We’re continuing a theme of the “tools I use” and how they make a difference. Today, we’re talking about how to conquer email dribble with a good notetaking system.

Information used to come to us in the form of a handbook printed annually. It was our A-Z resource. Everything was in one place. Everything was organized. When you had a question, there was one place to go.

Now, information dribbles in. As little changes are made, they come to us in emails. Sometimes, it’s new information. Sometimes it’s a reminder of old information that you may already have stored somewhere.

The information is no longer in one place. Or maybe it can be…but only if you are the one that organizes it that way.

This thought recently came to mind when I received an email regarding the upcoming Music Performance Assessment for school bands. Even though I am not a band director, I am still involved in that arena and receive regular communication.

The email spoke of two websites to use when preparing for the sightreading portion of the Music Performance Assessment:

If I was a band director today, how would I handle that email? The answer will give you insight into how I approach the day with total control and peace of mind.

Treat it first as an action item

First, I am going to treat that email as an action item. I would quickly click on each of the two links to get an idea of what I was seeing. I may realize it’s information I want to read in more detail. If so, it needs to go on my to-do list. I hit forward, change the subject to say, “Read this sightreading information,” and send the email to my Remember The Milk email address. It’s now on my list and there’s no way I can forget about reading the information.

Does that action repeat?

I can tell you just from looking at the results of those web pages that it contains information I would want to review about this time every year. So, I am going to again forward this information to Remember The Milk, but before sending, I am going to edit the message to get rid of all of the extraneous text including the signature line. I would leave only those two links.

Next, I edit the subject line so the task is clear, such as “Review these sightreading requirements for MPA.” I add to the subject line the Remember The Milk shorthand for the due date. I am going to think right now when I want to see this information again and put that as part of the task line. Since I want it to repeat, I will use the Remember The Milk shorthand of putting an asterisk and the words “every year.” On Remember The Milk, I now have a task that is going to repeat every year just at the time I want to be reviewing sightreading requirements.

Next, treat it as a reference item

I have handled the action involved in that email. I now look at it as potential reference information.

Do I want to save it in my own handbook, the handbook for my whole life? It could be Evernote, OneNote, Notion, Google Drive, OneDrive, or whatever place you keep reference information organized by subject.

If I want to put my hands on information about sightreading, I have a place to retrieve it. But here’s an important question to ask: Will that sightreading information change from year to year?

If the answer is “no,” that the information is in its final form, I want to clip the information from those two web pages. It now becomes mine forever.

If the answer is “yes,” then perhaps all I want to save in my reference system are the two links. That way, as those web pages change, the links will take me to the latest information. Of course, there’s nothing to say I can’t both clip the pages and the URL. Some software will allow you to clip web information and automatically save the source URL.

Archive or delete?

Now that I have handled this email as an action item and then as a reference item, I make the final decision: Do I want to archive this email just in case I ever need it again or do I want to delete it?

I lean towards archiving just in case there’s a question about what was included in the email or when it was sent.

This is the kind of thinking that allows me to trust that my task list will keep me focused on what I need to be doing. This gives you the peace of mind that nothing is falling through the cracks.

As you work through your own email, look for what’s action and put it on your task list (and mark it as repeating if needed) and what needs to go in your reference system.


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