On In box to-do lists and over engineered organization

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Introduction: 

I came across a provocative post by Paul Kortman on Boomerang, an add-in for Gmail that facilitates using your email in-box as a todo list.  The “boomerang” idea is that you can:

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Source: Boomerang

In his post, Kortman talks principally about using boomerang’s 2nd feature above, sending email away to return to your inbox at a later time.  Like, … a “snooze” alarm for items that can’t be acted on immediately.  

Here is what Boomerang looks like when you install it (see Appendix A below for installation instructions): 

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What is the GTD angle? 

That Boomerang is yet another tool.  Something to experiment with to prototyping more efficient ways of working.  

What should my email look like? 

Good question.  The orthodox GTD answer would be to be regularly getting to in-box zero.  I find myself however, gradually drifting further and further from inbox zero (right now I’m at inbox 536) without feeling stressed or becoming preoccupied with what is in my inbox.  

The actual next actions list that I’m using is not kept in email, it is kept in my OmniFocus inbox in: Vacation, Today, This Week, This Month, Eventually buckets:

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 Since adopting this organization scheme from Salvatore antirez Sanfilippo my email box has become something of a ….

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Source: Apartment Therapy

Yes, my email has become a junk drawer.  And the strange thing is, I don’t feel bad in a “clutter” way about it.  I pass into and out of my email all day, put the stuff that matters into my Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Eventually buckets (Vacation exists this week because I have it off school and have out-of-routine things I’d like to get done). 

Heresy! 

Maybe, but, I don’t think so.  In the cause of being “just organized enough” I’ve let my inbox go to seed.  I’m getting everything done, I’m experiencing mind like water, I’ve just reached the point where keeping the inbox empty, *feels* like drone work.  

Heresy!

Maybe.  But email imposes so much overhead.  What overhead?  Well, for example, when you reply to an email, 99% chance that the email you replied to should drop itself into the @Read folder. Right?  But that does not happen.  We have to manually rake back through the inbox and waste motions tracking down and filing messages.  What is worse is that when someone replies to your reply, the entire message thread will pop itself back into the inbox.  Bother.  

More and more, I’m beginning to think that Google is on to something with search.  :-)  That I’ll be better off just searching the junk drawer for the items I know are in it, rather wasting effort on over-engineered organization.  The distinction between @Read and Inbox is loosing its difference to my mind.  

The acid test: 

For me, the acid test of newly configured organizing tools is whether they feel like clutter.  And my junk drawer inbox does not feel like clutter.  I’m not preoccupied with it because I’ve raked out the important stuff and stuck it in Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Eventually buckets.  

All the action in my inbox takes place at the top, and I find myself not really caring about how long the stack of messages is.  Where before GTD I panicked at lots of email messages, today I don’t,  I know I’ve got all the essentials covered.  And I hate wasting time organizing just to look organized.  A junk drawer inbox works, … for me.  And, I’m going to say “This is OK.”  

I may try Boomerang, but I’m an oldster, I like having my email on all my computers safely in IMAP.  I’d have to switch to Gmail on line if I fell in love with Boomerang.  We’ll see if that happens.  

bill meade 

APPENDIX A: HOW TO INSTALL BOOMERANG In Chrome

Step 1: Open your browser and log in to your Gmail account 

Step 2: Go to ChromePreferencesExtensions and click on “Get more extensions” 

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Step 3: Type “boomerang” into the search box and then click the “+ ADD TO CHROME” button to the right of boomerang.

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Step 4: Then click the “Add” button in the lower right hand corner 

Step 5: Go back to the tab where your Gmail is open, and click “refresh” 

You should now have Boomerang working.  Click compose and look for the Boomerang line at the very bottom of the message (on the new compose dialog in Gmail).  Click here for Boomerang help.  

 

6 thoughts on “On In box to-do lists and over engineered organization

  1. Pingback: work.life.creativity. » Blog Archive » Thoughts on Email

  2. Interesting idea. I’ve come from the exact problem you’re talking about — a comically over-engineered inbox. I once had 78 folders set up for a single mail account in Outlook. I’ve mitigated this in a few ways:

    1. I found that I was keeping a lot of emails in my mess of folders because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find related ones quickly. I now forward a lot more stuff to Evernote, since it holds my gtd system. If it’s related to a task I need to do, chances are I’ll find it Evernote before outlook.

    2. I use followupthen a lot. It works a lot like boomerang, except the email actually gets sent to you again later, instead of just being made invisible for a time. “Forward to followupthen and delete the original” is a pretty common pattern for me when I know I’ll have the resources or opportunity later to deal with something, but not now.

    This has resulted in me being able to pare my Outlook mess from 78 folders down to three. An inbox, a folder for stuff that needs printing (since it’s easier to attack in bulk a few times a week, and route stuff there via rules), and a folder for everything I don’t want to look at but want available for a search.

    I don’t see much heresy in what you’ve outlined. If anything, you’ve just developed enough confidence to look at the pile and not worry that there’s something important in there. Which leaves the question, would it be any loss if you deleted or archived them all in one hit?

  3. Interesting idea. I’ve come from the exact problem you’re talking about — a comically over-engineered inbox. I once had 78 folders set up for a single mail account in Outlook. I’ve mitigated this in a few ways:

    1. I found that I was keeping a lot of emails in my mess of folders because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find related ones quickly. I now forward a lot more stuff to Evernote, since it holds my gtd system. If it’s related to a task I need to do, chances are I’ll find it Evernote before outlook.

    2. I use followupthen a lot. It works a lot like boomerang, except the email actually gets sent again, instead of just being made invisible for a time. “Forward to followupthen and delete the original” is a pretty common pattern for me when I know I’ll have the resources or opportunity later to deal with something, but not now.

    This has resulted in me being able to pare my Outlook mess from 78 folders down to three. An inbox, a folder for stuff that needs printing (since it’s easier to attack in bulk a few times a week, and route stuff there via rules), and a folder for everything I want available for a search, but not to look at.

    I don’t see much heresy in what you’ve outlined. If anything, you’ve just developed enough discipline to not look at the non-actionable items in your inbox, without having to physically send them to a “go away” folder.

  4. Interesting blog. There is a Google Tech Talk video on the web called “Everything is Miscellaneous” which is quite thought provoking re search or organise.

    • Paul! Love your blog, I found your MVP post and then kept reading!

      I have installed Boomerang, it looks like the same people have done a Boomerang for Google Calendar, have you played with it? We’ll see how it goes. I may be converted. But sure wish Boomerang was an add in to Apple Mail. :-)

      b

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