GTD with Gmail Whitepaper

For everyone who asked, the whitepaper is here. Special thanks to Greg and Jonathan for looking it over for me and making suggestions. It’s still far from a perfectly complete guide to GTD with Gmail, so I guess any additions or ideas from this point can go into version 2 of the whitepaper or into the book (heh). Please distribute as you wish (just tell your friends to peep space-age wasteland). That’s all for now.

GTD with Gmail (Conclusion)

Thanks for reading! It looks like the only thing I have to answer is the resounding request to create a white paper of this feature. This I will do (it’s already a next action). Since I haven’t had time to organize that yet you’ll have to be patient with me for a few days, but I would like to acknowledge some people.

Jonathan really got me interested and dedicated to learning and implementing GTD to begin with, and initially gave me the idea to use Gmail for GTD (after having done it himself).

Much of my inspiration comes from Merlin over at 43Folders and his wiki.

Thanks to Bren over at Slacker Manager for first bringing extra attention to my feature on GTD with Gmail.

I’m going to thank Zack early for agreeing to redo the design of my site (how boring that I use the default WP theme, right?) but I’ll let you all wait to thank him until it’s actually been changed (he’s making good progress).

And of course, thanks to all of you for your comments, questions and suggestions. Look for the white paper in a few days (and the book in a few months, Seth).

GTD with Gmail (Part V)

It’s time for the practical demonstration of GTD with Gmail. If you’re just joining us, please skip down and read parts I-IV.

First, collection. Theoretically we start and end with a clean inbox. I try to never leave Gmail with anything in my inbox (that’s much easier now that I’ve implemented GTD with Gmail). So we start here:

empty inbox

My wife mentions to me that we need to remodel our second bathroom. Right now, this is an open loop. I get that simple notion into my collection inbox:

out of mind, into gmail

While I’m closing loops, I look out the window and realize that I can’t see the street for the stalk-like greenery growing in my front yard so I add another thought to my inbox. Now I’ve got two.

the inbox, with thoughts

As it turns out, “mow the lawn” happens to be an action. I open the message up, give it a context label “!Home,” star the message and then archive it. This is an independent action (the star) not belonging to a project.

process an independent action

The next item in my inbox is not an action. It looks a good bit like a project to me, so the processing stage here involves listing the actions I can think of associated with this project. I create a message for each action and here’s the result:

build the actions of a project

Now I select all of these actions, apply the Bathroom:Actions label, use the star to mark the next action in this project and then archive these actions.

organize project actions

This is the view I use most often. Generally, I’ll hit this page when I need something to do, or when I know I should be doing something. The “starred” view shows me all next actions.

review next actions

This is the project view. I’ll review these weekly at a minimum, and then of course whenever I have any sort of workflow going on a specific project. Notice that the next action has a star.

review project actions

Once a project-homed action is complete, I add the appropriate reference label to it (if necessary – sometimes I’ll add a context label, or even trash it), remove the star, add the star to the next action, and then remove the project’s action label.

completing a project action

Now that I’ve picked out my paint color, I decide it’s cool enough outside to mow the lawn. Once I get back in, I retrieve the item by going into my starred view, open the message and then remove the star.

completing an independent action

In my real inbox, I have status labels (mostly just as meta-data) and I use asterisks(*) to denote projects, but I’ve left them out in this example for simplicity. Tomorrow I’ll sum up with some answers to questions and give some acknowledgements. Thanks again for visiting.

GTD with Gmail (Part IV)

After a busy weekend I’m back for the next installment of GTD with Gmail: Review and Do. These steps should be close to self-explanatory by now, but I’ll brush through “my way” on them real quick so we can get to the step-by-step howto with screen shots (good idea, Martin). Just give me a few days after this post to get that put together (it’s going to be a busy week).

GTD is obviously less about the process and more about actually doing things. My basic review happens everytime I’m done with a task or am motivated to get something. Since all of my next actions are labeled with a star, Gmail’s “Starred” view gives me a quick glance at things to cherry pick. I swing through the list of starred next actions and pick something. My philosophy is that it’s perfectly fine to take the low hanging fruit first as long as there isn’t any pressing issue on the list. The other useful thing about using contexts is that if I’m home, I probably can’t do work actions and vice versa. Gmail allows me to search “is: starred label:!Home” which grabs my starred messages from home – a great view of things that need to be done (probably right this second, haha). I was glad to see Mike’s comment about persistent Gmail searches because it means that I don’t have to type those in every time. Major time saver.

