Getting Things Done with GMail 1) Why use a system? Our brain has its own way of remembering and prioritizing data It's easier to configure our work and data flow to match how our brain works, rather than expect our brain to adjust to an arbitrary structure. We can reorganize our flow of info, and bring our responsibilities and goals into tighter focus while better integrating perspectives and awareness of goals into daily actions. Our stress will plummet and our productivity will skyrocket
2) Organizing the Info Create an Inbox Many things require our action and/or attention, and they come to us via multiple sources on a daily basis: News Email Bills, mail etc. Feedback in relationships Colleague and client feedback Inspiration Reading Loose papers and notes Phone and voicemail Create a master Inbox where EVERYTHING is consolidated Everything can then be culled and transferred into the Inbox at least once weekly Gmail is great to use as your Inbox It already groups messages by thread and has an incredibly robust search capability Allows quick and easy creation of labels Lots of storage so we can archive everything - no need to throw anything away, at the same time no need for clutter You can easily email yourself everything; tasks, messages etc. You can also import and consolidate your other email accounts into Gmail Personal domain, MSN, Yahoo! and other accounts can be added to Gmail in Settings, allowing you to send from those accounts and receive email from them all in one spot:
From there we can group items, prioritize and get them on the calendar as scheduled events to be completed during the coming week and beyond Organizing by Workflow Most people already organize by workflow, e.g. "Need to go to the store, come home, put the chicken in the oven" etc. Pure workflow/project planning typically fails since life will constantly disrupt our workflows and projects. A good system will both keep us aware of specific workflows, yet also allow us to be flexible enough to capitalize on opportunities as they come along. Organizing by Context Switching gears is when most people lose a lot of time. Organizing things by context means if you're on the phone, get all your phone things done; If you're away from a computer, your offline things get done, etc. We want to be able to quickly retrieve tasks based on their context within a project, as well as whatever context we find ourselves in. Example: "I am on the phone with Joe, so I am prepared to talk to Joe about anything that relates to him, not just the one thing I initially called him for."
3) Processing information in your Inbox I process all information in Gmail using their label system. Go to "Labs" in settings (the little green beaker)
There are a couple of label features that are very useful: Custom Label Colors:
"Go To Label" Search:
"Go To Label" Search:
Remember: "Smart People Can't Resist Order", which represents "Status", "Projects", "Contexts", "Reference" and "Old" When creating labels, use the prefixes S/, P/, C/, R/ and O/ respectively Example: The next action for a real estate acquisition might look like this in Gmail:
Notice that the message is tagged with the Status, the Project, the Context, and the Reference, or person involved. There's more on this ahead.
4) Using Status Labels (S/ prefix): NEXT (labeled "S/NEXT") - For the most urgent task in a given project or a standalone task in your inbox that needs to be completed. Typically short, a couple minutes in length. Just knock these down at every opportunity. Action (labeled "S/Action") - You know it needs to be done but either there are tasks in front of it, or you haven't found the time on the calendar for it. NOTE: You should have virtually none of these, since "To Do's" just tend not to happen. At a minimum of once a week, all "S/Action" items should be scheduled in your calendar for follow-up/completion. Research (labeled "S/Research") - Articles, items etc. that require further investigation or follow-up. NOTE: As with "S/Action" items I would advise scheduling the necessary time to investigate them, advance them to their next phase or resolve them ASAP. Delegated (labeled "S/Delegated") - Items assigned to other people. NOTE: This category is used as a temporary incubator for items you're waiting on from other parties. I also use the calendar to schedule follow-up dates. Scheduled (labeled "S/Scheduled") - Items already in the calendar but that you wish to keep in easy reach. Completed (labeled "S/Completed") - Items that have been completed but are part of a current or ongoing workflow or project. Once the associated tasks are done I would change this to "Old" or just archive it. Teshuva (labeled "S/Teshuva") - This is more of a personal thing; Teshuva is a Kabbalistic meditation that is performed at day's end. The practitioner goes through a process, emphasizing reflection on events of the day they feel they should have handled differently. I personally like to just make note of these things as I go, right when I notice them, instead of having to think back and recollect them later. At day's end I have a nice, clean list ready for me to review.
