Best way to manage huge amounts of data I get via email?
October 27, 2012 8:45 AM Subscribe
Please help me find an effective workflow to manage the metric ton of digital work-related information I get via email every day. I wish the solution was as simple as Evernote but, of course, it's not.
I'm a freelancer and work from home. One of my biggest client assignments involves working with a distributed team of about 10 other contractors on ongoing projects. Communication occurs almost exclusively over email (don't get me started on how inefficient this is) and thrice-weekly conference calls. I have repeatedly suggested that we use Campfire or some other sort of online option to track discussions, task lists, etc but the group is completely resistant to change, so at this point I have to figure out a way to work within this highly inefficient system.
I receive important information from 2-6 people every time I take on a new task. Sometimes it's the same feedback from multiple people who have no idea others are saying the same thing because, email! Pre-sorting email according to task is virtually impossible because subject lines generally don't reflect which task or sub-task is being referred to. To make matters worse, some emails refer to two or three tasks and subtasks on different projects.
Add to this, the feedback and new tasks that come up during conference calls or the occasional Skype sidebar, and I'm swimming in bits and pieces of data with no effective way to track it all. Add to that, sometimes I can't actually act on a task until someone else gets back to me with their work -- i.e., I can't simply open an email, take action, send a response, and move on.
I've tried opening a threaded conversation on my screen and referring to it as I create my new widget but the signal-to-noise ratio is ridiculous. Besides sifting through the content of each email to find what's relevant to the specific task I'm working on, there's also the hassle of working my way down a thread only to find that an action I took ten minutes earlier was decided against in subsequent emails between team members.
I'm on a Mac. I currently use Gmail and its labeling features, and own what seems like 400 OS X-based task managers but to-do lists aren't what I need. I know what I need to do, I just need access to all this random info so I can do it.
I have Evernote Premium but the biggest problems with stuffing everything into it are:
1. I can't forward emails to a single notebook because they often have details I need to remember for many different tasks.
2. I have to eventually respond to each of these action items via email (which generates more email!). Leaving Evernote and heading to Gmail to track down relevant emails and provide a response is maddening.
Gmail Tasks has proven to be completely ineffective because, although it easy to jump to the email I need to answer when I've completed a task (or need more info to complete a task), there's really no good way to sort and organize the data contained within the email to which I must constantly refer.
tl;dr: I receive hundreds of tidbits of information each week via email and phone that I must track and act upon. How can I sort and organize it all, when almost everything comes to me via random and sometimes redundant email which often covers multiple subjects and therefore can't really be stuck into one label for reference?