I've fallen off the GTD habits over the past couple of months. That is, in a more serious way than usual, and it's going to take a bit of an effort to get back up to speed. To help me do that, I'm going to document my personal implementation of GTD in a series of short blog entries, in the hope that writing about it will force me to clarify things to myself, as well as the reader.
I've just started the first work day after a two week vacation, and I have a few hundred e-mails to process. I had started going that, when a co-worker asked what the best way to deal with that is. My answer: the same way as usual.
I treat my e-mail as an "inbox" in GTD terminology. Because of that, the goal is to empty the e-mail inbox when I am processing e-mail. David Allen says to process inboxes in order, one item at a time, but I find that doesn't work very well for me for large batches of e-mail.
Right now, there's enough e-mail that it might take me a day or two to go through it all. Therefore, I first skim the subjects to spot anything urgent, and deal with those first.
After that I read through all the remaining mails, and delete anything that doesn't require further thought or action. Since the bulk of my e-mail comes from mailing lists, most things I just need to read, and often it's enough to merely skim to see that the topic is unimportant to me and then I can delete that mail, and sometimes the entire thread.
After this, I'm left with a handful of mails that require more attention. These mails I process in FIFO order, using the GTD approach: some stuff can be replied to immediately, most stuff ends up in my "next actions list", or the project list. The goal is not to react to every e-mail immediately, but to make sure I write down a next action for anything I can't do immediately.
Mails that require further action I move to a "pending and support" folder, where I can easily find it when I do the action. When I'm done, I delete the e-mail (either from the inbox or the p&s folder).
I'm happy to delete e-mails, since I have an automated archiving system set up: I don't need to archive anything manually, and I can find any mail I've received in the automated archive later.
The automated archive is perhaps the single most liberating thing I've ever done to my e-mail processing.