Playing nice with email
Anyone who works with clients or full-time employers, will sooner or later, find themselves faced with the supposed convenience of using web-based Exchange email. Almost without exception, you will be provided with a login to an Outlook WebAccess account where you can, allegedly, get the full functionality of the desktop version.
Quite enough vitriol and bile can be found online, concerning the value and quality of Microsoft tools. Microsoft try to do quite a lot, and some of it they do very well (Excel) and quite naturally there are places where they fail. But, in the case of Outlook WebAccess, the product is truly painful to use.
Anyone following the GTD method (David Allen’s Getting Things Done), will be a big fan of the Inbox Zero approach, where you keep your email inbox clear by processing, filing or deleting incoming messages with relentless kung-fu precision. GTD intends for us to “Do, Delegate, or Defer” everything using the appropriate system. Whether a GTD fanatic or not, any knowledge worker will tell you that a full email inbox is only appropriate for generating stress.
Frustration runs highest in people who like, and have become used to, Gmail. It basically comes down to the ability to search, quickly and effectively. Outlook WebAccess, despite its calendaring and groupware integration, has dreadful search capabilities. Since we all receive such high volumes of email and constantly need to recall information, search is no longer a nice to have.
Outlook and GTD in harmony
An enlightened colleague (@LordCope) recently shared with me, his three step plan to email nirvana. Like me, he hates email and feels an Inbox Zero, is the only liberation. Here’s how his Outlook WebAccess workflow runs:
- Starting from the top, open your first message.
- If the message needs a reply, do so immediately and then delete the message.
- If the message needs action from you, record this in another system like Things, Tracks, or a HipsterPDA
- If the message is a reference document you might need later, forward it to your search enabled webmail account of choice, and immediately delete the email.
With this method you get all the information pack-rattery that you could want, while maintaining the inner-calm and serenity of an empty inbox. Get forwarding!!!