How I Tweaked GTDinbox to Suit My Style

I absolutely adore this productivity tool. My stress level is way down, and I’m getting more done.

Now that I’ve been using it for a few months, I have to say that GTDinbox (a Firefox plugin that adds functionality for David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system to Gmail) has totally rocked my world. It’s definitely improved my productivity and reduced my stress level.

Admittedly, GTD has become a bit of a cult. It’s a benign cult, but some practitioners are absolutely rabid about it, or purists. That’s not me.

Right now, organizing my life and work via e-mail (actually Gmail) is a big enough step forward for me. I’m learning how to use this powerful tool well first before moving on to other aspects of the system.

Consequently, I’ve started tweaking GTDinbox so that it works with the way I think and the way my life goes. As I discovered at two tools-related workshops I gave in DC last weekend, a lot of people are interested in this particular tool.

Here’s a little video of how I use GTDinbox.

And here are the tweaks I’ve made that are helpful for me, and why I did them. They might not be right for all GTDinbox users, but consider them food for thought…

1. I deleted “in:inbox” from all my GTD saved searches. I’m thinking this might be a bug in GTDinbox, but it was easy enough to fix on my own. The point (well, one big point, anyway) of GTD is to get your inbox to zero. However, the preconfigured search for an important status label like “Next Action” looks like this:

(label:S:Action OR (subject:”S:Action” to:(amygahran gmail.com) from:(amygahran gmail.com))) -label:S:Finished before:2007/10/10 -in:spam in:inbox

The thing is, if I’m doing a good job of keeping my inbox empty (which I’ve been successful at, so far, yay!) that “in:inbox” will cause my saved search to get no results because there’s NOTHING IN MY INBOX!

So I just deleted “in:inbox” from all those search strings and re-saved them. Now they work just fine.

2. I ditched contexts. Actually, I just heard about this trick this morning on a Lifehack podcast interview with Dustin Wax. I just don’t use contexts, so it’s useless metadata to me that was consistently consuming space at the top of every e-mail message I’d view. So I just deleted all those “C:” labels, and I don’t think I’ll miss them.

3. I created a “Top Priority” status label. This may be unique to my psychology and processes, but it helps for me to have three categories of “to-do” action items (top priority, next action, and action).

For me, “top priority” signifies important stuff for important projects that I absolutely must get done soon, usually with a deadline associated. “Next action” for me means whatever steps come next after the top priority. And “Action” is lower-priority stuff that I need to do, but not in any particular order or time frame.

Typically, when I mark a “top priority” task as finished, I look up my next actions for that project and designate one of them as top priority as warranted.

4. Added more status labels. I’ve personally found it useful to replace some GTD contexts with action-focused status labels. I’ve added these “S:” labels:

  • Buy this
  • Calendar it
  • Cell number (phone numbers I need to program into my cell phone)
  • Check this out (links to articles, videos, tools, etc. people send me)
  • Pay this
  • Print this
  • Respond to this (for e-mails and also phone messages that come to me by e-mail via GotVoice)

GTDinbox only allows you to assign one status label per message, but that works for me in this system. Basically, I consider all my task-oriented status labels (like “print this”) to be “whenever” kind of tasks — except for “pay this,” which I always consider a top priority. If, say, printing something becomes a higher priority (like printing my flight itinerary and hotel reservation before leaving on a trip), I change the status to “top priority” or “next action” as warranted during my review process.

…Incidentally, I also ditched the “S:Project home” default GTDinbox status label. I just didn’t use it.

5. I created a “done projects” label. Some of my projects (like E-Media Tidbits and Contentious) are ongoing, but others end at a certain point. For instance, earlier this year I created an unofficial conference blog for the 2007 Society of Environmental Journalists conference. I’m done working on that blog now. Similarly, earlier this year I needed to get new eyeglasses, so I had a project label “P:Glasses” for awhile. I’ve got my new glasses, I don’t need that project label anymore.

GTDinbox lists all your project labels as green links at the top of each open e-mail message. If you keep adding projects (as I do over time), that list deteriorates into clutter. So I created “P:Done projects” to manage this.

When I’ve decided a project is finally done, I find all the messages with that project’s tag (such as “P:Glasses”). I select all those messages and add the label “P:done projects” to them. Then I remove the original project label from all those messages. Then I go into my labels list and delete that project label.

This isn’t a perfect solution. What if, some day, I want to find everything related to a completed project? The original project label no longer exists. It’s a risk, but I’m hoping Gmail’s excellent search capabilities will compensate for that reasonably well in most cases.

I’d love it if GTDinbox would offer a default “P:Done projects” (or maybe “P:Archived projects”) label with associated logic so that if you select all messages under a project and then add that label, the done project’s label will disappear from your list of active projects that you see when you open any e-mail message. Just a thought.

OTHER GTDINBOX-RELATED STUFF

It seems like Google is gradually getting more generous with Gmail storage space. In the last few days my % used had dropped from 59% to 54%, and Gmail now is offering me 3229 MB of storage. So in the long run, I’m not worried about this system becoming unusable from running out of Gmail space.

