Posts tagged GTD

Taglocity Workflow

Here is a description of my basic workflow in Taglocity. I originally posted this as a reply to a question on the Taglocity forum. Here it is again with some actual screen shots thrown in.

First off, I have a rule in Outlook that sets the @Incoming tag to each incoming email. When I scrub my inbox, I will tag the mail with any additional project/descriptive tags. I will also decide to set the @Now tag, or the @FollowUp tag.

Setting either of these tags removes the @Incoming tag. It will also move the email either to a working folder (@Now), or to a follow up folder (@FollowUp). This is kind of a simplified version of the GTD folder set. I really don’t need that many folders, so I’ve combined the Deferred, Waiting For, Snooze, and Someday folders into one folder named @FollowUp. One additional thing you may notice in the screen shot above… The @Now folder has the “Show total number of items” option set in the folder properties dialog. The @FollowUp folder has the “Show number of unread items” option set in the folder properties dialog. This way, the @Now folder nags me to work on it, where as the @FollowUp folder does not draw my attention.

Once a week, I check my follow up folder. Items will either be left there for next week, or assigned the @Now flag. This automatically removes the @FollowUp flag and moves the message to my working folder. When I am done working on any message, I set the >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

My Quest for an Empty Inbox

It has been a long arduous journey, almost two years in the making. I almost began to think that I would never have an empty inbox. I got close a few times. Over long weekends, if I gave up my freedom, I could get down to under 100 messages. I just knew there had to be a better way, so I started my journey in earnest…

I started looking for a way to quickly handle and file the 75-100 emails I received each day. I was (and am) stuck with Outlook 2003, so my solutions centered around things that were compatible with Outlook. I had a beautiful intricate hierarchy of folders organized by project, sub-project, sub-sub-sub-project, and well, you get the picture. Once the emails were filed, I could effortlessly browse my way to any email I needed to find. The problem was that most of the emails were not sitting in those pretty little folders. They were sitting in my inbox! Why? Because the chore of filing hundreds of emails each day was loathsome! I would read an email, reply to it, and then just close it. I’d tell myself that there are too many emails to get through, so I can worry about filing later. This ended up being the downfall of my whole system. By the way, if you’ve read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, he spends a great deal of time trying to make the filing system as easy as possible. If it’s hard to file stuff, you just won’t do it and you’ll end up with a mess. At first, my method was dragging emails to the various folders. This was a pain because, most of the time, the folder I needed would be off screen or buried three levels deep. Next, I discovered the “Move to Folder” dialog in Outlook, which was okay. It tended to remember where I was, and could be launched quickly using CTRL-SHIFT-V. That still was too much of a pain, so I needed something better.

From there, I discovered a wonderful utility named SpeedFiler. I downloaded the trial version, and the thing worked great. I could bring up the dialog box with a shortcut key, type just a few characters from the Outlook folder name I had in mind, and presto! A short list of candidates appeared and I could send the email on its way. The trial period ran out, and well, I’m cheap. Very cheap. Just ask my wife. As a matter of fact, a theme you’ll probably see running through my productivity posts is how to do stuff for free or nearly free. At the time I think it was $29.95 or maybe even $39.95 for a license. I balked. I may have bought the tool, but I wasn’t going to shell out any cash without first re-surveying the landscape of available tools. That search led me to my next tool…

Outclass – This is a handy and free utility that integrates the popular open-source tool PopFile into Microsoft Outlook. Wow! This system had two big advantages over SpeedFiler: (1) It was free, (2) It *automatically* categorized emails and moved them into my folders. That was fantastic! Outclass used PopFile’s self-learning Bayesian engine to build a corpus of data and classify incoming messages. It was trainable and reasonably fast. There was a brief second when a message hit the inbox where Outlook would pause. It was a noticeable pause, but not bothersome. The message would get categorized and you’d be on your way. Outclass could monitor a number of incoming folders, and take different actions (such as moving a message) for each folder it was monitoring. After training on about 1000 messages, it got to be pretty darn accurate. I’d estimate that 9/10 messages were put in the right “bucket”. Life was almost good… So what was the issue? Well, for one, Outclass was >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>


During one particular period when I was actively tweaking my “GTD” system, trying out all sorts of software tools, and scouring numerous productivity blogs, I came to a startling realization. I was guilty of something. Something unproductive. Something that went against the very nature of what I was trying to accomplish. But what? I needed a name for it. The name I came up with was “procrastivity”. Yes, that was it. I was guilty of procrastivity. Uhg. I was procrastinating by organizing and re-organizing task lists and task management tools, all under the guise of productivity.

So why was I doing this? Well, first of all it was fun. It’s interesting to see what new tool or technology is out there. It’s fun to try them out, make mods and customizations, and try to bend the tools to my will. The second reason is that there were some daunting tasks on my to-do list. I could easily rationalize that by working on this tool I was indirectly working on those tasks. Not true, and pretty pathetic.

So how do I break this cycle? Well, procrastivity is like any other addiction. The first step on the road to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. You also have to realize that if you’re not careful, you can fall back into the bad behavior at any time. From there, the next big step is to regain focus by making sure that those things on your to-do list are actually doable. The question that comes to mind, based on a quote by GEN Creighton Abrams, is “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer, of course, is “one bite at a time.” In other words, your to-do list should not contain the task “eat the elephant”. You would start off with a task like “take a bite of elephant’s leg (without getting stepped on)”. In GTD parlance, David Allen would have you create a project titled “Eat elephant”, and place only the next action (take a bite) on your to-do list. When I first read his book, I didn’t give much credence to the project list. I thought, “Why would I want to manage yet another list?” It would be much simpler to have only one list to worry about, right? Not so much. It turns out that the “one list” gets too crowded with fuzzy ill-defined tasks (a.k.a. projects). Every time I would glance at it, I had to work out in my head what to do next. This probably happened 50+ times during the course of a normal workday. Lots of wasted energy.

There are two ways I handle my projects now: (1) project pages in Microsoft OneNote, and (2) PigPog tasks for those multi-step tasks that aren’t quite big enough to warrant a dedicated project page. Since there are pros and cons to each, I use both depending on the “project”. I will write about each of these in more detail in a future post. The only list that gets printed and travels with me is my to-do list. The projects stay tucked away until my weekly review and do not distract me during a normal workday. In addition to the basic principles of project vs. next actions, there are some very nice tips on the ZenHabits web site and on LifeHacker.

Another tip is to slow the pace of your tweaking. Allow yourself to only make changes to your “system” once per quarter. To help resist the urge, create a project for your system. Every time you think of a tweak you want to make, just jot it down as a next action in that project. Knowing that the tweak is captured will help you resist the urge to jump in and immediately start tweaking. For those engineers and technical folks, think of this like a field test or pilot run, or even a beta test. You need to stop making changes long enough to test the system, right? Once per quarter, you pick the best tweaks/ideas off the list and roll them into your system. Purge any ideas that no longer apply. Then, test the updated system for the next quarter by actually using it!

One last tip to avoid procrastivity: Energize your conscience. Let it remind you if your current actions are unproductive or if you are guilty of procrastivity. One way to do that is with the self-check timer, which I previously discussed here.

That’s it. Good luck out there!