Similarly, the ability to review my projects list quickly (remember that they’re all together because of my * prefix) and review each project for next action is available through the quick label shortcuts to the left. Like my search example above, “is:starred label:*BecomeBillionaire:Next” will bring up the next action for me becoming a billionaire because each active project has exactly one starred item in it (yes, Gmail does handle the colon in the label name – try it out).

To repeat myself, I’ve got many more onesie twosie unassociated actions associated with contexts rather than lots of projects with actions built in, so my favorite method for review-and-do is to hit the Gmail “Starred” link and start picking off actions real quick. I like to sprint over these tasks – there’s something very satisfying about clearing the star and watching the starred count decrease. Try the timer.

One small hack that I’d recommend even if you aren’t using Gmail for GTD is to stay away from frequent interruptive new email notifications. If someone emailed you, they don’t need a response right away. I have Gmail check every 60 minutes for new mail. Unless I’m checking my gmail to update the status of an item or to enter one in, I won’t get unnecessarily interrupted every 5 minutes because of some trivial request (or worse, spam). Even if you say you can ignore the notification and keep working, you’re thinking about it (don’t be anti-mind-like-water) and you’ll be very tempted to go open that email and break your concentration.

Thanks for the continued comments, links and trackbacks. I’ve learned a lot from this experience. Check back for the practical review.

GTD with Gmail (Part III)

For the second half of the processing phase of GTD with Gmail (make sure you read parts I and II first), we’ll discuss how the Gmail inbox is identical to David Allen’s vision of the GTD inbox and how processing and organization nearly become one seamless step.

“In to Empty” is the main idea (I’m trying not to make this too much of a general GTD lesson). When I leave the Gmail inbox by closing the browser or navigating away it must be empty. This works out well because each item has been labeled with the appropriate context, project, and/or status labels, trashed* or starred. Once I’ve applied these mechanics to each item, I archive it and my organization is nearly taken care of (recall the outer 8 categories of organization from David’s workflow diagram).

The only portion of organization that still remains is the “trash collection” that must occur with Gmail. Items in completed projects can be assigned a context label and that project’s labels can be removed to make navigation of active projects easier. One of Google’s strengths is searching and Gmail is no different. The reference material is usually a few keystrokes away, and if I use the specialized “context-based” label searches along with good language mechanics in my email items I can optimize these searches.

I’m going to take a break for the weekend and come back with Part IV of GTD with Gmail: Review and Do, which we’ll blast through quickly. After these short theory based articles I’m going to put the whole thing into practice with some real examples in a how-to article. I appreciate all of the comments, tracebacks and linking. Traffic to this site has increased by an order of magnitude in the past few days and the more brains that get wrapped around processes, the more good ideas come about. Be sure to read the comments as well. I’m certainly not the first person to do this and there are lots of excellent variations on ideas. Have a great weekend.

*We haven’t really talked much about trash but it doesn’t make sense to trash anything that isn’t absolute garbage. If the information may be useful sometime in the future, keep it. With Gmail old items won’t get in the way like they can in paper-based systems and can always be found with a simple keyword search. Embrace the power that google is giving us (for free, in fact).

GTD with Gmail (Part II)

Part II of this feature details the first half of processing items in GTD with Gmail. If you haven’t read how the collection process works, skip down to yesterday’s post – it is crucial.

Once emails (things) have been collected in my Gmail inbox they are processed. Gmail’s labels and stars are the keys to my implementation.

I have a label for the statuses of ‘Deferred’, ‘WaitingOn’ and ‘Someday,’ two labels for each open project (Next and Reference) and a label for each context. Statuses have no label prefix, contexts have the bang (!) prefix so they show up first in the list of labels, and projects have an asterisk (*) prefix to distinguish from the statuses. I use projects less frequently than traditional GTD implementations because many Projects can be managed quite effectively with the thread capability of Gmail without having to assign a label (using only contexts).

I use the stars to denote the Next action. Since many of my projects wind up with just a context associated with them, the title essentially becomes the “project folder name” and each action associated with the project is a different email in the thread. A star can be associated with any email in the thread and lets me know what the next action is.

Today’s GTD with Gmail advantage is this: I use the same Gmail account for all of my email, so all email coming in follows the same standard GTD process. No open loops: How happy it makes me. Tomorrow, we’ll finish the processing phase and talk about some new tricks.

