Help me make sense of my email!
February 8, 2012 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Email filter filter: So I get an email that requires a response. I write an email back that requires a response. I don't get a response in turn and the loop remains open, gets further down my inbox and then I forget about it, without resolving it. I'm in open loop hell!

I USE GMAIL and all its assorted companion tools.

If an email doesn't require action I label and archive it.

If I have to answer I will, then I label and archive it, in the hope of getting to inbox zero.

But - if the person has to respond to me and they don't and the topic doesn't close, how do I easily keep track of the conversation without keeping it in my mind's RAM?

At the moment I do two things that aren't working perfectly.
1. If an email takes me more than two minutes to deal with, I label it with "Follow Up" - archive and respond later when I have a block of time.
2. If I'm expecting a response from another person in an email conversation, I add it to Tasks. If I have time I put a due date in to check if they've responded or not.

Current result: my Follow Up folder is overflowing, as is my Tasks window. Part of this is because I need more blocks of time to deal with Follow Up, but also it's because if I have followed up and answered an email, the conversation is still an open loop, and I don't want it to get lost in the inbox, so it gets left labelled Follow Up.

My Tasks window is overflowing because not enough people are getting back to me by the due date, leaving me to send another follow up email, and then having to leave it in the Tasks window, because it's still not resolved. And it's crowding my actual To Do list that I also use Tasks for.

My email account is tracking multiple projects and my life admin concurrently and I'm starting to feel overwhelmed by managing all these open loops. It means I keep leaving things in my inbox so I don't "lose" them. But now I feel like I'm filing important emails in three different places and they're not resolving fast enough.

I can haz halp now? Any suggestions on how you keep track of your email trails would be so appreciated.
posted by mooza to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
2. If I'm expecting a response from another person in an email conversation, I add it to Tasks. If I have time I put a due date in to check if they've responded or not.

Why are you doing this? More specifically, are these open loops typically related to projects you are responsible for seeing through? If these stalled exchanges are initiated by someone else ("So I get an email that requires a response.") then why are you bothering to keep tabs on the situations? If the person who initiated the exchange didn't get back to me, I'd assume they didn't need anything more from me and I'd drop it.
posted by jon1270 at 5:47 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

So a cool thing Gmail did awhile back was allow you to nest labels inside labels.

So make two new labels, suggestions like:
- Follow Up
-- Waiting on Response

- Tasks
-- Reminder Email Sent

To do that, all you do is click the "Next label under" check box when you create a new label and select the already created label from the drop down box.

They'll show up under the tag option as "Follow Up/Waiting on Response" and "Tasks/Reminder Email Sent"

When you click the follow up or tasks labels, it will also show the nested ones, with their own handy visual tag for quick scanning, or you can view just items only under the nested labels.
posted by royalsong at 5:52 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: ...I think I add it to tasks because it's easy and I'm a doofus. And also fearful of adding yet another label that I'll lose track of.

Example of a stalled exchange that I still need to keep tabs on: I emailed a friend working out some finances between us where we both owed each other money. I wrote, this is what I've figured out on my end, please let me know what your figures are. Friend slacks off, not being she's a douche but because she also has a bunch of open loops. I still need to sort it out though, so I can't just drop it.
posted by mooza at 5:54 AM on February 8, 2012

Response by poster: not because she's a douche
posted by mooza at 5:58 AM on February 8, 2012

It sounds like you're not clear on whether these things that are showing up in your to-do list are actually tasks. If the task is to follow up, and you've already followed up, then you're not sure what to do so the item just sits there clogging up the works?

In your example, I would think that there IS something you can do. If your earlier email seems to have fallen through the cracks in your friend's system then you can email her again or, even better, you can call her and say, "Hey, I still haven't heard back from you about XYZ and it's just sitting here on my to-do list. Here's what I think should happen. Is it okay with you if I move ahead on that?"

Other people forget. Other people let difficult stuff and stuff they don't care about slide. It's okay to nudge them along.
posted by jon1270 at 6:07 AM on February 8, 2012

Here's what I do with my pending emails, which may or may not help in your situation:

I add the email to tasks, and I set a due date every time. Everything in my work task list has a due date. If you have time to add it to tasks, you have time to set a due date. I add a note in the tasks note field to indicate what I'm supposed to do with the email when it comes due. Then I archive the email/thread.

Then (ideally) at the end of the day to go through my inbox and task schedule/archive everything that's sitting there (and delete bacn, etc.). The inbox is only for new emails. Anything I've looked at and have decided to deal with later needs to be added to the task list and scheduled for a specific time. At this time I also reschedule anything pending in tasks that I did not get to that day, so there are not pending non-urgent tasks from last week keeping me from seeing my urgent tasks for today. Like, sometimes there's a pending email and I schedule it to review status in a week, but then that particular day turns out to be crazy busy and I don't get to it. If it's not a "hard deadline", I reassess its priority and reschedule it for the next day, or few days hence, or give it another week.

My task list is always sorted by due date.

When it comes time to check up on the status of a scheduled pending email, I do that. If the status remains pending, I leave the email in my task list but change the due date to another date further in the future.

Don't feel like a doofus for using tasks rather than labels. I like adding things to tasks because it is always visible and sorted by priority.
posted by drlith at 6:11 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Use a reminder service like

This allows you to CC/ BCC your response into the intertubes & get it boomeranged back to you after any interval you specify, to wit: [4 days] [2 weeks]
posted by woodman at 7:51 AM on February 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

posted by quiet coyote at 12:46 PM on February 8, 2012

There's a gmail addon called Boomerang that prompts you to set a reminder if you haven't gotten a reply in a certain period of time. May be helpful.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 6:24 PM on February 8, 2012

I use the priority inbox feature and star all my emails requiring further action so they appear at the top of my queue. I usually don't have more than 9 or 10 of these, however, so it never becomes a problem. I think you could also mark the email as unread.
posted by elizeh at 8:00 PM on February 8, 2012

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