A few people recently have inquired about how I manage my time and process lists of items that need some action. I have a simple yet elegant solution after trying project management systems, to-do lists, texting to-do lists, GTD methodology, and various other notes and features of bloated office and web based solutions.
I manage everything via Email.
Yeah, very anticlimactic I know. I use two primary email inbox’s; Gmail and Outlook. Gmail gets about 5 accounts worth of mail and Outlook gets two accounts and is primarily for work. Gmail gets some work related emails that I manage various accounts for various reasons through gmail.com address or other emails.
The way I handle and process items that need processing is to simply tag anything that needs a follow up, action taken, response written, report pulled, or anything else is to simply tag it “to-answer”. In outlook it gets a flag (default is red).
I have made folders, different tags, used colors – nothing works but a simple system that I can sort through at any time. This way, when an item comes in and needs “processing” I can know if it get get done now, or it will be left in the “queue” for later.
Trust me when I say I have used every project management system out there. Its a big part of what I do to checkout the latest email inbox solutions, sorting magic, priority management, and analytics systems and nothing has come close to the efficiency of tagging things for follow up. I hope to try a better solution one day – but so far I have not found one.
The magic comes in the fact that I label and use descriptive keywords in emails I send and rely heavily on great search. Gmail solves this by living in the cloud. Outlook 2007 has a less cripled search than 2003, which has worked to date. I keep all my email so I have a trail of everything, and lose less items with it all living in one inbox “stream” vs. scattered around folders.
Action items can be scanned and some sit for a week or so before they get handled. Others are in place to make sure I do not drop the ball on something and others do not either. They are visual reminders that someone else has the ball, and should follow up soon – something I can ping them on if an action item stays in the “to-answer” pile too long.
So that is my system. Its powerful search + simple tagging.
I would love to know what you use as I know there is always room for improvement.