August 15, 2006

Thunderbird gets GTD’d…

Posted in GTD, Mac Software at 1:08 am by a11en

A few things came together for me this past weekend, and I thought I’d share a bit. First, was MerlinMann’s discussion of the usefulness (or lack thereof) of e-mail folders. I agree completely with Merlin on this one- and I feel a hint of a running thread here- focus on The Work and not on Organization. After all it is “Getting Things Done” not “Organizing Things Nicely”. Second was a post regarding subject line editing I saw a while back on that stuck in my grey-matter. Third, and finally, was my frustration with effective e-mail “getting things done”.

What I’m about to show you can be done on most platforms I believe, and it’s super silly simple, I think. I hope that it might help some of you increase the effectiveness of your e-mail software. (For me, that’s Thunderbird. So, if you’re not using Thunderbird, take this as a rough outline, and dig a bit to see if there are similar tools available to you for this type of implementation if you like it!- Oh, and let me know if you do this sort of thing so others can find it easily as well! TIA!)

One of the ways I was able to get my “Inbox to Zero” was to implement an action folder. Essentially, anything that I can’t deal with at that very moment, or will take longer than 2 minutes, needs to be placed in a folder where it can be easily accessible and not be gumming up the works of the inbox. Of course items which don’t need to be acted upon can go in their respective folders (i.e., Family, Friends…). Also, if you finally get your inbox to zero messages- you can start implementing folders and auto-sorting for any list-serve messages (Zoss list) you have coming in on a regular basis- no more gumming up the works for those fellows either: create a filter so that it gets shoved out of your local folder. (Don’t worry, it’ll still highlight in blue when a new e-mail gets auto-sorted there!) This helped quite a bit when I was first implementing the clean-inbox idea. But, recently, I’ve found that I just don’t get into my action folders properly, and they’ve become a sort of catch-all for various items, somewhat poorly organized, and definitely difficult to be found when needed. A revamp was seriously needed.

I remembered reading a long time ago on about editing subject headers to allow for organizing messages. A great idea I thought, but wasn’t sure how it’d help when messages were stuck in various places. Then, I found Thunderbird’s saved-search folders. [Simply run a search and hit “save as folder” in the bottom-middle of the search pane.] Now, that’s something useful! So, after installing HeaderTools- first link in the message (to allow editing of the subject lines), I have a way to meta-tag my messages. Mix in a little contextualization, and you’ve got yourself a GTD method for your e-mail.

My first foray into images on here… here’s an example of what I mean:


So, I still use my work/nonwork classification (or any other folder sorting you want), but I also now can meta-tag my e-mails before placing them somewhere so that when I am in the mood to write e-mail replies, I can click on “email” and get all the list of e-mails needed to be replied to. Same with online website work and work-based science research that I need to dig harder for. This could easily be adapted in other ways (the addition of extra headers may be possible- I’m dorking with this now as well). Just be warned- tagging all your messages, may increase the size of your mailboxes- HeaderTools makes a copy of the e-mail so that it is not altered. I believe that the copy gets removed when the headers are returned to their original state.

I now have a way of better searching for items that need to be acted upon in my email, I’ll check back every once in a while and let you know how this is going.



  1. a11en said,

    For anyone who might be reading this post- just to clarify, right now I’m only using it as a method for more effective e-mail handling- not a full GTD replacement. So, the e-mails that get tagged are items which need to be acted upon, and take less than 2 minutes to do. Of course it’s completely valid to place an action item into your normal inbox as well/instead- whatever works for you. I just find that often when I get my fingers into my e-mail (which I try to avoid with growl/yamb), that I don’t stay focused and on-task. So, just like I procrastinate in projects when they aren’t very visible and the next step is unkown- so too do I procrastinate in my e-mails. Not to mention items that slip through the cracks because it was sorted before being dealt with properly. Now there’s no fear of that- they’re visible, and catagorized based on what needs to be done. 🙂 Let me know if you do something similar, or if you need help with this!


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