero philosophy, the general idea is to act on emails when you are doing email in order to relieve the mental stress caused by the overload. So, in an ideal world, every email could be deleted, delegated, respond to in less than two minutes, or filed away/archived for later review. As Merlin points out, you have to come to grips with the idea that just because you received an email, that does not mean you have to respond or actually “do” anything.
Even with this philosophy for handling emails in place, I was struggling with the emails that required more than just a snap judgment as there are simply too many emails that require thought and multiple steps before responding
So, what can you do with those emails that require more thought?
OmniFocus + Email
Again, I had a breakthrough when I realized these thought intensive emails are nothing more than projects themselves. And, like nearly every other project in my life, these email projects needed to be captured in OmniFocus.
I use Postbox for email, and with the OmniFocus integration, sending an email to OmniFocus is as easy as highlighting the key text and control clicking to reveal the “OmniFocus: Send to Inbox” option.
After clicking on the Send to Inbox link, an OmniFocus quick entry box is opened with the email subject list as the note name. If you want to include some specific text from the email, simply highlight the text in the email prior to control clicking.
Once the email is entered into OmniFocus with an appropriate context and project, I archive the original email and move on to the next item in my email inbox.
Complex Emails as Projects
The reason adding complex emails to OmniFocus is so effective is that these mini-projects can additionally be broken down into their corresponding next actions. With the original email entered into OmniFocus, you can add sub-tasks that will help you finalize your response.
As an example, say you get an email asking for your input on the finalized quarterly numbers and how you should respond to a client on the numbers. That email would be sent to OmniFocus, sub-tasks might include reviewing the quarterly numbers, speaking with your co-worker about the number, etc. Working through these next steps will give you the information you need to craft a proper response with the added benefit of breaking down a large and complex project into manageable next steps.
A quick reminder though: collecting is not the same as doing. The process of adding emails to OmniFocus is nothing more than the “Collection” phase. Reviewing and actually “doing” is still the key. That being said, breaking out these more complex emails into projects can most definitely help you “do”.
Understanding that emails need to be dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly is critical for maintaining a sane inbox. Concurrent with that, understanding that emails requiring complex steps or thought to respond are truly projects that need to be handled as such. I have found treating these more complex emails as projects and handling them in OmniFocus has helped me tremendously. Give it a shot if you are struggling with your inbox!