I hear people lamenting about their overflowing email in-boxes all the time. Even me own mother has trouble keeping the evil email demons away. Where does it all come from? What are you supposed to do with it? Will it ever end?
Well, this post should get you on the road to conquering your inbox and getting rid of that uneasy feeling that you may have missed, misplaced, or forgot something.
Unsubscribe From Everything
Why did you subscribe to all this crap, anyway? Your inbox is bulging at the seams because you have authorized all these different individuals, organizations, and companies to email you with updates that you never actually pay attention to. Even if you do enjoy these updates, they may get lost in the deluge.
The very first thing you need to do is go through your inbox and unsubscribe from every newsletter, mailing list, and auto-responder that is not of utmost importance. Do you really need an email every time someone pokes you on Facebook? Let’s be real, all the special reports, groundbreaking videos, and member’s only discounts are not doing you any good.
Filters Are Your Friend
If your email client of choice doesn’t have a method to filter a message on contact, I feel sorry for you. You need to set up your email like it’s hot lava. Nothing should touch it. Anything that does make it in should get burned up instantly. This is not as hard as it sounds. The key is in knowing beforehand what types of messages you receive and having your client handle them automatically.
Every newsletter and mailing list that you did not unsubscribe from needs to be automatically filtered out of your inbox and filed under a label.
Open up one of the messages that needs to be filtered:
- The key feature that you’ll need for this step is “Filter messages like these…” in the “More Actions” menu.
- You want to check “Skip Inbox”. This will Archive the message so that it doesn’t show up in your Inbox, but you can still find it by labeling, starring, or searching for it.
- Choose a label that the message will be filed under, creating a new one if necessary.
- Apply the filter to all matching messages
There are certain emails that I already know require me to do something. You should be able to easily identify these. Not just emails from your boss, but emails that definitely require immediate action. I automatically Star these types of emails and archive them so they aren’t sitting in my inbox.
Follower / Subscriber Notifications
If you’re like me, you have given up on keeping track of followers via email. If you do still have these activated, they should definitely be filtered out of your Inbox and labelled. There is no reason to have these sitting in your Inbox.
Use Your Imagination
Filters are very powerful and can also get pretty intricate. Email is pretty subjective. Given these two facts, you need to identify which emails in your inbox fit specific patterns and use the filtering feature to get them out of your inbox and either filed away and labelled for later, or starred/flagged so you can take action on it.
There is a more complicated version of this whole Inbox Zero thing, but this is the simplified version I use. When I go to check my mail, I check my Starred items first because those are priorities based on my filters. Once I’ve checked those, I hit the actual inbox:
- Is this a task that I need to complete? An action item? Star It.
- Read and archive everything else. Get it all out of your Inbox.
- Go back to your Starred items and knock out your tasks / action items.
- At your leisure, read your subscriptions and handle your email notifications
What Do You Think?
I’m just putting the basics out there to give you a starting point. This should work for most of us, but there are definitely specific situations that require special attention.
That said, I’m opening this up to questions, comments, and concerns that you may have with your email. I’m pretty good at this productivity stuff, so I look forward to helping you solve your issues.
Ubiquity is a new Firefox add-on that attempts to fix problems with the usability of the web. Developers and users alike can extend the web as they see fit. It allows you to control the web using regular language.
With search, you type what you want to find. With Ubiquity, you type what you want to do.
Here are a few ways that this new Firefox add-on can help you get things done and boost your productivity.
Schedule an Appointment
You can easily add an event to your Google Calendar using the add-to-calendar command. Simply describe your task in plain english:
add-to-calendar lunch with Louis and Scoble on Thursday
Check Your Calendar
Make sure you’re available for upcoming events with the check-calendar:
Fire Off an Email
Sometimes I keep Gmail open in case I need to send an email real quick, but that’s no good for staying focused and on task. Ubiquity gives us the email command to make the process easier. Send a quick message by specifying a message and a contact from Gmail:
email Rahsheen is an awesome musician. Check him out. to Diddy
You can also select text and images from the page you’re on and do something like:
email this to Kyle
Add a Task to Remember The Milk
Being somewhat of a Remember The Milk fanatic, the first thing I looked for was a way to add tasks to my list. Google led me to this command:
rtm Finish mixing new song
Send a Message on Twitter
It’s possible that some people use Twitter to accomplish things besides broadcasting when they create a new blog post. For those people, you can use Ubiquity to send a tweet like this:
twitter I just ate a mango
Tying it All Together
Visit Mozilla Labs for an Introduction to Ubiquity. I recommend watching the video first. It doesn’t really make sense until you see it in action.
All of the commands above are included with Ubiquity except for the Remember The Milk command, which you can find in the Ubiquity Wiki. You’ll also find a plethora of other commands for your perusal.
Installing new commands is as simple as visiting a web page once you have the add-on installed.
Are you already using Ubiquity to increase your productivity? Tell me about it.