GTD with Gmail (Part I)

I’ve previously mentioned that I use Gmail to manage GTD. I thought it would be appropriate to explain my implementation for others to utilize, comment on and improve upon the process. David Allen’s famous first step is collection. He tells us to use as many inboxes as we need, but as few as we can get away with. I use two: my Hipster PDA and my Gmail inbox. The Hipster is for collection when electronic means aren’t feasible, i.e., away from the computer or when a collection-necessary idea presents itself while I’m too busy to open my email. At collection-time each Hipster index card is converted into an email. Otherwise, the thought goes straight into an email to ‘Me’ for processing as soon as possible. Important Note: ‘Me’ is the contact that points directly to my Gmail account. If you use forwarding addresses to your Gmail, sending yourself an email using the fowarding address will only place the email in ‘Sent’ which is a pain for processing. My point in this first step is identical to David Allen’s: clear your mind of anything that needs your attention and put it somewhere you trust. Tomorrow: processing from Gmail’s inbox.

Rally Troops for Your Cause

Wow it’s a beautiful day in the CMA today. I should take as many non-smoker-smoke-breaks as possible. But before I walk out for some fresh air, I’ve got a thought for us all.

We (presumably you’re included in this lot since you’re reading my blog) do a lot to make our living environment conducive to productivity, the hacks that we use to survive, and doing what makes us happy. One of our biggest obstacles to success in this caption has to be allowing exceptions for people who are ‘uninitiated’ or just ignorant to what we’re trying to accomplish. If your colleagues, family, and friends aren’t embracing your vision for a blissful and productive lifestyle it isn’t because they want to see you fail. You just haven’t properly evangelized.

I’m quite keen on the red-yellow-green desk notification system to let people know when you’re really too busy for a non-critical interruption, only busy enough to handle semi-important inquiries, or ready for anything. As cool as this system can be – it isn’t going to work if I’m the only person in the office that understands what I’m trying to accomplish. Start small, and find a like-minded colleague to start a collaborative effort to become more productive. You already know who can most appreciate this scheme at work. When people see a small bit of cooperation that works, they’ll want to take part.

If you’re trying to make third-party information requests and action items link into your GTD implementation more smoothly, suggest to a colleague that they hand you an index card, or send you an email with a formatted subject to ease into your email-based GTD (we all should have promises, requests, and information in writing anyway). It’s not like you’re asking them to go find you a closer parking space.

These methodologies we practice aren’t witchcraft – we’ve gotten this far because the ideas are excellent, and if other people are educated on them, they’ll embrace them. Let people know that it’s not a selfish request. You’d like for them to increase their ability to succeed as well and by helping your cause, they’re increasing their own productivity.

Go take a walk, and think about how you can create a productivity network (and of course share your ideas – we’ll all be part of the same productivity network).

Make Days Off Grand

Disclaimer: (I often like to start with disclaimers because this medium lends itself to easy misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Here, emotion and spirit are not easily conveyed.) The following does not mean to complain about yesterday, the day before, or any other day in history. I simply mean to reflect and look forward to opportunities that may be eventually come again.

It is my belief that the socially accepted pattern of 5 days of work and 2 days of ‘weekend’ bears down on humans more than we’re meant to withstand. Many of us, too tired to complete household chores after work, end up turning weekends into work days just to attempt to catch up with the rest of our lives (it’ll never happen at this rate).

Yesterday was a company holiday. Alas! A perfect way to round out Easter weekend and recover from the last eleven or so weeks (since the last vacation day). An opportune time to catch up on the things that have been piling up since the Big Move. Not my best idea. I really needed a Sabbatical. The (obvious) goal of GTD is to actually do stuff, but at the core of human mental and physical health is the fact that we really need to take a break from time to time.

Ideas for making this happen:

  • Every ten weeks or so, take a day off from everything. Schedule this in a clever way. It could even be a weekend day. Make sure the affected people know and are willing to help you make the day work out (by leaving you alone).
  • On these days (5 a year certainly doesn’t sound like an awful lot but it will serve you well if done effectively) don’t glance at your lists, email, calendars, and only answer the phone if it isn’t going to make work or seem like you’re working. Friendly, pleasant conversations only.
  • Make sure you hit the ground running afterwards. This mini-retreat should refresh and invigorate you to be insanely productive for at least the next week and should keep you going without dread and heartache until the next one.

If you’re anything like me, you could use one of these days immediately. Id est, go flip through your calendar and find the day now. It could be your next company holiday, your birthday, or this coming saturday. Remember the rules and stick to them. It’ll be grand.