How to get back to Inbox Zero after vacation … Part 1
It’s not easy – but I did it: I went away on vacation 2 weeks ago without the Company BlackBerry! Yes, yes I know – that took a lot of bravery on my part. But, it needed to be done. They call vacation time “Personal Time Off” or PTO in my organization. Well, if I’m going to take PTO and actually enjoy it with my family, be “present” with my family, then the BlackBerry and the Company laptop have no place in my suitcase!
I really was torn though, which is the interesting thing. I truly felt compelled to bring it along, and at the last moment, before we left the house for 10 days, I left it on my desk. When I locked up the house, I felt this incredibly bizarre sense of accomplishment! It truly did feel quite good. I thought I might go through some cold sweats or shivers, but alas, I was just fine.
But, when we returned, and the bags got unpacked, the clothes got laundered, and we were all a big old mess from the red-eye we took, I had to fire up my laptop, connect to the company VPN, and there it was … new e-mail after new e-mail after new e-mail … several hundred times over. At the same time all of my Outlook messages were downloading, I fired up Gmail and an ungodly amount of e-mails loaded up. I then loaded up Twitter and Facebook … and again, all inboxes stuffed with goodies for me to sort through!
For a guy who loves practicing and blogging about GTD and Inbox Zero, I must say, this was just out of control. On my 3rd cup of coffee that morning, I was feeling a bit of that cold sweat! My heart began to race a bit faster – and all I saw was the forest … not a tree in sight. I closed my eyes, took some deep breaths, and systematically, began getting through all of my emails down to zero. As we often say, it almost seems like it was never worth going on vacation at all!! The fun memories, laughter, joy, and carefree times get sucked out of you like a Dyson vacuum!
Process All of Your Inboxes
If you’re like me, you’ve got your work & personal e-mails, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs plus you’ve got voicemails from home, work, and your cell phones. In addition to that, you’ve got all of the physical mail that has accumulate for both home and work. If you haven’t done so already, now would be a great time to make a list of all of your inboxes. It’s now time to process each of them, one at a time, based on priority. For Part 1 of this series, I’m going to focus in on the corporate e-mail. In Part 2, I’ll tackle voice mail, personal e-mail, and your social streams.
Here’s 3 Ways I did it in Microsoft Outlook.
First, filter your e-mails by Conversation View. I read a post awhile ago that showed me how to sort through Outlook e-mail to behave like Gmail. I took that idea, modified it some so that all the “RE” e-mails in the chain all fell under the original e-mail.
Second, filter internal and client e-mails. I wanted to make sure I was handling all client e-mails first and foremost. After all, my success can only follow their success. By separating all internal e-mails, I was able to focus much more. This separation also allowed me to quickly hit delete on newsletters I just wasn’t going to read, webinar invites, special promotions, etc.
Third, label client e-mails. I don’t like to label my e-mails often in Outlook (Gmail is totally different). Reason being is because I subscribe to David Allen’s GTD methodology that says you need to do it (if it takes less than 2 minutes), defer it (put it in your task app, such as Producteev), delegate it (which goes on your “waiting for” list), or my favorite – delete it. Basically, I get it out of my inbox so that it doesn’t linger and goes to where it needs to be. Labeling my e-mails in Outlook has some psychological effect on me that says these emails are never getting out of my inbox. But, for purposes of cleaning it out, I grouped all client e-mails by their name (i.e., Smith, Jones) or by project (i.e., Sally Contract Renewal). This further allowed me to better process and then do something with the note – often times, I either archived it in my offline e-mails or I sent important reference material over to Evernote with the Outlook plug-in.
I won’t lie to you – the process is arduous depending on how many emails you received – but this absolutely makes it so much better! In order to achieve “mind like water”, you need to calm to roaring waves, take it one e-mail at a time!
Vacations are a necessity and we shouldn’t be stressed about the onslaught of e-mails, voicemails, and physical mail we’ll receive on the way back. If we plan appropriately, getting back to inbox zero does not have to be akin to fighting a war!
Check back for Part 2 where I’ll take on personal emails, voicemails, and your physical inboxes! In the interim, if you have a way of fighting the e-mail war after coming back from vacation, let me know in the comments below!
My secret to becoming more Producteev …
I admit it. I’ve kept this one pretty low key now for a good couple of months.
I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it until I knew I was certain. I haven’t endorsed a task-based app in a very long time, but I feel so confident about this one, that it’s about time I share my excitement.
