|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.
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.