That said, I tend not to waste Gmail space by subscribing to lots of e-mail lists, getting lots of e-mail alerts, or sending lots of files by e-mail. I tend to use free file-transfer services like YouSendIt to send large files to individuals (e-mail often chokes on that stuff anyway), or I use document-sharing services like Google Docs or Zoho. I also use Freshbooks for billing clients.

I also use Jott for sending myself quick notes to my e-mail from my cell phone. I use this a lot if I’m out running errands or on the road and I think of something I want to make a to-do item — like “Send Cathy a link to that Future Tense podcast on Information Therapy.” When I get back to my computer, it’ll be in my Gmail, ready for me to process. No scribbling notes on pieces of paper or trying to keep it in my head!

The main point I hope you take away from this is that if you use GTDinbox, or any other GTD tool for e-mail management (like this MS Outlook add-in) or ANY productivity system and tool, remember: The tool or system should fit you. You shouldn’t have to work too hard to conform to it. (A little compromise or experimentation with the recommended or preconfigured settings is useful, because anything new feels weird at first, but after a tryout period you’ll know whether certain featrues are working for you or not.) So don’t be afraid to customize.

Just keep aware of whether the tool or system is ultimately making things easier for you. Stay tuned in to your stress level; that’s generally the best indicator.

How are you using GTDinbox? What do you think of these tips? Please comment below.

14 thoughts on How I Tweaked GTDinbox to Suit My Style

  1. Amy, we’re going to have to try out GTDinbox and will be particularly interested to see if it works with Google Apps for Your Domain. Also–and I have to confess some self-interest here–I’d love to have you check out AcuInvoice, an invoicing service we released on October 7th. We believe that AcuInvoice will quickly become a competitor with FreshBooks, Blinksale, and others invoicing applications. We’re currently offering a very robust (and entirely free) plan for early adopters and are in the midst of an extensive feature roll out that will position AcuInvoice favorably to the competition. Last week we released a domain mapping feature (enabling subscribers to point yourdomain.com or subdomain.yourdomain.com to an AcuInvoice installation) and this week we will be releasing an API and PHP client library. The application has several other features (confirmation of invoice receipt, support for custom CSS, multiple payment processors, multi-language support, etc.) and we’d encourage readers to keep track of our development plans and feature roll out via the AcuInvoice blog. Additionally, we have recently brought Ben Gray on board as a designer. Ben is the designer of the überpopular WordPress theme “Unsleepable“and will be outfitting AcuInvoice with a more elegant look in the coming weeks. We would love to have you take a look at our application and provide some feedback as to how it can be strengthened.

    Regards,
    Sidney VanNess, Ph.D.

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  3. Amy-
    This is Brad from ShareNow. Just wanted to let you know that there’s another way to send large files and documents and all that stuff. Instead of uploading the file (like you said email tends to reject large file transfers anyway) like you would on YouSendIt you can instantly make your files available with ShareNow!

    Check it out!


    Brad
    brad.sharenow.com
    brad@sharenow.com

  4. Pingback: Productive Firefox - Firefox Productivity Tools » Blog Archive » A Thank You (and another GTDInbox tip)

  5. Funny, I also deleted Contexts. But I like your idea of adding Statuses like “Buy This” so I’m going to try that. Some suggestions though:

    I’d love it if GTDinbox would offer a default “P:Done projects” (or maybe “P:Archived projects”) label with associated logic so that if you select all messages under a project and then add that label, the done project’s label will disappear from your list of active projects that you see when you open any e-mail message.

    GTDInbox has the Old: label. So every time I’m done with a project, I rename it from P:Glasses to Old:Glasses. Actually I’ve configured it to be Z: instead of Old: but the point is that it keeps your projects intact but puts it out of your way.

  6. Gil, thanks for that tip. I didn’t realize GTDinbox offered the “Old” label prefix — but I agree, for usablility “Z” makes more sense, you want done projects at the end of the list.

    I’ve just renamed my P:Done projects to Z:Done projects, and will follow your advice as other projects become history. Thanks A bunch!

    This is something I really love about blogging my learning curve: Getting good advice!

    – Amy

  7. Amy,
    Since you’re into new ways of communicating, here’s another one. People can leave you (public or private) voice comments on your blog and you can listen to them online or on your cell phone. It might be fun to literally hear from some people, no? You can also post comments to your page from your cell phone. You can get a free voice comments player at getabuz.com if you’re interested.

  8. Interesting how many commercials this post has attracted. Shows how there’s a fine line between strategic commenting and spamming. I’ll have to blog about that later….

    – Amy Gahran

  9. Great video, thanks for sharing! I guess you got a lot of “buy this” comments because you wrote a “buy this” post! 🙂

    I loved the idea of removing contexts. I just went through my list of contexts, and they are actually projects in disguise.

    One quick question: don’t you get overwhelmed by the amount of choices for statuses you have? It’s a huge list! 🙂

  10. After reading this article,this is the first thing I thought of when she talked about putting all the project messages in “done projects” folder. I like putting them all together for easy access, but it is also easy to archive offline (I use Thunderbird for accessing offline stuff).

    I’m a newbie to GTD inbox, but I’m liking it so far.

  11. One question, when you created the “Top priority” status, is that showing up in connection with your “next, action, etc” buttons?

    I think I’m using a newer version, and if I create a new status, it is just a folder, where it would be nice to click and move on.

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