You know how we all get about these kinds of things, right? We hear about a new productivity website, and we quickly abandon the old and go right to what looks new and shiny. Not that I was keeping anything from you all, but I wanted to be absolutely certain about this one before I let you all know! Bobby Travis over at 40Tech told me about them, I read his blog post (and his guest post for Producteev), and if you’ve been following along with my tweets, you’ll note I’m a bit enamored with them.
Here it is …
Beneath that, you can search through all of your tasks (very awesome), and then limit what you want to see. Do you want to see all of your tasks with all of your workspaces and then filter by label, what’s hot, starred, what’s due today, what’s assigned to me, team tasks, etc. I can’t stress how important the ability to quickly and easily be able to navigate through all of your tasks in an easy interface that beautifully laid out.
2. Integrations with Email, IM & Google Tasks/Outlook sync – oh my!
- Put Outlook tasks in the cloud and access them from all Producteev applications (mobile, desktop, web…)
- Turn emails into tasks in 1-click
- 2-way synchronization between Outlook to-dos and Producteev
- Sync labels between Outlook and Producteev
- Sync with Outlook calendar
- Turn gmail emails into tasks in Producteev
- 2-way synchronization between Google Tasks and Producteev
- Sync notes and deadlines in real time
- Add more features to Google Tasks: collaboration, apps, multiple projects / tags
3. Daily and Weekly Reviews
4. Collaboration with others
Collaboration is king. We can all accomplish much more in life if we collaborate with our peers in accomplishing projects. Producteev has you covered there as well. As noted above, you can easily add people to one of your workspaces. You simply need to click on “Add People” on the lower left-hand side. By doing so, you can invite collaborators via Email. Once they are invited, they will receive an e-mail request to have them sign up and join your workspace.
5. One more thing …
5.5 UPDATE: Integration with Evernote!
Here’s just one more reason to really love Producteev – integration with Evernote! Check this out – you can actually leverage the new note linking feature within Evernote to clip a link to your task.
Then, create your task in Producteev, and paste the link from Evernote in the description!
Then, when you are ready to take action on the task, you simply click on the link, and your computer will automatically open that note in your Evernote! Genius, I tell you! 🙂
Guest Post: How Remember the Milk Rocks Kevin Tea’s World!
I really like being asked by folks if they can do a guest post on my blog for two reasons: 1) I love the community that has come together here on this site and how we all strive to be more productive and efficient in life; and 2) it certainly takes the pressure off of me! 🙂 To that end, if you are interested in becoming a guest blogger on the site, simply e-mail me at email@example.com. Thanks!
About Kevin Tea: Kevin runs Web2 and More website and is a journalist and marketing communications specialist of more years than he cares to remember. He has worked with some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. He has worked closely with a virtual network of serviced office providers called the Global Office Network and established online fora so that members could communicate with each other and potential customers. He was a contributing author to Webweaving – Intranets, Extranets and Strategic Alliances along with someone called Bill Gates. For more information, visit his site with the link above.
As a journalist I have a thing about the purity of language. I remember recoiling in horror when my then ‘teenage son sent me an email which was mix of SMS text abbreviation and gangsta rap, which he was listening to at the time.
I get the same sort of shivering revulsion when I see some of the names given to cloud computing and social media services to think of the silliest name possible where spelling and grammar are consigned to the flaming pits of hell. Flickr, Tumblr, Quipster, Tweasier … the list goes on and on.
Whether or not this fixation with names reflects itself in those services I choose to accept or reject I have no idea, but I admit to liking a quirky of humour which could be why I chose Remember The Milk as my task manager or personal information manager of choice. And I’ve tried a few over the years. Time and Chaos was a favourite for a while and there was even something from Lotus that resembled a Filofax and when I dumped my old Nokia and invested in an Android smartphone I dallied with Toodledo because it synced with my favourite PIM Pocket Informant. The trouble was that the desktop app for Toodledo was an ugly little sucker which brought me back to Remember The Milk.
Who could fail to be impressed by a company whose key member of staff is Bob T Monkey whose resume on the staff page reads:
A system of sparking the synapses in my aging memory is getting essential and Remember The Milk works well for me at so many levels. First of all it spreads itself across my home desktop via the web interface, it syncs with the Remember The Milk app on my smartphone and I can push tasks to it from my day job Outlook via a dedicated email address.
