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.
Keep looking for the whitepaper, draft one is complete and has been sent off for professional editing.
Tonight I’m going to a wedding reception for a gal that used to work with my wife. Cindy would probably have a fit if I walked around the party with my hipster sticking out of my shirt pocket like normal, so I’m going to take two index cards, folded in half and held together by my Fisher Bullet. One card is a blank index card and the other is one of my personalized calling (index) cards (you never know who you’ll meet wandering around a wedding reception).
Just a quick weekend hack.
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).
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).
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Even if infrequently, the occasion arises where technology has actually caused quality in a particular facet of life to deteriorate. This is indeed the case with shaving. After enduring years of irritation, razor bumps, burning skin and dryness, not to mention the inability to shave daily as a result of these problems, I researched and have found a solution: shave like my great grandfather did. I did some reading, some research, and headed to classicshaving.com for some supplies. I purchased a Merkur Futur razor, a Vulfix super-badger Brush and some Proraso Italian shaving soap then waited for it to come (please exhibit some pride towards me for being patient).
Yesterday was reward day. My parcel came (simple joy arrives in small packages for me), I set up the new environment and I gave it a shot. Absolutely incredible. Besides being a much better shave for my face, it’s a wonderfully relaxing experience – almost spa-like. I definitely recommend the “bargain” Proraso shaving soap (it came highly recommended to me, and I can see why – the Eucalyptus oil and Menthol provide awesome tactile and aromatic sensations). The act of shaving is, in fact, completely different with a safety razor because rather than jamming a cartridge razor (I’m a Mach 3 convert) against my face and dragging, the razor is weighted and meant to glide (much on its own) over the skin, taking your beard with it. I had no irritation, bumps, burning, or dryness and much fewer nicks than even I had imagined.
Give it a try if you haven’t already.
Travel Belt: Trent is the closest thing to a brother I’ve ever had. Over the weekend he married Jamie and, as far as I’m concerned, she’s now a part of my family too. They were married in a small town about 2 hours from here that is quite a ways off of the beaten path, and it gave my small but growing family a chance to do some light travelling. It was good practice eo cum liber as well. With the veritable supply train of baby goods that had to be loaded into the Accord, it was easy to overlook one small thing: a belt. Since I left in my travel clothes, I was casual enough not to need one on departure and when dressing for rehearsal I realized I didn’t have one.
Now, I have a hack. My wife ended up buying a reversible belt. Yes, not the ultimate in fashion but when you’re in a bind, it’s a great thing to have. I definitely won’t wear it on a normal day, but it’s going in my computer bag – something I’m likely to have with me while travelling. Then, if I happen to forget my good belts, I can avoid looking sloppy because I have a black and a brown belt on standby.
Sleep habits? I’m struggling a bit lately with sleep efficiency. If anyone has any hacks or tips on getting the most out of sleep, then I’d love to hear them. Thanks!