5) Using Project Labels (P/ prefix): Create Projects for a specific workflow consisting of more than one task Projects may consist of parallel or sequential tasks, but it makes no difference since sequence is managed in the calendar A task that is longer than 20 minutes is also a project Examples: "P/Clean Garage", "P/Israel Trip 2009" etc.
6) Using Context Labels (C/ prefix): Remember "O.P.E.R.A.T.E.", which stands for Opportunity, Project, Environment, Resource (or Reference), Attention, Time and Equipment I recommend keeping the list of contexts fairly short and general, no more than a dozen or so. If your labels are not readily viewable in a drop-down list it will only cost you time, not save you time. Some examples: C/Phone, C/Computer, C/Errands, C/Offline, C/Home, C/Office etc. I might organize and plan my week on Sunday, but then on a Wednesday I find myself with a free 45 minutes. If I tagged an item as "C/Under 1 Hour", I can quickly pull it from the pile and finish it. Maybe I have a pile of documents to scan - great opportunity to ask if anyone else on the team needs scanning done. I am already scheduled to be at the scanner, so why not? Alternatively, maybe I can delegate it to someone else that will be using it?
7) Using Reference Labels (R/ prefix): Tag with labels for a specific person, place etc. Examples: "R/Jones, Steve", "R/Client, Mary J.", "R/Car Club Business", etc. My attorney calls me with some news, I can easily pull up everything labeled "R/Jones, Steve - Attorney" and shoot through the entire list while I have him. This really reduces the number of phone calls and voicemail, etc. - a major consideration when we're paying by the minute for other people to return our calls, listen to voicemail, read our emails etc.
8) Using the "Old" Label (O/ prefix): In the event you want to archive things and preserve the structure of their workflow, mark them as "Old" Example: "P/Oak Tower Purchase" as a project is done, so in labels you change the label to "O/Oak Tower Purchase" This will change the label on ALL messages at once, so their grouping will not change, only their status. The project no longer shows up in your current list of projects, but you can easily refer to all the project messages, which are still grouped accordingly, any time you like.
9) Tagging in General Now that the above categories are in use, we a fast and simple protocol to tag messages right as they come in. I like to tag in order, consistently so it is a habit I tag in the order as above: Status, Project, Context, Reference and Old I also archive EVERYTHING, so it only shows up in views by label, but not in my inbox. The only thing in my inbox should be stuff that still needs to be processed. These days my inbox is virtually always empty. A good rule is that you touch things one time, and once processed, nothing ever goes back to the inbox.
10) Example of a typical Workflow: an email comes in (from a colleague, a client, or yourself) it's opened, read and evaluated, and if it's not junk or otherwise trashed right away,
10) Example of a typical Workflow: an email comes in (from a colleague, a client, or yourself) it's opened, read and evaluated, and if it's not junk or otherwise trashed right away, Determine if it requires action, or if it does not require action If it does require action: Do it now, if possible, OR If it's multi-step, create a project, evaluate the steps and get them scheduled for completion in order of priority, OR Delegate it, AND with all of these cases Follow-up and evaluate progress no less than once weekly If it does not require action: Throw it away, OR Mark it S/Research, and schedule the necessary time to research it, OR File it away for Archive/Reference having tagged it accordingly So in summary: Everything is funneled into my Inbox, at least once weekly It's processed, completed, scheduled, archived, etc. Reminder: nothing ever gets tagged "Old" per se, but when a project is completed, if I wish to keep a record of my workflow, I simply changing the project label's prefix , e.g. from "P/Build Barn" to "O/Build Barn" More notes on using labels, prefixes For a couple of reasons, label prefixes are great because it groups your labels by their category When working, just typing an "S/" just brings up my status menu, while "C/" brings up contexts, and so on. This saves the trouble of needing to visually scan through potentially hundreds of labels - a real time waster Because of the speed of this system (prefixes and autocomplete, search by label capability) I am able to keep all labels hidden, giving me a nice clean interface.