I am not a huge fan of fussy interfaces and the slightly Zen Minimalist look of Remember The Milk suits me down to the ground. I recently got an email from Toodledo saying I had not used the service for some time and my account was going to be deleted so out of curiosity I revisited the site and remembered why I had abandoned it in the first place.
When you first join RTM you are given an inbox and tabbed sections for personal, work and outbox. The inbox is where allocated tasks from outside such as my work Outlook land and the outbox is where tasks I allocate to others from RTM. You can build your own tabs – as you can see I have added just one for my blog. Below that are buttons that allow you to mark a task as completed or postponed,. plus a drop-down menu that provides a broad spectrum of extra options from allocating priority levels and deleting tasks through to moving tasks from the various tabbed areas.
On the next lime down are some simple filter options. To the right of this is a three tabbed section with lists, share and publish options. As you mouse over the various tasks in the left hand section their properties are highlighted and you can then alter options like properties, dates due etc. In Share you have tasks which you work with others on and they can add and change tasks; publish allows you to push the tasks to others but they cannot change or alter the task.
So far, so simple, but the real power of Remember The Milk for me is in the way it handles input syntax to format tasks. Say this is a Monday and I type in “Pick up neutered aardvark from vets Friday”it allocates that task to the next Friday. Similarly if I type in “Arrange to have aardvark neutered June 27”the system will allocate that task to June 27. I just love that simplicity. RTM also enables you to attach notes to tasks and locations such as your local pub!
If you work in an organisation or a virtual organisation you have the power to create lists of contacts and groups of contacts such as dev team, marketing, management etc.
Remember the Milk has pro versions for the iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry OS’s, and via any web enabled phone through the browser.Integration just doesn’t stop there. You can add RTM to your Google Calendar and Gmail, iGoogle.
A sign of any great service is that it continues to grow and add functions and facilities and is prepared to back that expansion up with a comprehensive support package both in terms of web based FAQs and human intervention – I doubt if you’d get much help from Bob T Money, but you never know.
I am aware that I have barely scratched the surface, but I hope that I have piqued your interest and give the site a visit and even play around with it because I am convinced it is one of the best services out there.
What do you think of Kevin’s Guest Post? Are any of you using Remember the Milk? If so, what has your experience been like so far? Let us know in the comments below! Thanks again, Kevin, and great post!
Reader Survey: What’s your favorite app for sharing large files?
This post is all about you! I’m looking to find out what app you all are using to share those monster files! Are you still an inbox-bogger downer – sending 3MB and higher files in email? Do you have something else you’re using that’s not on the list below? Let me know and drop some comments about why you like the app! Results out next week … The polls are open!!
Getting Back On Task
In my last post, I lamented over the scores of productive tools out there. You can Google productivity and get 67 million of hits. Search for GTD and you’ll get 3.9 million hits. Search the iTunes App Store for GTD and you’ll get 30 Apps! The good news? I found 3 tools that just work; albeit some minor tweaking: Evernote, Remember the Milk, and my iPod Touch! In this post I’ll talk about my system, how I developed it, and why I believe it works.
1. My Struggle
If you’re reading this, you no doubt have at least heard of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. So I won’t bother with a laborious recapitulation of his book. What is noteworthy is that whether you’re a hardcore follower, someone who has tweaked the system or despise the system, the reality is that there is truth behind GTD. Namely, when it comes to managing tasks.
I need a system that I can access anywhere, that’s easy-to-use, and easy-to-understand. Bound to Microsoft Outlook Exchange server and a company issued BlackBerry that’s completely locked down at work and Gmail for my personal email the question became what I can do to unify all my action items in one central repository. (As a footnote, I had to shelf my lovely Moleskines I purchased — I believe five altogether, each in different sizes, many “hacked” from what I read here and here.)
My second struggle became the GTD contexts. David Allen’s theory rests on the idea that everything is done within a specific context: @home, @work, @calls, @computer, @errands, @agenda, Someday/maybe, Waiting for, Project lists, etcetera. The stuff that must get done you either do it, if it can take less than two minutes, defer it, if it will take longer, or delegate it to someone. In an analog world with Moleskines, this has the potential of working well. However, it’s not as practical for someone like me who lives in Outlook and a locked-down company BlackBerry, travels often and lives and works in e-world.
I finally began feeling like I had a system! Simple and yet effective – for Outlook that is.
