Getting mails done

After lots of failed attempts to organize email, I decided to follow the advice that paulorf gives in his blog, apply GTD and revamp my label set.

First of all, I have to say that I succeeded in cleaning the inbox. It is now empty. It has been hard, because it has been years of keeping things in the inbox just because they were important.

The main benefit is a reduction of the task pressure. Now instead of lots of pending tasks, mixed with other important stuff to remember, I have a clean inbox and a small list of urgent tasks. Everything else is out of my mind, I don’t have to worry about that until the right time comes. And the machine (a.k.a. Google Calendar) knows this time and will remind me then.

The feeling is quite peaceful, I stopped polling my inbox, reading lots of subjects in search for things to do today. The inbox will only have something if there is a new decision to be made about some subject. The only folder that I have to poll is the Starred list, where urgent tasks will be left. The previous mix of urgent and not so urgent tasks opened the door to procastination (ie: I will decide later which tasks have to be done now). Now it is pretty clear which work has to be done now and the new way to procastinate is to start with the easier or funnier tasks from the list, which are urgent anyway.


My main set of labels to implement GTD inside of GMail is the following:

  • TODO: This is the list of emails that represent a pending task and therefore require an action to be made. It mixes urgent and non urgent tasks. Urgent ones are also starred.
  • WaitingOn: This is the list of emails that represent an expected action (response) from someone else. I only put emails there when I really need this response, in other case I simply delete or archive it. I star those responses that are urgent for me.
  • Reference: This is the list of emails with key information that I will need in the near future, like work/home contracts. I don’t star anything there. Mails in this list usually have more labels to categorize this information.

Another recommendation from paulorf is to create the «Someday» label and create rules that move every social network status change, along with PPS and other funny things to this folder. The fact is that I don’t receive that much emails from social networks because I am not very active on them, and I have convinced my friends to stop sending stupid kitten presentations. I will try to survive without this folder, but I don’t discard creating it later (am I procastinating the creation of this folder?).


One key difference in the new way of managing emails is to schedule non urgent tasks for later. Google has a great tool for this, called Google Calendar. In this tool you can schedule all sorts of things, from holidays to tasks. But just putting things in the calendar is not enough to get anything done. Actually, if you fill the calendar and forget about it, this will not help that much. The calendar has an usefull feature that allows you to receive an email when the scheduled time comes. I also am an Android phone owner, with the calendar widget placed in the main desktop, but the email reminder is clearly more effective…


The last and main part of GTD is to actually do stuff. I do stuff when I receive a new email that can be solved in less than 5 minutes, or when I poll the starred folder and pick something urgent to do.

I am just starting with this new method, but feels quite promising just like every time that one starts with something new 😉

Acerca de Rubén L.

Software Engineer
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2 respuestas a Getting mails done

  1. javier loureiro dijo:

    i suggest you , three improvements

    a) a filter for bulletins, other for lists, and other for social networks. Delete everything older than 7 days. Everything. I do this in my server at night (i dont know how to do it in gmail).

    b) use the google calendar as your homepage. I do it and it is very effective (actually, it is my dash board)

    c) if you dont care the next day you read it, it is not important enough.

  2. Rubén L. dijo:

    I may create the label for social networks after all… I already delete lots of emails that don’t contain useful info, but I don’t like to delete any valuable information, specially having the powerful gmail search engine.

    Regarding point b, it depends on the context: For programming work I prefer bug tracking dashboards, and for home I have a customized iGoogle page with everything that I like to see after work, including mail and calendar.

    I completely agree on point c.

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