FriendFeed is becoming more and more central to my online activity. I feel I have only scratched the surface of what can be accomplished with it. Even at this early stage, I know that I have accelerated the development of relationships, and the growth of my personal knowledge just by being a regular FriendFeeder.
A recent discussion started by jeff(isageek), got me thinking. I really should have tabs for web apps I want to keep tabs on right there in FriendFeed. I mean…I’m always in it anyway, might as well try to get things done while I’m there. You may remember Duncan Riley creating a slew of scripts for adding various tabs to FriendFeed, but there were a few missing that I still needed.
You can’t be productive without access to your Calendar and your Task List, so I created a couple of quick and dirty Greasemonkey scripts based on Duncan’s.
And, just for good measure, let’s go ahead and add a tab for Identi.ca:
Another script that I find I am using a lot is the FriendFeed Read Later script. I don’t see how anyone survives without it. It will allow you to mark an item as “Later” and creates a “Read Later” tab where you can view all of the items you marked. I primarily use it to follow discussions I find interesting without having to hope they resurface or searching for them. I also use this feature to mark items I may want to blog about later.
How do you keep up with your FriendFeed? How do you make sure you stay productive while using it? Enquiring minds want to know. Leave me a comment.
You To Do list may be a lot more powerful than you think. Here are a few ideas that may get your imagination working as to how you can harness the full power of one of the most basic organizational tools. Feel free to share any ideas you have in the comments section.
Tracking things you have lent or borrowed is quite useful. You can apply the same ideas from my Super Charging Remember The Milk series. For example, if Bill borrowed your iPhone, then you could create a task named “My iPhone” and give it tags like “-waiting, @lent, bill, iphone.”
In this case, I have set the context of this item to “lent” by preceding it with the “@” symbol. This allows me to create a Smart List later, to organize all the things I have “lent.” You will also notice that I have tagged the item Bill’s name so that I know who to harass when I start missing my iPhone. You can do the same thing for items you have borrowed.
I have set up my desktop so that I can add items to Remember The Milk in the blink of an eye. Not only does this make sure that I don’t miss anything I need to do, but it also allows me to quickly collect any random ideas I get for content. I might be reading a blog post over on SheGeeks and get an idea for a new song. Or I could just be poking around on FriendFeed and get an idea for an awesome blog post.
Either way it goes, I can stick these things into Remember The Milk and flesh them out later. For instance, I might tag a new song idea with “-next, @studio, metal.”
One of the best things you can do to increase your value as a person is to read. This will help your success in life immensely. People will be more willing to see you as a leader if you have a little more knowledge than they do. I sometimes add books others recommend to my reading list in Remember The Milk so that I can remember to borrow or buy them at some point.
You To Do list can be of much more use to you than simply checking off tasks. There are things that are not really actionable tasks, but are not really projects either. Also, some things you may want to stick on the Someday/Maybe side of things, might do better to have their own category. Experiment and see what works for you.
Do you store things on your To Do list that some might say shouldn’t be there? Do you have ideas about extending your To Do list that I haven’t covered? Did you like this article? Leave a comment. I would love to hear about it.
One important thing that will ultimately hold your GTD system together and make it work for you has to be accessibility. In the first and second installment of this series, we discussed how to set up Remember The Milk to handle most of your GTD needs. We also talked about using SMS to access RTM. Here are 6 more ways to access your shiny new system.
This post is the first in a series on Super-Charging Remember The Milk including:
When you signed up for Remember The Milk, you received a special unique email address. You can find this address in your confirmation email or on the RTM site in Settings->Info. Just shoot RTM an email at the address provided with your new task as the subject. The body can be empty, or you can use any of the following (quoted from the RTM site):
Priority: 1 or P: 1
Due: Monday at 9am or D: Monday at 9am
Repeat: Every Week or R: Every Week
Estimate: 2 hours or E: 2 hours
Tags: report coffee or S: report coffee
Location: Home or O: Home
URL: http://www.rememberthemilk.com/ or U: http://www.rememberthemilk.com/
By default, your task will appear in your Inbox. If you want the task to appear in a different list, you can do so with the following:
List: Work or L: Work
Optionally, if you’re unable to specify the subject of your email, you can use the following to specify the task name:
Task: Weekly work meeting or T: Weekly work meeting
Notes can be included at the bottom of the email, but need to be separated with ‘—‘ (three hyphens).
If your email automatically contains a signature or disclaimer that you’d like to prevent being converted into a note, you can include ‘-end-‘ on a line by itself, and everything after this line will be ignored.
2. Instant Messenger
- Add one of these to your buddy list:
- Send it any random message and it will create an account for you and send you back a menu
- Choose the menu option for My Accounts (should be number 4) and follow the link you receive
- Add the Remember The Milk widget and send ‘M’ to your IMified buddy
- You should see a new option for your newly added RTM widget. Have fun 🙂
3. Desktop Launcher
This happens to be my favorite because it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I can always hit a key combo and immediately add something to RTM. Doing things this way also helps you stay focused because you don’t have to really think about it.