11) Using Contacts and Filters to Label Automatically You can create contacts that correspond to labels Your Gmail account will accept any email with a "+variable" in your address, e.g. "user @ gmail.com" will also receive "user+task @ gmail.com" Using filters, you can tell Gmail to label incoming emails specific ways For example, I create a "S/NEXT" task for myself, by sending an email to "cpzimmerman+n @ gmail.com" I have a filter set up to label any message to "cpzimmerman+n @ gmail.com" with a "S/NEXT" label. Also in my address book, I have a contact, first name "NEXT", last name "S/" for the email is "myaccount+n @ gmail.com" I have addresses like that for all the statuses, so when I hit "c" to compose a message, I just type "S/" and the autocomplete shows my choices, and I can quickly add an action. It's a similar process when I want to update a conversation: Example: If I receive an article from a friend, perhaps I researched it, and now I want to add my comments, so I hit "REPLY" Instead of sending the message to the source of the article, I replace the address with "myaccount+u @ gmail.com" Screenshot:
A filter marks the new "message" as read, and now when I look at the conversation again, my added notes appear at the bottom of the thread. Gmail records conversations from top to bottom, in order of age. I can even create a document while in Gmail (another labs feature) that will consolidate all the conversation into one dialogue:
Another Note on Threaded Conversations: Because Gmail already groups everything by "conversation", you do not need to label things redundantly. If the initial message was marked by project and reference, all subsequent messages will be attached to it so I do not have to label them.
12) More Gmail (or Google Premium) Features From Labs:
12) More Gmail (or Google Premium) Features From Labs: Multiple Inboxes
This feature allows you to preview the top of your lists all on one screen. I have mine set up so that the left side is inbound messages (usually empty now), and right side has five boxes: Next, Action, Research, Delegated and Scheduled. The boxes show mail based on search queries, so I set the inboxes up like so:
Also, on the left side of the screen is a little mini-calendar, so I can watch for what's next. This is also enabled in Labs:
Another cool feature in Labs is "Signature Tweaks":
Also in Labs, enable "Inserting Images":
The cool thing about these two is that you can use them as a way to insert an image file in your email as a signature, just as with some corporate, MS Exchange type server. If you have an image you want to use, simply upload it to Picasa or Flickr. Copy the URL You might want to shorten the URL too, at bit.ly or tinyurl.com, etc. Then, put the URL, minus the "http://" in your signature box in Settings Compose a message, double click on your signature and cut the image to the clipboard. Then click the icon to add an image to your message, and select the "Web address (URL)" option, like so:
Now just paste the URL from your signature and you've got a nice graphic signature in your email!
Now just paste the URL from your signature and you've got a nice graphic signature in your email!
13) Some Additional Enhancements Additional Plugins for Firefox Better Gmail Available at addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/6076 this adds several features to Gmail.
14) Summary I have been using this system for a little over a month, and it's been life changing. I wake up in the morning, and while I have my morning coffee, I perform a quick cleaning of my inbox, review my calendar and lock in for the day. I have also been employing a kind of journal, drafting an email to myself and my business partner in the morning. As the day progresses and tasks are completed and projects advanced, I take notes in this draft. At the end of the day I send it, and now I have a nice, clean, searchable archive of the day's events. If someone asks something like "when did the Main Street plans get sent?" the answer is a second away for me or anyone else that has been receiving the emails. I feel far less stressed and the sense of accomplishment at day's end is huge. I wish you luck and success! If you have questions that I didn't answer or there were statements I made that need clarification just email me at [email protected]