This was perhaps a bigger obstacle than managing tasks because I write notes in three settings: 1) customer meetings where I am typically bound to a leather portfolio for what I do, 2) my office, and 3) on the road when I think of things that come to mind. As David Allen writes, that’s the reason for a UCT or a Ubiquitous Capture Tool for everything. I know. I know. That’s where the Moleskines come in, but like I said, it just wasn’t practical for me. Plus, I found myself constantly transferring notes and reading my hieroglyphics. Namely, it just became more work to keep 2 task lists, 2 places for notes, and above all else, a journal that just isn’t searchable.
Unlike the To-do bar in Outlook, my challenge was trying to put my notes in one location. Yes, I even tried Microsoft OneNote but that required more work for me and there’s no offline or mobile access. (However, why not just make Outlook and OneNote one application? You’d have a killer app, that’s for sure!) So like the tasks, I took advantage of the Journal within Outlook with tags: meeting notes, product names I’m responsible for overseeing, company names, etcetera. Then for little things that didn’t require formatting of text, I used Notes with categories.
The reality is as much as this system was starting to work for me, I realized it was far from perfect or ideal.
Enter Evernote, Remeber the Milk, and my iPod Touch!
2. Getting Back on Task
Knowing that I could manage a GTD’esque system in Outlook of all places, it was time to take on Evernote and RTM again with renewed vigor and enthusaism for wanting to get things done effectively & efficiently.
Remember the Milk
Truly, I can’t say enough about how cool – and EASY – this is. The best part? IT’S EVERYWHERE! Seriously. You can email tasks, bulk email tasks, Twitter tasks, send the feed to Outlook so that it’s in your Exchange Calendar (Yes!!), setup a gadget in Gmail, use it as an SSB (site specific browser) and with a Pro account for $25 you can have the app on your iPod Touch or iPhone. You can get SMS reminders on multiple mobile phones (personal and work), and emails to different accounts. I mean, really? How is this not the ultimate GTD tool??
The RTM Blog is full of posts on how to use it for GTD. Here’s what I’ve done:
– Waiting for
I then created Smart Lists for some of these tags as a quick dashboard for what I need to do. Plus, once you go Pro, the App is outstanding!! I can quickly see a dashboard for either everything today, tomorrow, next week, or based on my lists. What’s more is that adding tasks on the iPhone App is a dream! You can easily input tags, location, lists, etc.
What is even better is that I can always see what needs to get done for both work and personal on my iPod touch since it never leaves my side. (I think before the iPhone and iPod Touch were invented we were all the equivalent of electronic nomadic wanderers.)
As a footnote, tags are great – but if they are not managed successfully – they can be an unwieldy burden – which is what happened to me during the first go-around. Tags need to be structured with some uniformity. I oversee world-class document review platforms for the legal community and know the perils of not having a good structure.
That bring me to Evernote. Let me just start off by saying that I am currently typing this blog on my Evernote app for my iPod touch en route to LAX from CLT. So cool!!
Second, all the hype about Evernote is pretty much true. So why did I give up on Evernote? For those who haven’t used it yet, you’ll find a wealth of tips, tricks, GTD’ers, you name it. And now of course there’s me. I inputted way too many tags, only one notebook, then two, then three and I just couldn’t get my arms around it.
The solution? Well, just like RTM, Evernote is EVERYWHERE! You can email notes to Evernote with tags and which notebook it should go in, type notes offline in the App (like I am right now), download the thick app for the desktop (which although I like the think apps, I find it easier to manage notes in the desktop app over the web app), and there’s the bookmarklet I use in Chrome. You can pay for a Premium account for Evernote as well, but for now the 40MB is plenty for me.
Plus, if I make a note that requires an action, all I need to do is email the note from Evernote TO RTM with the notes in the body of the task AND the list and tag to associate it with … It’s RIDICOUSLY easy!!
As an example, let’s say I have a conference call with a collague about a customer and there are several action items from the call. I’d simply email RTM with @waitingfor, @call, or @computer depending on the task and assign dates if need be be.
To make it all easier, I can manage this whole process from my iPod Touch!! Emails that are relevant to a specific project get sent to Evernote. Travel itineraries get sent to Evernote. Recipes get sent to Evernote. My blog drafts (obviously) get sent to Evernote. It’s seriously the easies tool – when managed correctly – that you can use to organize your tasks and notes.