I use a launcher called…well, Launchy. It’s fast and flexible. This particular solution requires that you have RTM set up with Twitter. Go back here if you missed it. Here is how you make Launchy work with Remember The Milk:
- Download and install Launchy
- Download and install Curl
- Download this ZIP and extract it to C:\Program Files\Launchy\Utilities
- Edit the file “rtm.bat” and put in your Twitter username and password
Are you on a MAC?
Are you on Linux?
Check out this Deskbar Applet.
4. Quick Add
5. Gmail Plugin
Do you live in Gmail? Go get the Gmail Plugin and integrate it with Remember The Milk.
6. Google Calendar
Put your tasks right on your calendar with This Plugin. Once you add it, just click one of the blue check marks to see what you should be doing.
I use a combination of these at any given time. Primarily, I stick with 3, 5 and 6. Also, there are way more than 6 methods for accessing Remember The Milk. You can find out more information on their website.
In the first part of my Super-Charge Remember The Milk series, we discussed a method of organizing and processing tasks based on a simple system using Tags and Smart Lists. After reading the post, my mother pointed out two important facts:
- I spelled “Super-Charge” wrong
- She had no clue WTF I was talking about and she has a CS degree
Since I would like my blog to be understood and helpful to all, I would like to extend my apologies to anyone I managed to confuse (sorry mom). In this installment, I will start off first with a brief introduction to “Getting Things Done” (GTD) and “Remember The Milk” RTM.
This post is the first in a series on Super-Charging Remember The Milk including:
What is Getting Things Done (GTD)?
“It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things
to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive
sense of relaxed control.” — David Allen
- GTD is a book written by David Allen
- It allows you to get organized by following very basic steps
- It keeps you from being forced to remember things
- It makes sure you are moving toward your life goals
- According to David Allen, a Context describes the tool, location or person that is required to be able to complete an action. We have been starting our tags with “@” to show that it’s a Context.
What is Remember The Milk (RTM)?
Remember The Milk is an awesome To-Do list application. You can access it from their site at http://rememberthemilk.com. Go ahead, sign up for an account. I’ll wait.
All set? Good. Not only is RTM an awesome To-Do list, but it’s flexibility allows you to take care of most of your GTD needs from one place. This makes staying organized even easier.
The two primary features that we’ve discussed so far are Tags and Smart Lists. Here are a couple of definitions from the RTM FAQ:
Tags are like keywords or labels that you can add to a task to make it easier to find and organize later. For example, you can tag a task with ‘phone’, and then later when you’re looking for tasks that require phone calls, you can just click on that tag and see all the tasks that have been tagged that way.
Smart Lists are special lists that are created based on criteria that you define, and are automatically updated as your tasks change.
Now we have RTM set up quite nicely. You have tagged your Tasks, your Smart Lists have automatically organized your Projects and Contexts. You can easily view your Context lists to see what you should be doing Right Now.
One of the basic ideas regarding GTD is that your system has to be portable. You have to be able to track what you’ve completed and also store those important tasks and ideas that pop into your head at any given moment.
You could print out your To-Do list. RTM provides a nifty feature for you to do so, but that is so booooooring! Who uses paper anymore. Even the Gen X guys would probably frown on that solution. So we have two options:
The second option works great for me because I don’t have the web on my phone (long story). There are other features of accessing Twitter this way that we’ll discuss later. In order to get this set up, just go here and follow the directions.
Now, you can communicate with RTM with Direct Messages on Twitter. This means that you will definitely Remember The Milk the next time you happen to be in the grocery store.
Here are a few more examples of talking to RTM via Twitter:
- Add a Task – “d rtm Subscribe to SheenOnline.Biz”
- Get Tasks due today – “d rtm !today” (shortcut: !tod)
- Get Tasks related to your “Blog” project – “d rtm !gettag .blog” (shortcut: !gt)
What Does This Have To Do With Your Cell Phone?
Well, I’m glad you asked! You can add your mobile phone as a “device” on Twitter. This allows you to send and receive Twitter messages via SMS (text messaging). This means you can now text a Direct Message to RTM to access your Tasks.
You will probably want to add Twitter to your contacts. The number is “40404”.
For more details on how to talk to RTM via Twitter, go back here.
But Wait! There’s More!
Well, not really. At least, not right now. There are a few other slick tricks you can do with this setup that I will discuss later. I think we have covered enough for today and the longer I talk, the more incoherent I may become.
A few things to consider with this setup:
- If Twitter is down, it obviously all goes to hell in gasoline draws
- Adding a task via Twitter doesn’t allow you to properly tag it, so make sure you check your “Inbox” list or your “!” Smart List whenever you get back to a browser
- Completing tasks via Twitter means you have to provide the entire name of the task, so don’t make your task names longer than they need to be.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Corrections? Let’s discuss in the comments. That’s what they’re for, after all.